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Scottish House: A Review Of Recent Experience In Building Individual And Small Groups Of Houses With A View To Sustainability, The Use Of Traditional And New Materials, And Innovative Design




1. Sustainable development is now a central aspect of government policy. In this respect the built environment is a principal cause for concern as the extent of its' actual and potential adverse social, environmental and economic impacts are now well documented. An area in which it is felt that guidance on appropriate design responses could lead to widespread benefit, concerns the potential advantages of applying sustainable design principles to architectural design in rural environments.

2. In recent years there has been increased interest in rural Scotland in building homes to meet sustainable development objectives. As a consequence there are excellent examples of individual and small groups of homes emerging. However, it is evident that those seeking to apply sustainable design have sometimes come up against barriers when projects have been perceived as creating a challenge to traditional planning policy and Building Control authorities 1.

3. One mechanism thought useful to identifying and disseminating the potential benefits was to identify the barriers which have been faced in seeking to apply sustainable design and where these have been overcome, within the required standards, to result in attractive, fitting design. As a consequence this study was initiated by the Scottish Executive Countryside and Natural Heritage Department. The case histories of a number of houses in rural Scotland, with characteristics of general relevance to sustainability, have been studied. It is hoped and anticipated that the outcome will assist in addressing the overarching concerns of architectural design quality, rural housing and sustainable development and thereby inform policy in these respects. The case studies and issues raised during the consultation process are discussed here and a selection of illustrative material is provided which might be used in a subsequent publication. The selection aims to reflect best practice in all respects.

4. Recently a number of initiatives have sought to address serious concerns for the fittingness of new buildings in the Scottish countryside and improving the overall quality of architectural design in Scotland. These are longstanding concerns. However the challenges of sustainable development, and the need to pursue and enhance best practice in this regard, adds an additional dimension to this much needed debate. Indeed the need for a sustainable built environment raises serious questions about the extent to which perceptions based on now recognisably unsustainable cultural traditions may need to be challenged, appropriate responses identified and the opportunities and concerns this raises.

5. It is evident from this study, that those seeking to apply sustainable design in buildings have faced a number of barriers. Many, but not all of the aspects, involve innovative technical responses with which the relevant bodies may be unfamiliar such as energy & water resource management, fabric, structure and treatment of materials. Other aspects are concerned with the perceived appropriateness of some innovative forms and materials.

6. The case studies and consultation process have highlighted that some sustainable design can challenge visual traditions. This does not mean that they are not of high quality design, nor that they are less fitting responses than less sustainable buildings. Many innovative technical solutions could be applied more widely and lack of adequate knowledge among relevant bodies may be stifling innovation to the detriment of the environment.

7. It is hoped that the feedback provided here can contribute to the evolution of the building control procedures and the regulatory framework so as to improve its ability to deliver government objectives with respect to sustainable development. It could also contribute substantial benefits to the environment in general, to rural environments and communities and to innovation in the Scottish building industry.

8. There is a clear problem in the relationship between innovation and relaxation of regulations in respect of sustainable construction and the responsibility that this invokes. Some concerns focus on lack of complete understanding of the environmental appropriateness of materials, techniques and processes to the Scottish environment and the present skills base. There is also concern about style and aesthetic suitability. Whilst the past is often invoked there is a public perception that much average conventional rural building, systems and materials might be deemed inappropriate in many ways.

9. There is a desire to unlock the present situation to ensure future development is fitting, appropriate and sustainable and that Scotland can plan for future sustainable development. Planners and building control however, are conscious that relaxation can also lead to negative, inappropriate development as well as positive interventions. Hence they are seeking a framework within which the latter can be enhanced and not the former.

10. The principle research implications of this report are provided below as a list of requirements and/or suggested actions:

  • Guidelines on sustainable design based on an informed long term view of the rural environment.
  • Communication of policy on sustainable design targeted at appropriate professional bodies, as the basis for;
    • action by professional bodies in rural development, for example policy & implementation statements; and
    • a review of the planning and building control process to include sustainability as a principle objective.
  • Modernising the culture of Building Control to one in which new ideas and change are explored with enthusiasm, to include;
    • improved dissemination and sharing of contemporary information on good practice and innovation by building control and planning authorities as an aid consistency and improved effectiveness;
    • development of flexible decision making informed by improved knowledge of design aesthetics and sustainability perhaps through involving architects and/or sustainability advisors in the planning process;
    • replacing the culture of perceived problems in favour of a more open, creative, proactive response to problem solving;
    • improved Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and training opportunities in sustainable in the planning and building control professions; and
    • Improved CPD and training opportunities in design in the planning and building control professions.
  • Actively seeking out and rewarding skills in sustainable design.
  • Promotion of interest in leading edge environmental initiatives.
  • Research into materials and systems both historical and in use.
  • Improved understanding of the costs and economic impact of sustainable construction and rural development.