Core curriculum topic: Sustainable architecture

To help you gain the skills you need to practise architecture now and in the future as a RIBA Chartered Member, we have defined 10 mandatory core curriculum topics to address through CPD.

The topic Sustainable architecture covers the legal and regulatory basis (including primary and secondary legislation) and principles of climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also covers low carbon and low energy design, over the life cycle of a building, with effective client briefing and management.

Sustainable architecture

Background and context: understanding of

The built environment has an urgent role to play in responding to the climate emergency and the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge calls on members and industry to meet net zero whole life carbon (or less) in the buildings they design by 2030. The subject areas set out in this knowledge schedule for the RIBA mandatory competence in Climate Literacy enable RIBA Chartered Architects to design buildings that deliver sustainable outcomes and meet the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge.

*Global and built environment climate fundamentals

  • Climate fundamentals
  • Financial risks and net zero economy
  • Environmental impacts of the built environment
  • Sustainable urbanism, architecture and engineering
  • Built environment policy, legislation, regulations, commitments, benchmarks and construction industry guidance

*RIBA Sustainable Outcomes and common threads

  • RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide: outcomes based briefing and design, Plan for Use, Soft Landings and post occupancy evaluation
  • Retrofit, adaptation and reuse
  • Planning for climate extremes, disaster risk, resilience, redundancy and adaptation
  • Life cycle costing, investment and procurement
  • Research and innovation

*Human factors

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Communities, interconnectivity and inclusion
  • Social value
  • Biophilic and sensory design
  • User experience design and occupancy behaviour

*Circular economy

  • Resource efficiency and geographic implications
  • Designing for change (flexibility and adaptability) and regeneration
  • Environmental and health impacts of materials and waste
  • Waste as a resource
  • Responsible and ethical sourcing

*Energy and carbon

  • Passive design
  • Active design
  • Whole life carbon (for retrofit and new build): modelling, carbon assessments and iterative design process
  • Offsetting
  • Operational energy and carbon, modelling and technology

*Ecology and biodiversity

  • Biodiversity and net gain
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Land use and building density
  • Bio-regional urbanism and design
  • Urban farming and sustainable food production

* Water

  • Water cycle, demand, supply and reduction
  • Water recycling and reuse
  • Rainwater harvesting, stormwater management and sustainable urban drainage
  • Water pollution in (natural) aquatic habitats
  • Climate change impacts (floods, droughts, water quality)

*Connectivity and transport

  • Site location
  • Compact development and walkability
  • Regional and local infrastructure and planning
  • Low carbon transport and multimodal transportation networks
  • Planning for future of transportation

Legislation: understanding of

Primary legislation (acts or orders) such as:

  • Clean Air Act.
  • Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act.
  • Climate Change Act.
  • Energy Act.
  • Environmental Protection Act.
  • Flood and Water Management Act.
  • Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.
  • Water Resources Act.
  • Wildlife and Countryside Act.
  • The key points laid out in NPPF regarding presumption in favour of sustainable design

Secondary legislation (regulations) and standards such as:

  • Relevant Building Regulations such as L1 and L2 and the devolved nations’ equivalents
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations.
  • Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations.
  • BS EN 15978:2011 Sustainability of Construction Works. Assessment of environmental performance of buildings. Calculation method
  • BS EN 15804:2012 Environmental product declarations. Core rules for the product category of construction products
  • RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon: Implementation in the built environment, 2017.
  • Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations.
  • Site Waste Management Plan Regulations.
  • Town and Country Planning Regulations (environmental impact assessment) (England and Wales)
  • SUDS legislation and the need to respond to predicted future flood conditions
  • Code for Sustainable Homes
  • The Passivhaus Standard
  • BREEAM standards
  • PAS 1192
  • ISO 20400: Sustainable Procurement Standard

Client briefing and management

  • Understanding and prioritising energy efficiency in low carbon design over whole life
  • Energy efficiency as underpinning the more general aim of low carbon emissions
  • Communicating the ethical and pragmatic importance of low carbon design
  • Low energy and high comfort together resulting in good outcomes for client and planet
  • Communicating the importance of the selection of low carbon materials and systems.
  • The importance of life cycle analysis in aiding the understanding of a buildings physical performance over its life.
  • Understanding stakeholders, clients, planning and legislative authorities
  • Defining the brief whilst balancing sustainability targets
  • Importance of commissioning and building management – soft landings as a process from start to finish
  • Building performance metrics such as kWhr.m2a kgCO2/m2
  • KPI's and which ones should be used and comfort indices such as IAQ, CO2 levels, temperature.

Knowledge of low carbon skills and energy literacy

The thermal implications of building form and fabric, and how thermal performance can be improved

  • The effects of location, shelter and shading on thermal performance and allied issues such as moisture
  • The effects of building form on heat loss and solar aperture and how these can be modelled using software or simple maths
  • The use of solar and internal heat gains and their contribution to overheating if not managed
  • The use of building form to promote natural ventilation and cooling where appropriate Understanding the difference between summer and winter ventilation
  • The importance of the continuity of insulation and air-tightness within a ventilation strategy
  • The importance of minimising thermal bridging and air leakage
  • Deploying constructions of high and low thermal mass appropriately
  • Understanding how light and heavy structures can influence performance and may be appropriate or less so to certain building types
  • U value and Ψ value calculations

Building services systems that contribute to low carbon performance, and understanding the pros and cons of:

  • Reducing cooling loads to avoid the need for cooling or air conditioning
  • Ventilation options including natural cross-ventilation, passive stack ventilation, and mechanical supply and/or extract ventilation
  • Ensuring efficient and responsive heating and cooling plant and heat emitters
  • Responsive systems and controls to improve efficiency and permit the use of solar and internal gains
  • Efficient internal and external lighting systems and controls, and understanding how to keep systems simple

New and renewable energy systems and the ability to compare and evaluate systems

· Understanding how these systems work and what variables contribute to saving carbon

  • Heat pumps
  • Combined heat and power including micro CHP
  • Solar water heating
  • Biofuel heating systems
  • Photovoltaic arrays
  • Wind turbines

Embodied and Whole Life Carbon assessments for new construction work

  • Embodied carbon assessments through RIBA work stages.
  • Optimize recycled content compatible with low carbon objectives.
  • Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
  • LCA to establish durability of components, and flexibility of completed project.
  • LCA to establish maintenance and replacement cycles.
  • LCA to include ‘end of life’ assessment to ascertain resource efficient demolition and capacity for reuse of components and materials

Energy and environmental assessment for new and existing buildings

  • Domestic energy rating (SAP and NHER) including performance certification
  • Understanding of SAP as current compliance tool. Knowledge of other modelling tolls such as IES and PHPP and understanding which model for which job.
  • Non domestic energy rating systems (SBEM, etc) including performance certification
  • Environmental assessment methodologies such as BREEAM and LEED
  • Code for Sustainable Homes
  • Domestic energy survey techniques and assessments
  • Housing stock assessment and stock profiling
  • Non domestic energy surveys

Airtightness and performance

  • Building physics
  • Condensation risk calculations, moisture management and avoidance of moisture
  • Movement of moisture in building fabric
  • Relative humidity, internal moisture control and moisture buffering
  • Closing the performance gap and understanding the phenomena that create performance gap in the first place then understanding how to eliminate these issues
  • Heat loss parameters and understanding the relationship between air tightness, insulation, glazing, heat loss and solar gain
  • Understanding and designing for thermal comfort and the need for overheating risk mapping for future conditions
  • Health and wellbeing, including indoor air quality

Whole building overview and process

  • Strategic definition: RIBA stage 0
  • Specification and tender
  • Procurement and cost management
  • Material selection, embodied energy, recycling and minimising waste
  • Whole life carbon foot printing
  • Life Cycle Analysis
  • Resource energy efficiency, materials, water, energy and behaviour
  • Thermal upgrade of historic and listed buildings
  • Using relevant insulation for listed buildings
  • Design for deconstruction, recycling and reuse (and reduction of waste)
  • Construction processes to mitigate impact – use of offsite construction (see also design, construction and technology core topic)

Energy efficiency and listed buildings: understanding of

  • Series of relevant published guidance by Historic England
  • Published guidance on responsible retrofit of Traditional Buildings by the STBA (sponsored by Historic England)
  • SPAB Energy Efficiency reports
  • Understanding the special interest of the listed building and how thermal upgrading may be effected without it being compromised
  • Understanding the requirement for listed building consent and the exemptions provided by approved document L (also in the case of buildings of traditional construction)
  • Thermal upgrade of listed buildings, buildings in conservation areas, and of buildings of traditional construction
  • The use of the right insulation
  • The correct window upgrades
  • Understanding defects and behaviours of various materials
  • Approaches to repair and conservation techniques

Find CPD on this topic

You must take two hours of CPD on this topic every year.

Find RIBA accredited CPD on Sustainable architecture through RIBA Academy.

Related courses include:

Find related CPD offered by our partners on the CPD Providers Network.

Podcasts, videos, articles, and other offers can also contribute towards your CPD requirements.

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