Youth Centre with sustainable design principles.
With organisations like RIBA upping the ante on sustainable building, and methods like BREEAM and LEED driving home the importance of considering the environmental aspects of construction, it’s never been so important for architects to make sustainability not just a passing thought but a pivotal part of their design process.
As architects, we can choose what attitude we want to adopt in response to this.
One approach is to see sustainability challenges as an inconvenience that slows down projects and causes complications.
Still, the more positive one is to welcome the opportunity to find creative and environmentally responsible solutions. After all, the chance to harness this sort of innovation is why many of us got involved in architecture in the first place.
At Windsorpatania Architects, we’re currently involved in an exciting project that involves taking what was previously little more than a piece of land and converting it into a modern, sustainable Youth Centre site that not only avoids harming its natural surroundings but embraces them, spreading a message of the importance of respect for one’s surroundings.
About Youth Centre Project
The project came about through our client, who was looking at a patch of land opposite his father’s house on Eldon Avenue in Heston, Hounslow.
He thought it was a shame that the plot was empty and that it had the potential to be the site of something that would make a real difference in this growing part of West London, which is right next to a primary school and home to many young families.
When we spoke to him about his ideas, we were all mindful that although the site could be described as “empty”, it was not without natural beauty.
For a start, it contained two wonderful London plane trees.
Both more than a hundred years old, these deciduous trees are known for their excellent carbon absorption, with this being the main reason they were planted around London during Victorian times.
Structurally, it was vital that the building did not harm the two trees, but we wanted to go a lot further than that.
Our vision was to create a project that would embrace the surroundings, making the trees seem like part of the building rather than merely incidental to it.
Thus, our idea for an attractive, two-storey, D1-classified youth centre with environmentalism at its heart was born, underpinned by three key aims:
1. Youth Centre With Sustainable Design Principles
The sustainability challenges of modern architecture and construction excite us here at Windsorpatania Architects.
Still, a bonus of adopting these practices is that it often makes our proposals highly attractive to councils and other local authorities, which have environmental policies and targets of their own.
Our research showed that existing youth centres in the Hounslow area were a bit run down and old-fashioned, with trademark features like peeling paint and dull plastic seating on the interior and uninspiring boxy design on the exterior.
When we discussed our plans with the London Borough of Hounslow Council, they were thrilled to see our vision of a brand-new facility that “hugged” the trees around it.
We use that phrase metaphorically, of course, although the design does involve the trees being enveloped by the shape of the building.
What it really means, though, is that rather than being made out of the sort of pallid concrete and cement that would cause it to be incongruous with its surroundings, it is constructed in harmony with the trees.
Largely, this is because it’s made from primarily the same material as the trees.
Timber is the primary building block of the facility, bringing an innovative and natural design to the interior, complemented by an elegant exterior that offers a natural yet cutting-edge façade.
All wood used is locally sourced, bringing the embodied carbon level of the building – meaning the carbon footprint of the construction process – down to a minimum.
We have to remember that a tree is more than just its trunk, branches and leaves and that more than half of a tree can be made up of its roots.
This is why we paid much attention to the building’s foundation, proposing a foundation composed of helical steel screw piles.
We worked closely with an expert landscape architect when deciding upon this, recognising that it had been used in many similar projects where tree roots were present.
Finally, the façade is designed to maximise natural sunlight too. Not only is this a reminder of the environmental mentality behind the facility, but it also means there is less need to switch on lights, thus saving energy when the rooms are in use.
We’ll talk more about the façade as we move on to the architectural inspiration behind our design.
2. Youth Centre Inspired On Japanese Architecture
With the client for the project being a karate blackbelt and martial arts being one of the intended functions of the building, we agreed that a Japanese architectural style should be an inherent theme of the design.
The attribute of Japanese design people tend to be most aware of is that it makes heavy use of wood.
A beautiful and renewable material for construction, wood is ideal for Japanese-style rooms like dojos, where acoustic timber panels can ensure noise levels are kept down.
Modern Japanese architecture is also known for being slick, simple and often minimalist.
In that way, it’s in stark contrast to the Brutalist movement, where everything is dense, blocky and immediately visible.
We wanted the building to be lightweight yet sturdy, causing minimal impact on the area around it, with the aforementioned approach to the foundations leading it to be almost “suspended” above the trees’ roots.
This approach is also beneficial to bringing the outdoors indoors and ensuring the building is as vibrant in its interior as it looks from the outside.
Our design and access statement drew attention to how similar projects integrated surrounding nature.
For example, Japanese architects love curved elements of buildings, extending to glass and windows. Since nature itself is rarely square or cubic, it makes sense to consider smooth and arcing exteriors that can blend in and weave around natural surroundings.
With curved glass, it’s possible to partly encircle nature, coming as close as it’s possible to be for a building to “hug” trees.
Finally, for added strength and an impressive veneer while maintaining the Japanese aura, we have proposed that coloured metal or ceramic strips are added to the façade, mimicking the appearance of the wood and positioned to let in as much sunlight as possible.
3. Youth Centre with a message for future generations
As it will be a facility designed for young people, it will play a role in how they grow up, shaping their views and values throughout adolescence.
That makes it crucial that it is not simply a building that is put together once, only for the ideology behind it to be forgotten.
Since nature is the inspiration for the youth centre, we want that message to be front and centre and something young people cannot fail to notice when they arrive, while they are there and as they leave.
The clever use of glass and natural light means nature is almost always within the inhabitants’ eyeliners.
Users will observe the seasonal changes of the surroundings, from the birds nesting in spring to the full bloom of summer to the falling leaves and bare branches of autumn and winter.
Those who keep visiting the youth centre for several years will also appreciate the gradual but fascinating way trees develop over time.
Young people are becoming increasingly passionate about the environment and proud of the sustainability efforts of their hometowns.
We want to reinforce that message during their youth and ensure it carries through into adulthood, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards and – just possibly – future architects with “green” approaches.
We can’t wait to get started on this project in earnest. We see it as a prime example of how sustainability breeds opportunity, creating inspiration for facilities that can have a beneficial impact on communities for generations to come.
The era of architects designing buildings purely for functional reasons is over. Today’s architects need to put sustainability first, always considering how this can drive both the aesthetics and the physical properties of the project.
If you liked this article and want to lear more about our Sustainable project “Youth Centre” or if you want to discover more about what we do and our sustainability-first mentality Architectural practice, visit our website www.windsorpatania.com via our contact form.