Burning desires – constructing bio-based commercial buildings in the UK

Rosemary Fieldson is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader at University of Lincoln, and she is one of the speakers at the conference Biobaserede Byggematerialer 1.-2. September in Copenhagen. At the presentation, you will hear about two commercial buildings (M&S Cheshire Oaks retail store and GSK compliance archive building) where both firms wanted to use hempcrete for their new buildings to pursue a more sustainable future.

You will be taken through the development journey of both projects, from the development of the hempcrete wall panel product and the challenges with fire regulations and how they were solved.

In this article, you can read an interview with Rosemary Fieldson.

What is your background? And how do you work with biobased materials?

I was lucky to receive considerable passive energy design and sustainability training in my architecture degrees at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Subsequently, I became very interested in selecting materials for ethical, biodiversity and embodied impact reasons while working for Ken Yeang in Kuala Lumpur in 1990’s. After qualifying as an architect, I wrote a PhD on sustainable retail architecture. Since that time, I trained as a BREEAM assessor and now teach at University of Lincoln.

Rosemary Fieldson, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader, University of Lincoln

What do you see as the biggest challenges in relation to biobased materials in construction?

I worked for 20 years in a commercial practice in the UK with close links to a construction company and a property developer, so I have witnessed how cost and risk are handled in decision making. Selection preference remains a challenge for any material that is not considered conventional, value for money, safe and trusted.

What should we particularly pay attention to when building with biobased materials?

Companies that can deliver consistent quality of materials are financial robust and can cope with larger orders. If they are unable to build up supply of their products, they risk losing out to conventional product suppliers.

Which opportunities do biobased materials create?

Utilizing waste streams and co-products from forestry and food production.

Better interior air quality supporting wellbeing.

Vastly reduced embodied impact.

Can you mention 3 recommendations for how to move forward and use more biobased materials in the future?

  1. Clients that have a point to prove about an aspect of sustainable construction or want to utilise a material that aligns with their brand
  2. Pilot projects with really good research and dissemination that reaches decision makers in the construction sector (not just to academics)
  3. Aim for very steady and sustainable market growth. There may be massive capacity to revolutionize a sector, but it takes a long time to change it because there are so many stakeholders to convince.
Chesire Oaks M&S. Photo credit: Simons Group ltd

Which projects with biobased materials do you find interesting?

Integrating biobased projects with offsite manufacture to assist with faster site programmes with reduced local disruption. I have been following on-farm hemp board manufacture developments in Australia by Mirreco with interest.  Decarbonising Buildings, Cities and the Earth – MIRRECO.

What do you talk about at Biobaserede Byggematerialer?

I’ll be focusing on the challenges of meeting fire regulations with innovative materials using my experience from two commercial projects for large companies that are now occupied. Fire has become a very difficult subject in the UK since 2017, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues and I hope our experiences can help designers elsewhere to rationalise the risks and opportunities between safety and climate change.

Do you want to hear more about fire regulations and biomaterials?

Join us at Biobaserede Byggematerialer 1-2 September. You can read more here and sign up here.

Top image: Z Building Glaxo Smithkline, UK. Photo Credit: Simons Design Ltd

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