Britain's 20 greenest buildings

27 June 2008 by Mark Jansen

From 600,000 sq ft City of London skyscrapers to primary school playgrounds, the future is green.

Buildings may pump out 45% of the UK's carbon emissions, but the property industry is gradually waking up to sustainability.

Property Week has compiled an inspirational list of Britain's top 20 greenest buildings.

Many have been commissioned by owner-occupiers, or by the public sector and charities, but there are also examples of innovative Green buildings that private developers have created for the rental market.

Most of the green buildings are quite small, which makes it easier for them to function without air conditioning. Gazeley's Blue Planet and British Land's Ropemaker, however, offer examples of large-scale development with a sustainable face.

There is one important caveat. While the designs may be green, many buildings perform disappointingly once occupied. Data on energy use once tenants have moved in is scarce at the moment, but will be crucial to the success of green development in the future.

'Green design is a pretty meaningless description now,' says Lynne Sullivan, director of sustainable design at Inbuilt Consulting.

'We need to know how a building performs in practice. Without this knowledge, we have achieved nothing in terms of understanding the value of sustainable design.'

Epic conference and Event centre, Lincoln

Opened this month, Lincoln's Epic Conference and Event Centre is designed to emit half the carbon of ordinary centres. A living roof planted with sedum, and an earth wall cloaking the north face, insulate the building from heat in summer and the cold in winter.

It is naturally ventilated and needs only a 95 KW boiler, which runs on biomass, to heat a space totalling 38,000 sq ft during winter.

The heating panels emit infra red waves that warm people rather than the building.

Solar panels provide hot water and the internal walls are made of compressed straw or recycled paper as an alternative to plasterboard.

The centre is owned by Lincolnshire Agricultural Society. Project manager Nick Cheffins believes the green design added little to the £5.85m build cost.

'I don't think we'd have saved much money if we'd done it conventionally,' he says.

The building's energy performance will be monitored and the results posted at

Howe Dell school, Hertfordshire

Howe Dell Primary School in Hertfordshire has a unique playground. Beneath the tarmac lies a network of water pipes that absorbs heat from sunshine that falls on the tarmac in summer and stores it in 'thermal banks' beneath the school. The warmth is released during winter to help heat the school. Commissioned by the county council and officially opened this March, Howe Dell was designed by Capita Architecture and the Interseasonal Heat Transfer system was developed by ICAX.

Edward Thompson, director of ICAX, says it emits less than half the carbon of a comparable gas system, but admits the payback period is more than 10 years. However, he expects this to reduce as fuel prices continue to rise. ICAX technology has also been installed at Garth prison in Lancashire.

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

On 4 July the Queen will officially open a new campus for Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, which is said to be the UK's greenest campus.

Handed over to the university in autumn 2007, the campus features a woodchip boiler for heating, exposed internal concrete for cooling and natural ventilation for most of the accommodation. To mitigate the impact of its out-of-town location and encourage use of rail links, the university has arranged for the footpath from the campus to the local station to be lit with 46 solar-powered lamps.

Great Glen House, Inverness

Commissioned and occupied by Scottish Natural Heritage and completed in June 2006, this building scored 84% under the BREEAM environmental assessment method, a record for its category.

The 65,600 sq ft office is naturally ventilated, except for the computer server room, and uses exposed concrete for cooling. It also has high standards of insulation and airtightness.

Materials for the building were A-rated under the Green Guide to Specification published by the Buildings Research Establishment and a solar system provides 65%-80% of hot water. Great Glen House was designed by Keppie.

Upton housing scheme, Northampton

A group of 19 homes within this development by Cornhill Estates won the Ecohomes category of the annual BREEAM awards last year, with a total score of 80.25%, placing it high up in the 'excellent' rating band.

The homes are highly insulated and most of the construction materials are A-rated in the Building Research Establishment's Green Guide.

A rainwater harvesting system supplies water for toilet flushes, washing machines and outside taps. Solar panels provide up to 75% of the hot water.

Innovate Green Office, Thorpe Park, Leeds

In 2006 the Innovate Green Office at Thorpe Park in Leeds achieved one of the highest scores ever given under the BREEAM assessment method, scoring 87.5%.

The 43,000 sq ft office, which is owned by Innovate Properties, was engineered by King Shaw Associates.

The building is highly insulated on the outside but features exposed concrete on the inside to maximise its thermal mass.

This means it is slow to heat up or cool down in reaction to outside temperatures, which reduces the need for additional heating and cooling.

A combined heat and power plant provides heating, cooling and electricity.

National Trust Headquarters, Swindon

This building features natural ventilation and uses exposed concrete ceilings to help absorb heat from the office space during the day.

External vents open automatically at night to allow the building to cool down before the next working day. Heat generated by office equipment and people is captured during winter to supplement the heating system.

A government grant helped pay for 1,554 solar panels on the roof that provide 40% of the headquarters' energy needs.

Jubilee Library, Brighton

The 2005 winner of the prime minister's Better Public Buildings award uses local wind conditions to drive its passive ventilation system. Three wind towers on the roof draw warm air out of the building during summer, while exposed internal concrete also helps with cooling. A south-facing glass facade is angled to capture heat in winter but deflect it in summer, and a heat recovery system captures warmth generated by people, computers and lighting.

Butterfield, Luton

This month Lambert Smith Hampton became the latest tenant to move into the Village on Butterfield Business Park, a green development by Easter Group that won the Sustainable Achievement of the Year category in last year's annual awards organised by the Office Agents Society and Property Week.

The Village has a natural ventilation system that uses outdoor underground pipes to draw cool air inside. Exposed concrete also helps to keep the buildings cool during summer.

Lend Lease European Headquarters, London

While new developments are increasingly built to sustainability principles, the reduction of carbon emissions from the existing building stock is a much bigger challenge.

Lend Lease's refurbishment of its European headquarters at 19 Hanover Square in London's West End helps to point the way. The 1970s building has won a BREEAM 'excellent' rating and contains green features such as chilled-beam air conditioning, timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and lighting that switches off automatically when rooms are empty. Meters have been installed to enable Lend Lease to measure and reduce gas, electricity and water consumption.

Cramlington Care Home, Northumberland

The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution is beginning to use sustainable construction methods at its chain of care homes for the elderly. Just completed is Cramlington, north of Newcastle, which has a ground source heat pump that draws on the relative warmth of the earth below ground during winter to supplement its heating system. The building also has rainwater harvesting and solar panels.

BDP Offices, Manchester

Next month the Manchester branch of architect Building Design Partnership will move into what it claims is the city's first naturally ventilated office to win a BREEAM 'excellent' rating. The 33,000 sq ft building at Piccadilly Basin also has a living roof and rainwater harvesting provides water for the toilets. It was designed by the firm.

Swindon Central Library

Winner of a BREEAM annual award last year, Swindon Central Library has a long list of green features, including natural ventilation, an efficient underfloor heating system, rainwater harvesting and sophisticated lighting controls.

Blue Planet, North Staffordshire

Gazeley's Blue Planet industrial park at Chatterly Valley in north Staffordshire will feature a mini-power station that runs on biofuels. The power station will provide tenants with electricity and the waste heat will be captured for an underfloor heating system.

Work started on the 380,000 sq ft scheme last month and is expected to reach completion by the end of the year. Other green innovations are windows made from the recyclable 'Texlon' material used to construct the 'biomes' of the Eden Project in Cornwall. A film of photovoltaic cells will be embedded in the sheets to produce around 20 KW of electricity a year.

The carpets will be made from recycled yarn and the toilets will use harvested rainwater. The designs for Blue Planet have won a high BREEAM score of 82%.

Cabot House, Bristol

Developer Westmark claims its Cabot House office scheme in Bristol will be one of the greenest in the UK.

The designs have been given a BREEAM score in the high 80s, thanks to features such as ground source heat pumps to supplement the building's heating and cooling system and solar power to provide hot water.

The 100,000 sq ft building will also feature natural ventilation and high thermal mass concrete will be used to aid night-time cooling. The Environment Agency has prelet 70,000 sq ft and building work is due to finish in 2010.

Ropemaker, City of London

Ropemaker is British Land's flagship green development and could represent the future for all large office schemes. The 600,000 sq ft, 20-storey office tower in the City of London will feature a biomass boiler, solar water heating and photovoltaic panels to generate electricity.

The windows tilt outward slightly to reduce the warming effect of the sun's rays and the need for cooling. The building will also feature green roofs and rainwater harvesting and will be configured to allow tenants to install chilled-beam air conditioning as a greener alternative to traditional fan coil systems.

Surplus heat from IT systems will be recovered and reused. According to Paul Burgess, head of London leasing at British Land, the planning consent from Islington council requires the owner to achieve a BREEAM 'excellent' rating and, crucially, maintain the award post-completion, which is due in mid-2009.

One Brighton

Crest Nicholson and BioRegional Quintain are jointly building this scheme of 172 flats in Brighton, East Sussex. They claim it will be zero carbon in terms of energy use because of a biomass boiler and eight roof-mounted turbines.

Recycled materials have been used in the construction and the first residents will move in by the end of the year.

The consortium is working on a similar scheme at Gallions Park.

Gallions Park, London

Gallions Park is the Greater London Authority's own green housing project. In November the London Development Agency appointed a consortium of Bioregional Quintain, Crest Nicholson and Southern Housing Group to deliver 260 homes at a site in the Royal Docks, east London.

The design will use high thermal mass principles to minimise heating and cooling requirements and a combined heat and power plant that runs on biomass.

The development will be rated zero carbon in terms of energy use. Construction is due to begin at the end of 2008 or in early 2009.

Heart of East Greenwich, London

Heart of East Greenwich is another scheme created by English Partnerships to promote green housing. First Base was appointed to develop the site in December 2006 and submitted a planning application in March this year for a mixed-use scheme comprising 645 homes, two swimming pools, a health centre, a library and shops.

A combined heat and power boiler that runs on biomass will provide the scheme's heat and electricity. First Base managing director Elliot Lipton says the scheme will 'shape the future of sustainable developments in London'.

Hanham Hall, Bristol

In December Barratt Developments won a competition to build a carbon-neutral estate of 188 homes at Hanham Hall, Bristol. The competition was organised by English Partnerships and was the first of a series of contests, known as the Carbon Challenge, to build 'eco-villages' at five sites around the UK.

The Hanham Hall scheme is scheduled for completion in 2011 and will feature a communal, combined heat and power plant that provides electricity and space heating and runs on biomass.