Sustainable Buildings and Communities: Their role in meeting environmental and social goals

SGR Conference and AGM 2008

Alan Baxter and Associates’ Gallery, London, UK; 25 October


  • Social Housing: From Paternalism to Cooperatives
    Kate Macintosh MBE, Vice Chair, SGR
  • Making Sustainable Building and Places
    Prof Sandy Halliday, Gaia Research

Ten posters were presented in the afternoon session.

Summary by Alasdair Beal



Over 70 delegates attended this stimulating event. Stuart Parkinson (Executive Director of SGR) welcomed delegates, and thanked Alan Baxter and Associates for providing the venue.

There were two main speakers - Kate Macintosh and Sandy Halliday - and ten posters presented by researchers and others (see list below). SGR's AGM took place at the end of the day.

Social Housing: From Paternalism to Cooperatives

Kate Macintosh (Vice Chair of SGR) spoke on 'Social Housing: From Paternalism to Cooperatives'. Kate traced developments in social housing from 1920s initiatives such as St Pancras Home Improvement Society and Liverpool City Architect's Department. Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna was a very influential development at the time. Liverpool planned to build 5000 units per year up to 1936. After World War II, a flagship scheme was Churchill Gardens, Pimlico - 1700 homes, with shops, pubs and community centre, all heated by waste heat from Battersea Power Station. London City Council Architect's Department was established in 1949 and other cities followed suit, leading to a series of ambitious schemes.

However, imported ideas such as large-panel high-rise blocks of flats led to crude and insensitive schemes. This trend was only ended following the partial collapse of Ronan Point in Newham in 1968. More modest scale and individually designed developments from the same era have survived much better. In the 1970s design consultation with tenants led to schemes like Byker in Newcastle. In the 1980s and 1990s, housing coops like Coin Street in London produced excellent developments. However, council houses have been sold off cheaply to private owners, housing associations and 'arm's-length' management organisations, with local authorities receiving only a fraction of the money raised. If there is a revitalisation of council housing it is important that lessons from the past successes and failures are learned.

Kate's talk stimulated a lively discussion, covering space standards, design and energy conservation.

Making Sustainable Building and Places

Sandy Halliday (Gaia Research, Edinburgh) spoke about 'Making Sustainable Building and Places', with examples of interesting projects in Germany where sustainability is treated as part of the design and function rather than a separate subject. The 1968 Club of Rome report, 'Limits to Growth,' showed that there are limits to economic growth - but not to development if we conserve and recycle resources. The 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment - which took place in Stockholm - discussed the effects of pollution and the need to consider the environment along with development.

Sandy outlined the principles of 'appropriate development'. The key to energy saving in buildings is not gadgets like rooftop wind-turbines and solar photo-voltaic panels - it is good design and construction. She advocated 'eco-minimalism' as an antidote to 'eco-bling'. The fabric of the building should be made airtight, then ventilation used as required. More should be spent on the roof and cladding, less on mechanical services, and toxic and polluting materials should be designed out. Sandy has written the 'Green Guide to the Architect's Job Book'. 'Green' buildings need not cost more.

She also showed how the Fairfield community had been regenerated as a housing cooperative. Involving children in design can be interesting. The design of Acharacle School was based on lessons learned on Norse and German visits. Schools in Europe constructed under PPP (Public Private Partnership) score badly on eco-efficiency, just as they do here.


SGR Chair Phil Webber welcomed delegates to the AGM. The minutes of 2007 AGM were accepted. Director Stuart Parkinson reported on the year's campaigning - bad Government decisions on Trident nuclear missile replacement and new nuclear power but some effective campaigning on various fronts by SGR. Activities included submissions to government commissions, lectures, recruitment stalls at events and many letters sent to press and decision makers. By the end of September 2008 SGR had 983 members.

Treasurer Patrick Nicholson reported that it had been a tight year financially and thanked staff for voluntarily accepting a temporary reduction in paid hours.

A proposal for SGR to allow organisations to affiliate was accepted. The nominated officers and committee were elected. Alan Cottey, who stepped down from committee, was thanked for his past work and also for organising this year's successful poster exhibition.

In discussion, SGR's increasing public profile was welcomed. We also discussed a variety of suggestions for reaching larger audiences, especially young people.


  • Communicating Science. Rich Blundell
  • Economics of the Finite Earth. Aart and Wiebina Heesterman
  • Housing, Design and Community. James Scott
  • Insulation, Efficiency and Funding. Ian Greenwood
  • Modelling Energy Distribution Networks. Salvador Acha
  • The Localworks Project. Michael Weller
  • The Low Carbon Futures Project. Sue Pollard
  • TREC-UK's Desertec Project. Hywel Roberts
  • Schools for the Future. Alice Moncaster
  • UK Housing Stock Strategy. Gavin Killip

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