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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Book Review: Sustainable Construction (2nd Edition) by Sandy Halliday

September 29th, 2019

When is a book not a book, when it is ajar, which is kind of open all the time. I bought my copy of Sustainable Construction, the first edition, five years ago and that has pretty much been the case. Scanned, turned, flicked and quoted, Sustainable Construction is a reference book, a sustainable plan, a series of case studies, a philosophical approach and as with all good things, it is more than the sum of its parts.

Sandy Halliday’s approach to sustainability brings together the practical with the philo- sophical so that a healthy, affordable, resource efficient environment is within our grasp. Originally evolved from a training course, Sustainable Construction continues to mature but retain the essential ingredient of a multi disciplinarian, straight forward view of what is a complex subject. Optimism abounds replacing the anthroprocene threat of extinction norm. Sandy Halliday’s world is real, we just need to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

10 years have passed since the first edition, the second follows the same format, however shifts the focus beyond recognisable sustainable building blocks towards health and well being. Still arranged as a series of chapter headings these have been re arranged from 14 to 12, generally moving through the design process from drivers and policy, to cost, material selection, environmental design and ultimately construction. Along the way we move from the global to the local and using Sandy’s own words from ‘the very right to the very wrong’. I have never read the book in the correct order al- ways jumping to a chapter which is of interest or one that demands attention. My favourite chapter remains the last, ‘Urban Ecology’ was and will continue to be the best thumbed.

It is not possible to describe all 12 chapters, each is stand alone, providing best prac- tise information on a particular topic complete with its individual bibliography, narrative and case studies. Do not be misled by some of the Chapter headings, such as “Cost Issues” which can be the most fascinating, putting to bed a number of imbalances and informing the reader of an emerging future world of modern realism where it is the pol- luters who are expected to pay. For those less au fait with sustainable terms Sandy will take the time to explain their meaning, in chapter 5 “Materials Selection”, aesthetics are left to the designer however an approach which considers resource, impact in use, an explanation of the embodied and asks what happens to the building at the end of it’s life are the reasons we should make our choices. Collectively the chapters boast 120 case studies, many favourites from the 1st edition remain, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solar Hemicycle, while some are new including Emsher Park in Germany which transformed the Rhur Valley and there are those which have grown up between editions such as the Green City of Malmo. Photographs are much improved without losing some of their amateur charm and a significant addition is the inclusion of the RIAS Sustainability Policy (1997) and RIAS Sustainable Design Accreditation within Chapter 2. The time has come for the RIAS to re-embrace both.

For those who do not own a copy of Sustainable Construction either edition, I would suggest this book is essential, why it does not appear more on University Reading Lists is a mystery. If like me you already own a copy of the 1st edition, please get hold of the 2nd edition and study the changes, you will most probably buy it. Together with Eco- Minimalism written with her late husband Howard Liddell and other recent works such as the Sustainability Guide to the RIBA Plan of Work make Sandy Halliday a true sus- tainability champion, we are very lucky to have her.


Originally published in RIAS Quarterly Spring 2019

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