A Senior Partner at Max Fordham LLP, a well-known environmental engineering consultancy, Nick Cramp leads the practice’s Light + Air team. His experience is both long and broad; over the last 20 years he’s worked on all four Tate museums, the Royal Festival Hall, Torre Hadid in Milan and the London 2012 Olympics. For our annual report, 2021: Our Air In Review, Nick shared his wisdom on wellbeing and natural light, and his thoughts for the future of sustainable building design.
What are the benefits of good lighting, both natural and artificial?
The benefits of daylight to us as humans are many and are supported by a strong body of evidence. They range from the experiential, to the physiological and the practical. Natural light changes in tone, weight and structure as the day passes in a way that speaks directly to our understanding of the world and helps us trust what we see, orientate ourselves, align our body clocks and feel a connection to the outside environment.
Research collected by the World Green Building Council provided persuasive evidence that well daylit spaces significantly reduce hospital stays, identified measurable benefits for sufferers of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and also showed that access to quality daylight could improve mental agility, increase retail sales and enhance staff productivity.
In addition to all these gains in health and wellbeing, we can improve the environmental performance of our construction projects by making the best use of available daylight. We achieve these savings in energy by designing both natural and artificial light to work together in harmony. There is often a misconception that natural light alone is the most energy efficient option, but this is rarely true. The greater embodied energy of fenestration, compared to solid walls and roofs, combined with the heat losses and gains associated with glazing, mean more energy must be invested into creating generously daylit spaces. Therefore, our choices in artificial lighting and controls are important too – they allow us to optimise the openings in buildings for the most pleasant, healthy and liberating experience whilst continuing to drive down emissions.
How can lighting design help deliver a healthy and sustainable building?
Our overarching aim is to develop strategies which deliver beautifully lit, visually pleasing and highly efficient buildings. One of the greatest examples of sustainability is permanence, so if we aspire to create the healthiest, most inspiring and most accessible lighting schemes then we can also ensure that our projects are well used and have a long life, saving on waste and emissions.
Lighting plays an important role in many aspects of our lives. Poor lighting can create distracting and uncomfortable glare for all of us and can cause confusion and even distress for people with particular needs. But a well-considered, well-controlled installation can provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, help everybody find their way around and support us all in safely and successfully going about our daily lives.
Can you tell us more about Max Fordham’s Net Zero Carbon Guide?
Here at Max Fordham, we’ve been pioneers in low energy, low carbon and sustainable building design for more than 50 years.
The desire for us to help tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency in any way we can is positioned firmly at the heart of our partnership. That is why we have created the Net Zero Carbon Guide, a free and open online resource which we hope will help the industry navigate the process of achieving net zero carbon for both old and new buildings.
The Guide itself is a tool for anyone directly involved in the construction of new projects or retrofitting existing buildings. It explains how to achieve ambitious carbon-reducing targets and also acts as an educational tool for students, journalists, and anyone interested in the topic by helping us all to understand the carbon impact of buildings, and by sharing insights from ongoing research and projects.In addition to this, MF: Net Zero is our internal task group responsible for turning our own words and commitments into actions. We led the agenda for Soft Landings and were part of the UKGBC task group that defined the principles of the UKGBC Zero Carbon Framework. We now want – and need – to push the zero carbon agenda further to bring about real, effective change in the buildings we operate and design.
How has building design changed throughout your career, and how do you expect it to change in years to come?
Whilst I’m not yet ready for my free bus pass (and I cycle anyway!) I have been working in environmental design and in lighting for buildings over a considerable period of time. The biggest change since I left university would therefore be the move into computer based design and production, which has created a more complex and ambitious approach to architecture and engineering and has greatly changed the process of design and construction.
Progressive changes to the building regulations and increasing public perception have increased the focus on lowering energy consumption and emissions in operation too, but there is only now just starting to be any pressure to address the vast, upfront emissions caused by new and/or unnecessary construction. In part, I think this is because of a misunderstanding that operational energy is much the larger issue for all projects. This probably used to be the case before statutory regulations demanded improved standards of insulation and energy efficiency, and I should note is still the case in the building sector as a whole because most buildings already exist. However, in new developments, the embodied, upfront carbon often dominates the emission profile, and as those emissions occur right now, they can have the most negative impact on the climate crisis.
I’ve noticed that we always seem to believe that we are at a moment of great change, and it certainly feels that way now. My hope is that we all embrace the need for a new direction of travel in our industry, one that restores our built environment by renovating and improving the existing building stock, as well as designing new projects that are less reliant on huge quantities of concrete and steel. I have a vision for the future of sustainable building design that is more closely inspired by the forms and processes found in nature, that prioritises recycled and reused materials over new ones and in which buildings are self-supporting, self-sufficient, and can make a positive contribution to the wider ecosystem.
Download 2021: Our Air in Review to read more interviews with industry leaders and experts.