Helsinki SB11 – Tuesday 18th October 2012

Day 2, and the start of the conference proper.  A great start to proceedings with some excellent key-note contributions.  Notable for me was the theme of community, and in particular the notion of localisation as a reaction to globalisation, and that buildings should not be looked at on their own, but as part of the wider community’s drive to achieve carbon neutrality.  This is a long term issue, and it was interesting to see references to articles published way back in 1971 and specifically one called “Life Support Systems for a Dying Planet”….uplifting stuff!!!  Rather bleak cartoon hit home showing Noah’s Ark on the tip of Mount Everest surrounded by a vast ocean.  “Do something now” was the message from Dr. Bill Bordass, Advisor to the Usable Buildings Trust (www.usablebuildings.co.uk).

There is a clear emphasis on time here.  Speakers looking back 40 years, assessing now, and then taking a speculative punt at where we will be in 40 years.  The “Relevance of Time” (Richard Lorch, Editor “Building Research & Information”) discussed how as humans we tend to operate on 5 year plans, perhaps 10 years, but anymore is not something that generally happens…yet, we have to with Climate Change.

That was the scene set.  Passivhaus is clearly very topical at United Welsh Housing Association given the recent developments at the Former Steelworks site in Ebbw Vale.  So, the chance to hear about some Norwegian examples was opportune.  I was very interested to hear the researcher explain that education was the key, and that they had not properly addressed this with end users.  Even to the extent that where the end users were known, they were not involved in the design/construction process.  Control systems were not understood, and it is apparent that a better approach from building designers and managers is needed to deal with this lack of knowledge.  “Soft Landings” is a concept that deals with this process and is worth reviewing: this is a systematic approach to hand-holding end-users through the design intent behind a building to ensure the design purpose matches the use.

The Poster Presentation went well.  United Welsh, in collaboration with UWIC, Cardiff assessed in a study at its new development in Bargoed, Caerphilly, South Wales the impact of installing Exhaust Air Source Heat Pumps from an environmental impact perspective.  It also considers tenant use, attitudes and the effect on running costs.  This was well received by academics from Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Japan and Australia…..the world stage has been reached!!!

It really has been a day that can only be described as seminar speed dating.  Over 120 presentations have been delivered.  The keynote sessions were followed by 4 further sessions.  Each of those had between 4-7 12 minute presentations regarding specific studies.  Since some of the papers are of varying degrees of interest, delegates bound from one room to another to ensure they hear the one of specific concern to them.  A really novel and exciting way to attend a conference.  Film clip to follow illustrating the point.

Finally, the most memorable aspect of today was how the world is more in tune than we realise.  One speaker talked of “empowering local people to create and input into development” and providing “assistance to create vibrant smaller towns with self-sustaining economic systems”.  I could have been listening to a talk about the South Wales valleys…..but this was delivered by Alfred Ngowi from the University of Botswana in assessing the impact of the rapid urbanisation of Africa.  Sounded quite close to home, and it strikes me that the global issues really does mean local.

Gareth Davies

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