Hello, Ingo, and thank you very much for doing this. I'd love to talk to you about some of your key principles that you believe in as a practice - including embodied carbon- but principally through one of your projects, which is actually sited very close to where I grew up in Southampton, the Life Sciences Building for the University of Southampton. Could you loosely detail the project, and also some of the measures that you introduced there that fit with what I just mentioned in terms of your low energy approach?
Right, yeah. Well, maybe before I get to the low energy approach, I could talk a bit about the project.
We designed and constructed the Life Sciences Building for the University of Southampton already 15 years ago, but recently it had a bit of a revival for us. It is nearly entirely clad in untreated timber, and we last year shared its story at conferences, took academic clients including Oxford University there and use it as reference for how embodied carbon in the envelope can be minimised, and look great without cleaning or painting after more than 10 years. Its compact shape is also super relevant now, showing how a building envelope - its form factor - can be optimised while getting great daylight and allowing for natural ventilation.
It was bringing together two departments – medical science and life science. And it has a lot to do with life, all sorts of life in the building. But it was also on a really convoluted, difficult site; it became a very strange shape at some point in the concept design where we tried to address different orientations with types of cladding to identify them. And it got to a point where it was all too fragmented. So, we thought can we do it in with one plan, which would give the building a unique identity but could also deal with all the shapes of the different blocks of the building, or to the different floor-to-floor heights. Because it's a science building, which had laboratories, which would need very tall floors, and offices which don't need such tall floors. We could save space by making some of the floors shallower and have a split level arrangement. But how do you connect that all in the same way when you have windows at different levels?
From that came this idea of a ribbon, almost like a barcode, which wraps around the building, and which adjusts horizontally to the individual needs of the areas of the building. Vertically, it can then have as many windows stacked above each other as you need, depending on the number of floors. And only then came this idea of a barcode, a ribbon made up of vertical slats. Maybe we could do that in timber, because timber facades sort of do that - they have vertical or horizontal boards. And it was only then that we thought: well - because this is 15 years ago - timber would be wonderful because it's also sustainable. And it has something to do with life. You know, it's a living product, it grew and grew; it wasn't just smelted or taken out of the earth. But that's when the problem started. And that's, I think, a really relevant problem to today, where we're looking much more actively for low carbon. When you really look at it, there's only one proven low-carbon material for cladding, and that's timber. Nothing else can really compete with it.
So, back then, once we had that idea, very quickly the challenges started which we have today as well. Everyone has a view on timber cladding; mostly negative. How will it look after a few years? Will it burn? Is it robust enough? It will go grey, a grey building. In our official pictures of it that we have now, pictures from 10 years onwards, the building is fully grey. And it looks really nice!