In the second of her two-part article on civic architecture, Jane Embury looks at some glass advantages.
In my previous article, I looked at how the general election should be more than about Brexit.
The main political parties have all said that the age of austerity is over, and much public investment is needed.
My belief is that, when and if that investment is made, the quality of new civic architecture should be of much greater importance.
It’s not just about making civic buildings lighter and brighter and cutting down on electricity bills. For example, studies have found that in healthcare facilities the visual environment can affect staff performance and patient recovery.
In a survey, 86% of directors of nursing said that hospital design was ‘very important’ or ‘important’ in relation to the performance of nurses. Over 90% of nurses and all directors of nursing believed that there was a significant link between recovery rates and a well-designed environment.
Another research report from a hospital in Pennsylvania compared patients whose rooms had windows looking over natural landscapes with those looking onto a brick wall. Patients with open, natural views had shorter post-operative stays – 7.9 days compared to 8.7 days. They also took fewer analgesic doses, and had lower rates of post-surgical complications.
The same is true for educational facilities. A UK study on the relationship between pupil performance and the built environment found that test scores in well-designed buildings were up to 11% higher than in poorly designed schools.
The trouble, of course, is that public sector design has traditionally been primarily influenced by cost. Many public buildings were built on criteria of lowest-price utility.
However, the Royal Academy of Engineers has found that increasing cost to a building’s envelope has an almost infinitesimal effect on lifetime cost. Also, in making energy efficiencies, it could actually achieve long-term savings.
HM Treasury now requires all public sector procurement to prioritise whole-life value over short-term capital costs.
Those buildings could be social housing units, a school, or a hospital. It’s about constructing buildings that add soul and imagination to the built environment.
Schools should be inspirational places for teaching and learning. Transport hubs need to go beyond mere utility to attract new passengers. Hospital design should be part of the healing process.
Nowadays, modern steel systems can span huge areas and still offer levels of fire, ballistic and blast protection hitherto unimaginable. Those are important considerations for public places where thousands of people may work or congregate.
By working closely with designers, we’ve developed innovative solutions for all kinds of civic spaces. Those include shopping centres to hospitals, and from the London Underground to flagship schools.
Our advanced steel glazing systems form bridges between a building’s interior and the space beyond, creating interiors filled with ambient light.
However, glass and steel glazing systems aren’t just about light and safety. At a more basic level is the challenge of the environmental agenda.
The Climate Change Act 2008 gives the public sector a lead role in driving that process forward.
The environmental agenda requires buildings to have windows that maximise natural light and optimise solar gain. But they should also have shading to protect from high-angle sun in summer, while allowing warmth from low-angle rays through in winter. In other words, by meeting those criteria, modern glazing systems reduce heating and lighting costs and therefore carbon emissions.
Our advanced systems are therefore part of the green agenda, as well as being able to cost-effectively turn architectural vision into design reality.
Whatever the outcome of the general election, I only hope that we grasp the opportunity to improve civic Britain.