Opinion: The Farrell Review

It is 20 years since John Gummer’s path-finding initiative Quality in Town and Country was launched, and 14 years since Richard Rogers produced Towards an Urban Renaissance. The Farrell Review, published in April, has focused thinking once again on how we design and plan our built environment. What have we achieved after 20 years of such thinking? Is any of it relevant to those at the coal face of planning, community and environmental decision making? And how should Hertfordshire respond?

As Farrell’s report itself acknowledges, the review is a snapshot in time. Most of its ideas and proposals are not new and implementing them is not necessarily seen as a job for central government. Five cross-cutting themes run through the Farrell Review:

1. A new understanding of place-based planning and design.

2. A new level of connectedness between government departments, institutions, agencies, professions and the public.

3. A new level of public engagement through education and outreach in every village, town and city, and volunteering enabled by information and communications technology.

4. A commitment to making the ordinary better and to improving the everyday built environment.

5. A sustainable and low-carbon future.

“Place” is seen as the unifying factor for the review’s 34 conclusions and 60 recommendations. He uses the acronym PLACE to cover what he calls the key public activities of planning: Politics, Life, Advocacy, Community and the Environment. PLACE is also used as an acronym to highlight the core skill sets required to shape the environment, Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering. As others have pointed out urban design and surveying should be there as well but did not fit the acronym.

Planning, the review says, needs to become more proactive and one way of achieving this is to expand the role of design review. Design review panels should change their focus to that of ‘place review’, looking at the context into which schemes are considered with broader multi-disciplinary panels. He also suggested that Place Review should be supported by ‘urban rooms’ that bring together the information on the locality where the past, present and future of that place can be inspected. (Frederick Gibberd proposed something very similar for Harlow.) “Every public body should have access to an independent PLACE Review Panel, with their results published online, and they should operate at a more strategic level.

Training is also a concern. Local planning authorities should formalise the role of architecture and built environment centres and PLACE Review Panels in skilling-up decision makers, including planning committee members and traffic engineers. This would follow the successful model of Urban Design London in skilling-up planning committee members from London Councils. PLACE institutions could publish an end-of-year report on publicly funded built environment projects, highlighting successes and failures. “Places will only become great if there is civic leadership”.

Hertfordshire has many of the recommendations already in place. The Building Futures initiative supports a multidisciplinary design review panel. The awards last year were attended by civic leaders from across the county. The web site is becoming a focus for training. Do a little more and Hertfordshire can take the lead in championing design decision making. We have achieved a lot in the last 20 years but many feel the quality of much of what we build still falls short of what we should be achieving. The Farrell Review alone cannot make things happen, but its careful thinking can be of considerable value in supporting planners and planning in Hertfordshire.

Give us your thoughts on the Farrell Review and what it means for Hertfordshire via our LinkedIn group, and on Twitter using #FarrellReviewHerts To read the Farrell Review visit www.farrellreview.co.uk  

Barry Shaw is director of Barry Shaw Associates, a specialist consultancy providing regeneration, urban design and enabling services.


Short Listed Schemes – Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios & Hide House

Project: Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
Location: Leavesden
Client: Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
Architect: KMG Partnership
Category: Retrofit for the Future

In 2010, Warner Bros invested £100 million in the refurbishment and expansion of the former Rolls Royce factory at Leavesden. The facility contains one third of all the stage space within the UK and is the only permanent studio facility in Europe owned by a US film production company.

Alongside this, Warner Bros. has developed an internationally acclaimed visitor attraction; the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, which provides a unique showcase of the extraordinary British artistry, technology and talent that went into making the most successful film series of all time – filmed at Leavesden.

The overriding aim of the project was to greatly improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of the site. The studios now benefit from a range of initiatives introduced to conserve resources, reduce energy consumption and diminish waste. CO2 emissions have been reduced by 30%. Photocell controls, BEMS controlling heating, natural lighting / ventilation, a waste management & recycling strategy lead to a BREEAM Very Good rating for the 70 year old buildings.

This is the first permanent studio facility in Europe to be owned by a US film production company since the 1940s. It contains in excess of a third of all film and TV production space within the UK and is one of a few locations in the country where large scale productions can be made. The 40ha ‘backlot’ allows extensive sets and film locations to be created without having to leave the site, this provides exceptional economic advantages.

Over 80% of employees come from the local area and many work at the Studio Tour ‘The Making of Harry Potter,’ which showcases the artistry, technology and talent behind the series of films made at Leavesden.

Project: Hide House
Location: 2b Railway Place, Hertford
Client: Hannah Morris & Glenn Graney
Architect: Edward Cullinan Architects
Category: Design Excellence & Outstanding commitment to Adapt to a Changing Climate.

Hide House is a category 5 Eco House conversion of 12 garage units into a 360sqm modern house in a Hertford conservation area. This is a 1 level house with a basement living area and bedroom. The house benefits from being super insulated and air tight with an air source heat pump and heat recovery system. The house uses high quality materials and finishings including thermally treated Platowood Frake cladding and Sedum covered flat roof.

The scheme has been designed to take advantage of the site’s position and configuration while considering its location in a conservation area. The design is contemporary and distinctive but doesn’t compromise the local conservation area and existing building stock.

The client has worked closely with the architect to create a visually appealing modern house that contrasted with, yet complemented the variety of surrounding properties.

The ‘Platowood Frake’ timber cladding is a thermally treated product requiring no maintenance and ages to a subtle silvery grey. The ‘Jub’ render system has the colour pigment impregnated throughout the material, eliminating the need for re-painting. The muted, warm grey, flat German bricks are of the highest quality. The overall effect is a flat, even expanse of brickwork creating a subtle contrast to the stark white of the render.

The aim was to ‘future proof’ the house with a choice of insulation, heating, and ventilation reflecting the need to adapt to an ever changing climate. Using the natural heat retention of a super insulated air tight property, the mechanical heat recovery system supplies cooling in the summer and a natural air flow during the winter. It also distributes heat evenly throughout the house, drawing heat from above the log burning stove.

Short Listed Schemes – Westminster Lodge, Queensway Health Centre & Francis Combe Academy

Project: Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre
Location: St Albans
Client: Mr Richard Shwe
Architect: S&P
Category: Most Sustainable Construction & Design Excellence

Westminster Lodge sports facility is located in Verulamium Park in St Albans. It was rebuilt in 2012 and includes 25x10m main pool with 50% movable floor, 17x10m training pool with 100% moving floor, children’s water area, four court sports hall, 200 station fitness gym and youth gym, two exercise / multi purpose studios, group cycling studio, climbing wall, crèche, spa, children’s soft play area and café.

The site has been designed to meet the design excellence criteria on many levels, by deciding upon a range of activities to best meet the needs of the people of St. Albans a state of the art building was created to allow adjacencies to complement each recreation activity and create visual impacts by use of large open spaces and full height glass.

The spa takes the original Roman concept of different temperature rooms and specifies high quality and robust materials. The design alone is not enough and it is essential to make the facilities accessible to the people of St Albans.

Westminster Lodge has been awarded BREEAM Very Good and constructed by a contractor who is registered under the Considerate Construction Scheme.

Whole-Life aspects of building design will ensure that the future running costs of the site remain affordable, with building component longevity key in selecting finishes and fixtures.

The grey water system linked with the SuDS enables operators to keep their costs down and uses leading edge technology to provide this essential feature. The impacts on the local environment are minimised by the drainage system harvesting and storing water to support all main areas of the facility by way of the SuDS. Combined heat and power also means that the heat generated from power generation heats the pool, this is key for remaining sustainable and keeping running costs low in the short and long term. Backwash water from the pools is also used to feed the toilets.

Building material selection was based on reviewing similar materials in comparison with each other using key criteria such as whole-life cost and sustainability. PV’s make energy for the centre and feeds extra energy back to the grid. Glulam beams used in the pool roof are both sustainable and renewable materials.

Name of project: Queensway Health Centre – Refurbishment and remodel
Client: Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust
Architect: Ampersand Associates Ltd
Category: Retrofit for the Future Award

Queensway Health Centre is located in the heart of Hatfield. It was built in the 1960’s as a two storey brick built community clinic, and has provided NHS outpatient care to the community ever since. It delivers a multitude of ever-changing NHS clinics including podiatry, baby clinics, counselling and sexual health.

Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust is very proud of the massive transformation this £1m+ project has made to this NHS out-patient clinic. The completed scheme has provided contemporary, modern healthcare estate that is both energy and space efficient, and is a huge enhancement to facilities available to NHS patients and staff.

This retrofitting project was all encompassing and includes the following features:
• Maximised utilisation and introducing changes in custom and practice:
• Longevity of cosmetic appearance by embracing plastic wallings rather than decorations.
• Creation of a very colourful environment with each clinic room having a colour accent.
• Introduction of mural of a local landscape to the entrance foyer.
• Sky tiles finishing for patient-side ceilings in non clinical areas.
• Installation of solar PV and solar thermal proving electricity and hot water respectively.
• Carbon footprint reduction by an estimated 65% through enhancement of fabric insulation, upgrading from single to double glazed, roof insulation renewal and energy efficient lighting, modern gas heating system and solar panels installation.
• Innovative new products – Therma-skirt, which is a low surface temperature radiator that looks like a skirting board.
• New equitable access created using natural slope of site.
• External decorating with striking NHS blue on all elevations to enhance identity.
• Clever storage: conversion of redundant basement rooms to stores.
• Contemporary office space: alteration of first floor large territorialised office spaces to create open plan office with 4 bookable quiet rooms.
• Introduction of planting scheme to all elevations of the clinic, thereby providing the following benefits:
a) Providing defensible and private space
b) Enhancing the impression of the NHS given to users and passers/drivers by
c) Wildlife friendly plants such a lavender were chosen to encourage bees and provide a nice scent

Name of project: Francis Combe Academy
Client: Hertfordshire County Council
Architect: Architects Co Partnership
Category: Design Excellence

The Francis Combe Academy was designed to have a significant positive impact on the educational progress of its students, seeking to raise the aspirations and the achievement of all of its students and staff. The design had to accommodate the ten separate ‘schools’ forming the academy, in one retained structure, with a variety of new build environments, and an existing building. The schools are grouped into larger clusters placed around the external open area at the heart of the academy.

The entrance onto the academy is designed to be inviting with views into the academy mall but is also safe and secure. The design consists of a three story glazed frontage aimed at drawing users to the building. The general administration controls the entrance lobby and other administration is centred on the mall, with views over the external heart, the courtyard and open Green Belt.

External materials have been selected to reflect the surrounding built environment. Brick, render and glass predominate and are applied to give variety within the scheme. The architecture is deliberately designed to provide a unique character to the academy and be visually distinct from, yet respectful to the adjacent historic building.

The external covered area runs alongside the rejuvenated Dell, providing an amphitheatre and open link to the green belt open land to the north. The covered link can shelter the whole school population during inclement weather and provides covered dining opportunities adjacent to the main dining hall.

Another important design driver was the school’s emphasis on utilising the external spaces for education. The landscaping solutions, including the provision of ‘hard areas’, offers areas for students to learn outdoors, to sit and to appreciate nature as well as use as external dining spaces. The biome garden offers experimental science learning.

Short Listed for the Building Futures Awards Week Two

This week we are announcing the next three projects that have made it to the Short List.

Project: Boundary Way External Wall Insulation Project
Location: Watford
Client: Partnership: Watford Borough Council, Three Rivers District Council, Watford Community Housing Trust
Category: Retrofit for the Future Award

The Boundary Way project provides external insulation to over 100 homes on the Boundary Way estate. The project was a successful applicant for the DECC Fuel Poverty funding. This combined with ECO funding provided the opportunity to insulate the homes free of charge to all residents regardless of income or tenure. The scheme will benefit around 270 residents on the estate.

Over 50% of the homes claim council tax benefit. This, as well as the construction of un-insulated concrete, is a strong indicator for fuel poverty. The project will help to reduce energy costs to stem a rise in deprivation on the estate and will produce carbon savings of over 220 tonnes per year.

A brick slip system has been used on the ground floor to improve maintenance and resistance to damage, as well as improve aesthetics. The design feature has added significant value to the finished outcome.

David Strong said, “The regeneration of the Boundary Way estate will deliver numerous benefits in terms of sustainability. The external insulation will result in significantly lower heat loss and fuel bills. From an environmental sustainability perspective the insulation will reduce CO2 emissions whist giving the homes a new lease-of-life.”

Name of project: Crowbrook
Client: Sasha Bhavan
Architect: Knox Bhavan Architect LLP
Category: Design Excellence

Crowbrook replaces an existing 1970s bungalow in bad disrepair and therefore refurbishment was not an option. The brief was to make the house beautiful and sustainable while contributing to the surrounding category 1 conservation area. The house had to spacious and unobtrusive for disability access and the accommodation should be flexible as the couple have five adult children. The couple would both live and work in this space therefore a home office was required.

Crowbrook benefits from careful orientation which exploits passive solar gain while reducing heat loss and solar glare. Low energy devices are used to increase energy efficiency such as LED lighting and low energy devices. PV and solar thermal panels feed underfloor heating and the planted green roof contribute towards the efficiency.

The building has a timber frame and breathing wall system which is a low- tech sustainable approach but this modern breathing wall works similarly to lime plaster in historic buildings. The building maintains and constant humidity allowing the building to move and breath which reduces the risk of condensation.
Passive solar energy principles have been incorporated into the design by heavily insulating the north wall with no openings and minimising heat loss to the north. The southern entrance elevation has an overhang so that in the height of summer when the sun is high in the sky the windows are protected from solar gain.

Peter Studdert said, “The detailing and use of materials is immaculate throughout, and has been carried through with a calm and careful logic that never ceases to impress. This could be the best house to have been built in Hertfordshire in recent years.”

Name of project: 9 Old North Road
Client: Mr Mark Gilligan
Architect: NRAP Architects
Category: Design Excellence

The extension to a late-Victorian town house in Royston sits at a prominent junction on the approach to town and replaces a single-storey pitched roof out-house. Facing Old North Road, the extension now contributes the streetscape.

The external materials used for the extension continued the use of the materials found in the local streetscape. The materials included traditional brick and slate however the modern design of the extension against a traditional streetscape has allowed the materials to create a unique building. Modern slate covers the roof and upper half of the extension while bottom half and surrounding wall utilises brick to match the local vernacular.

Inside, the windows and roof lights have been carefully considered to maximise natural light, with the double height ceiling providing a space that emphasises the use of natural light and the roof light provides natural light as the sun moves across the sky.

Peter Studdert said: “The result is a simple slate-clad side extension to the existing Victorian house that provides a dramatic double-storey height living space.

This scheme demonstrates that a contemporary approach to extending a house can provide an inspiring and appropriate solution even on a prominent corner site.”

Short-list for the Building Futures Awards

Over the next four weeks building up to the awards ceremony, we will be publishing details of the ten short listed schemes. Quotes have been provided by our judges who have remained impartial throughout the judging process.

Name of project: The Bushey Academy
Client: Hertfordshire County Council
Architect: Architects Co Partnership
Category: Design Excellence

The Bushey Academy is a new build school built adjacent to a refurbished 19th century building and located in a conservation area. This is a fantastic example of design excellence benefiting from contemporary architecture. The external materials used comprise of a combination of glass, brick, aluminium shingles and coloured render.

The school provides accommodation for 1350 pupils and the learning space has been orientated north east and north west to overlook the green belt and stay cool in the summer. The main entrance is a transparent façade consisting of a three story glass wall opening into the main atrium. Parkland to the front has been enhanced with new trees, paths and seating. At the centre of the academy is a grass quadrangle that the students can use all year with a rebuilt clock tower approved by English Heritage.

Peter Studdert said, “As soon as you enter the school you realise that this is a very special place that has resulted from a clear vision about how an Academy should work, and in particular how it should work as a social as well as an educational environment.”

Name of project: Royal Veterinary College, Student Village
Client: Ian Humphreys
Architect: Hawkins\Brown Architects LLP
Category: Most Sustainable Construction & Design Excellence

The Royal Veterinary College Student Village replaces previous accommodation and provides rooms for 205 students together with conference style meeting rooms and refectory. The project benefits from high levels of insulation and solar thermal heating which is estimated to provide up to a third of predicted hot water use. Hotel style key cards and holders are used to switch power on and off to avoid power being left on in empty rooms.

The accommodation blocks have been arranged to that all bedrooms face east or west and benefit from views out onto day lit spaces in the morning or afternoon. The site is set in the green belt so the design had to be sensitive to the rural setting. Using low maintenance and affordable materials such as wood and brick were seen as a sustainable option that can fit into the surroundings. Waste management plans resulted in 80% of onsite waste being recycled. The collaboration with the sub-contractor to minimise waste resulted in no timber off cuts that could not be used.

Peter Studdert said, “The design has responded well to its setting by breaking down the massing of the accommodation to allow views through the scheme, and the choice of materials reflects the materials of the existing campus buildings.”

A great animation launched by Susdrain to promote the benefits of Water Sensitive Urban Design.

 The animation raises the issues that urban areas face today and the proposed solutions that could reduce the adverse effects from these issues.

WSUD proposes creating a beautiful, successful and resilient urban environment where the relationship between water and the urban area should be given a higher priority. An integrated solution to flood risk management including sustainable water use and supply is proposed with the animation providing an overview of Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) that can be implemented to reduce the pressure on sewers.

SuDS solutions proposed for houses are permeable surfaces such as pavements, roads and driveways. Using grey water solutions to reduce water consumption such as using sink water to flush a toilet. The combination of green roof and rain garden systems are used to reduce runoff and provide an urban habitat as well as maintaining plant life. These SuDS options could reduce the pressure on sewers; reduce pollution as well as flooding downstream.

The results that Water Sensitive Urban Design aims to meet are a reduced flood risk, greater water security, improvement to ecosystems and the reduction of the urban heat island effect.


Last Chance to Enter the Building Futures Awards 2013


If you are entering the Building Futures Awards remember that nominations will close on Friday 27th September. If you have a project that you know of that you would like to enter the nominations pack is available on our website simply click here, the pack is simple to use and should be quick to fill out. There is a £50 admin fee for entry and the only conditions that your project must meet are that it must have been completed between 16 September 2011 and 16 September 2013 and is in Hertfordshire.

For more information about the awards, visit our website: http://www.hertslink.org/buildingfutures/