Transforming a Slough waste-recycling centre using Green Infrastructure

As Green Infrastructure Design Challenge 2017 winners we’ve been invited to share our experience of being involved in the competition which was part of Green Sky Thinking Week 2017, so here goes ….

We are Louise and Stephen Handley, Landscape Designers at Amey plc. I must admit Stephen ‘fell’ upon the competition whilst ferreting through the Landscape Institute website. We don’t usually have time to enter competitions, but the brief for the Green Infrastructure Design Challenge corresponded closely with a project we were working on for Amey, and as designers anything that allows you to play with a project is welcome!

The live project was a planning application to convert a piece of land near our offices to an additional car park, extra spaces being needed because our offices are merging with the local authority and an increase in staff will follow.

The site is currently green (e.g. grass) and acts as a flood defence for the adjacent stream - the area being in a 1 in 100 chance of annual flood zone. Our proposals aimed to lessen the impact of a hard surfaced car park on a sensitive site and improve the space’s function as flood defence. We integrated rain garden clusters, swales and porous surfacing into the scheme.

The Challenge brief called for measures to be proposed for both the interior and the wider public realm, so we integrated the exterior treatment of the building with the external space and then connected this to the new car park with a ‘green walk’ which incorporated tree planting and a dense hedge.

Although this was a design competition, we approached the brief as if it were a realisable project, experimenting with ideas for improving the existing offices, whilst considering how future development of the building and site could incorporate Green Infrastructure measures and new technology.

The Green Infrastructure Adaptation Strategy we developed for the site used first-hand experience from current occupants and the CIBSE Design Summer Year (DSY) and Test Reference Year (TRY) files to help us guestimate the adaptation measures which may be needed from 2020. The issues we highlighted in the strategy provided us with principles for the design, such as:-

 internal comfort and building fabric
 external comfort and building facade
 drainage, attenuation, and flooding
 landscape features
 landscape innovation

Our office building is a ‘peach’ of a poor environment for people to work in. Sandwiched between a waste transfer station and a sewage pumping station, and bordered by the M4, its construction and aspect ticks all the boxes for overheating in the summer, poor insulation, poor air quality, ventilation etc. We knew that the introduction of vegetation into the offices would benefit the occupants in terms of wellbeing and air quality, but we also knew that the lack of natural light in some of the deeper corners of the building would be a problem in terms of growing. This problem led us to looking at hydroponic growing with artificial light (no… not that) and in turn we discovered a company called Plant-e, who have developed and patented a way to produce light and energy from living plants.

‘Fantastic!’ cried the enthusiastic designers, ‘we’ll just grow stuff vertically under red and blue LED lights, powered by plants!’ ‘Errmm …’ cautioned the scientists at Plant-e, ‘not so sure about that, but we could certainly experiment with the idea.’ So we had interesting conversations about fitting PMFCs (plant microbial fuel cells) into hydroponic units and storing solar power from the roof in batteries which could power the fuel cells, and we developed conceptual vertical units to grow edible plants which could be tended and eaten by the office staff.

Given that the building is to house more staff and their comfort and wellbeing should be considered as important to productivity, we decided to take out a section of the front elevation and install an atrium where the additional much needed sunlight is filtered by screens of plants, both outside and inside. The external walls and roofs are clothed in vegetation which will improve both summer and winter insulation issues and act as attenuation for heavy rainfall, and this in turn will be directed to rain gardens in the ground plane. Large scale tree and hedge planting will address heat island, air pollution, and shading issues – all of which are current problems.

Click here to view our winning entry.

Our challenge experience

Competition work stretches your thinking beyond your comfort zone, this one is no exception.
We have gained valuable knowledge which has now become part of our design approach for all new projects.

We have made interesting new contacts – notably Plant-e in the Netherlands, Shelley Mosco, research assistant for the Landscape and Environmental Research Group at Greenwich University, and of course Anastasia Mylona, Research Manager at CIBSE and the ARCC network.

Flexibility in the site selection allowed participants to interrogate their own chosen building and public realm, and then allow the brief to guide how to approach the site.

The CIBSE Analysis formats - Climate Change Risk Assessment, Adaptation Strategy etc were invaluable in helping to structure the information that we needed in order to develop the design.

Thank you and goodbye for now.

Click here to find out more about the CIBSE / UKCIP Green Infrastructure Design Challenge and how to enter for the 2018 competition.


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