The Airut project: taking a holistic view of the carbon impact of buildings
12th April 2012
The Airut project in Helsinki doesn't just showcase excellence in sustainable building design, it also influences the consumption and travel patterns of its residents, explains Adrian Campbell, associate director, Arup.
A colleague recently showed me a pack of 'Top Trumps’ cards he had developed to help explain energy options to a client. These were a simple, yet effective tool to explain the issues and trade-offs that are made when making decisions around a complex subject. I wish I had a similar pack for 'eco’ buildings
, and I wonder how different buildings might be if those cards quantified criteria like appealing to users, simplicity, commercial viability and actual contribution to reducing global emissions compared to current assessment methods and criteria.
Our recent work on the Airut project in Helsinki with Sitra (formerly Low2No) explores many typical aspects you would expect of low carbon building
such as cost effective energy demand reduction, renewable
energy supply and embodied carbon.
What is significantly different about Airut, though, is that we also explored what we called an 'honest account of carbon’, meaning one that includes the consumptive impacts of the development and the residents as well as the buildings. When we followed this approach, the buildings emissions only accounted for about 10-15 per cent of the total, with the major impact being generated from travel
and personal consumption patterns. It is apparent that if we are to make the biggest impact we can on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we need to look and act more broadly than presently defined by our current legislative framework.Innovative approach
I am not suggesting that this honest account means that our current methods of accounting for carbon usage are somehow dishonest; I simply believe they do not provide a full picture of impacts and their relative importance. When we pioneered the approach of understanding local data on Airut, it was obvious where we could influence consumption patterns and deliver a bigger impact in terms of carbon reduction. This included shared neighbourhood services, using smart system technologies and rethinking the commercial retail model. So, as well as the multiple levels of building technical innovation
, we recognised that we also had to innovate around the people using the buildings and think more widely about the how they might react and respond to the types of changes we would wish to influence.
The Airut team included the participatory design firm (Experientia) who made it possible to explore potential residents’ lifestyles, to identify the technology innovations that will appeal to them and how shared services could be incorporated into the overall design scheme. What has emerged from this is a template for smart systems providing information for residents to make informed decisions on how to consume less energy; and a cooperative model of retail that enables smaller firms, supplying local seasonal food, to compete with the buying power of the larger supermarkets. Environmental assessment
It is also important to comment on how the design is evaluated. It is interesting to note that the project has not followed a typical building environmental assessment method. This is partly due to the fact that Finland has not yet settled on a particular method of evaluation and the client believed that a pre-determined approach would potentially hinder major opportunities for the project.
The buildings are central to the project and tackle multiple strands of innovation. The development wouldn’t have been possible without the foresight of the client and Sitra provides valuable insights into a broader, more rounded view of carbon. There is a growing recognition that there are many important factors which shape the overall environmental and social impact of the built environment. This example highlights a pioneering solution and is one that has potential to be rolled out globally.
Like this story? Please subscribe to our free weekly e-newsletter at the top of the page for more content like this