Susan Roaf

FAVOURITES: 4 March 2010 – Susan Roaf  is a UK academic who designed and lives in the well known Oxford Ecohouse. Her passion is help blend the architecture and engineering professions to achieve buildings that operate on a tenth of energy for comparable buildings; a single payment package might help. In any case, she says it’s game over for  “eco-crimes” in the name of fashion or style.

Susan Roaf, a professor at the School of the Built Environment at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, is passionate about the need for new disciplines to support the design and development of low carbon buildings.

Roaf designed and lives in the Oxford Ecohouse, the first UK building with a photovoltaic roof. Her skills and research into low carbon buildings are sought internationally, and in this workshop she will help building design, procurement, construction and service professionals understand how their industry is changing, and how they need to evolve to meet its 21st century demands.

Traditional roles and divisions between the professions and sectors of the construction and manufacturing industries are becoming blurred, Roaf suggests.

“Agile practitioners and firms have enormous opportunities ahead. But those who continue trying to sell the ‘same old’ will find it difficult.”

The demand for low carbon buildings is on the rise worldwide in the face of climate change, rising energy prices and economic instability, and it’s quite possible to design and create a building that uses one tenth of the current energy use for a comparable structure.

But since architects are not generally taught how to design low energy buildings, and buildings service engineers are only taught how to optimise mechanical system efficiency, low energy building design requires us to systematically challenge conventional wisdom.

It might be, Roaf contends, that there’s a need for a new profession in building – for people with both the architectural design skills and the engineering modelling and analysis skills. Or perhaps today’s architects and engineers can upskill, and profitably transition to meet emerging market requirements.

Roaf sees the amalgam of architectural and engineering skills being applied on projects from day one, and suggests that a singlepayment package based on the performance of the building would encourage innovative outcomes. The big gains are not only about engineering, she suggests, hence the need for the multi-disciplinary, tightly integrated approach. Leading edge consultancies are already beginning to move in this space, engaging the generation of young engineers who know solar, wind and other sustainable technologies – and pairing them with architects committed to the new world order.

For building consumers, the smart money has already voted for low energy buildings, says Roach, for a range of reasons, including business continuity planning. Operating from a building that can simply turn on a generator for basic power needs and keep functioning in the event of mains power failure is vastly superior to operating in a building which has to be evacuated within 30 minutes of a major power failure. Other issues include better indoor air quality and lifestyle factors.

While an older generation of the workforce was prepared to put up with sick buildings, poor indoor air quality and a range of other issues, we have more mature generations now who value their quality of life and health, and seek to feel more in harmony with nature.

“Low carbon buildings, which use natural ventilation, shading, thermal mass, intelligent site orientation and more can deliver working and living environments that fulfill all of these desires.”
Clients will no longer accept what Roach describes matter-of-factly as “turkeys”. They’re smarter than that, and will not accept buildings riddled with climate crimes in the name of fashion or “cutting edge design”.

Susan Roaf will be a guest speaker at ARBS 2010, the  Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Building Services Exhibition 12-14 April, Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre. To register for Professor Roaf’s workshop go to

This article was written by Cathie Kennedy, a consultant to ARBS

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