Designs That Come with an Ecology Not to Be Sneezed At

Daily Mail (London), August 6, 2004 | Go to article overview

Designs That Come with an Ecology Not to Be Sneezed At


Byline: JENNY SHIELDS

Jenny Shields finds an architect who believes that new buildings do not need to come with a health warning

SCOTLAND'S dreadful health record is well documented, with high rates of lung cancer and heart disease. We also have the highest rate of asthma in western Europe, a condition that is often attributable to poor-quality buildings.

It is not just sub- standard housing that is to blame.

Expensively constructed new schools can be responsible for ill-health, absenteeism and lack of concentration among all who use them, according to a renowned environmental architect.

A recent survey by the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) revealed an anxiety among some teachers about a lack of consultation when new schools are built or old ones refurbished.

They felt this had led to schools which may not provide adequate facilities fit for the delivery of a 21st century education for Scottish pupils.

Howard Liddell, head of the Edinburgh-based firm of architects the Gaia Group, has spent his career designing ecologically sound buildings.

When he started out, his green ideals were ridiculed and even now, 30 years on, he says there is still a lot of misunderstanding and suspicion. 'It's still not cool to be green in the UK.' Mr Liddell says that too many new schools - commissioned through public-private partnership (PPP) or private finance initiative (PFI) schemes - are failing everyone who uses them.

The reason? They are often airless, poorly ventilated and overly hot, conditions that are not just unpleasant, but which can cause problems from drowsiness to breathing difficulties.

He is exasperated because, he says, it need not be like this. 'Quite frankly, if the procurers of the first generation of PFI/PPP schools had deliberately set out to avoid all issues of sustainability then I could understand the results of the EIS survey.

'When we are told that the ( Government's) objective is to deliver the highest design and environmental standards and to consult with all parties ... this survey points to an almost complete failure in bringing together a sustainable building, namely social, environmental and financial.' And, in a damning indictment, Mr Liddell added: 'The Romans knew more about heating and ventilating a building than we do today.' Mr Liddell, who has been a visiting professor of building ecology at Oslo university, got involved in the issue because he has suffered from asthma and he is acutely aware of how surroundings affect this debilitating condition.

'Twenty per cent of the population spends the working day in an educational establishment, so this is a huge problem,' he said.

A root cause of asthma is the way buildings are built, heated, ventilated, decorated and furnished.

And while sufferers know about the measures they can adopt in their own homes, such as throwing out fitted carpets and using hypoallergenic bedding, at school they are at the mercy of their environment.

Now things could change. Mr Liddell has been appointed by Highland Council to write the brief for a [pounds sterling]2million sustainable development primary school for the Ardnamurchan village of Acharacle. It will will be the first of its kind in Scotland.

THIS came about after he led a fact-finding tour of schools in Norway for educationalists and planners last year. The schools they visited use natural ventilation systems and are so well insulated that they do not need to be heated during the day - despite one school in southern Norway often experiencing subzero temperatures. …

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