Design in a Changing Climate – Carbon Conscious Places

Heather Claridge, A&DS, introduces a new report on how the design of our towns, cities and landscapes can help combat the climate emergency.

©Richard Carman/A&DS
©Richard Carman/A&DS

©Richard Carman/A&DS

One of the most important drivers for change of our time is undoubtedly the climate emergency. It impacts almost every aspect of our lives. We are already experiencing this through increased rainfall events, warmer seasons and rising sea levels. This is both a challenge and opportunity to rethink how our places are planned, delivered, adapted and used. If we do this well and at pace, we help to futureproof our villages, towns, cities and regions from the more extreme and costly impacts of climate change. In turn, we can help to support places to be healthier, happier, just and thriving.

In 2019, the Energy and Climate Change Directorate of the Scottish Government asked Architecture and Design Scotland to help implement Scotland’s Climate Change Plan and Act at a local level. Over the last decade, A&DS has collected intelligence on sustainable design. However, with the introduction of a target to be a net zero carbon society by 2045, we recognised we could both support and gain more understanding of the practical and creative ways places can help achieve this ambition. We established a pilot phase of the project which was underpinned by a ‘learning by doing’ approach.

Pilot Phase

During this phase we supported 4 Local Authorities to progress spatial plans prioritising decarbonisation. This included the redevelopment of Knab in Lerwick, Shetland; Elgin Town Centre Masterplan; Strathard Land Use and Rural Development Framework; and Glasgow South Central Local Development Framework. These Authorities were selected due to their variation in geography, project scale and stage. However, each of them shared an aspiration to explore how to position climate change as a key driver for change.

In addition to the work with the Authorities, we collected a series of blogs ranging in aspects from energy, food growing, brownfield reuse, mobility to behaviour change. We curated a public sector client forum online on the theme of climate, health and place. The learning from the combination of these activities helped to shape the content of a Carbon Conscious Report, launched on the 6th of October 2020.

©Richard Carman/A&DS

©Richard Carman/A&DS

Eight Principles of Carbon Conscious Places

The report offers examples, principles and illustrations to help guide and inspire people to support a whole place approach to reduce, repurpose and absorb carbon and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  The eight principles identified are interconnected and are not intended to be used as a definitive set of solutions instead they outline important concepts to consider when shaping places.

  • Principle 1 is a ‘place-led approach’. This involves understanding, appreciating and working with existing assets, the surrounding landscape and the place identity. Using the right type of intervention, at the right stage, scale and location.
  • Principle 2 is a ‘place of small distances’. This encourages the creation of complete and self-sufficient neighbourhoods with everyday services and facilities within a short walking or cycling distance.
  • Principle 3 leads on from the previous and is a ‘network of small distance places’. This involves connecting complete neighbourhoods to provide a network of places that support greater self-sufficiency and low carbon living. Enabling people to live, work and play without generating unnecessary carbon emissions.
  • Principle 4 is a ‘place designed for and with local people’. This involves placing people’s needs at the centre of decision-making, service provision and investment in our places and ensuring they are actively involved in key stages of the design process.
  • Principle 5 is a ‘place that reuses, repurposes and considers whole life costs’. This supports the retrofitting of existing structures and brownfield sites first, giving consideration to embodied carbon in place. This principle supports viewing structures as ‘material banks’ with components which are demountable, rebuildable and reusable and considering the cost of the entire lifecycle of a structure rather than only its initial capital costs.
  • Principle 6 is a ‘place with whole and circular systems’. This involves enhancing, repairing and joining up the different systems which support a healthy, carbon conscious place.
  • Principle 7 is a ‘place that supports sharing’. This encourages the sharing of assets and services in places to enable lower carbon living and connects people to their neighbourhoods. This can range from sharing tools, bikes, electric vehicles to accommodation and education facilities.
  • Finally, Principle 8 is a ‘place designed in time.’ This involves ensuring the place planning and delivery process considers the dimension of time from long term visions to short-term approaches to test ideas.

Different Scales

Within the report, we have considered how these principles can apply at four settlement scales – an urban neighbourhood, a city centre, a town and a rural community. Through this we are able to consider different ways to address all scopes of carbon emissions and impacts of climate change. This will help to deliver on a Carbon Conscious Scotland by 2050 and deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Shifting Scotland’s reliance on carbon intensive developments, services and modes of transport, requires a whole place approach on a national scale. The Carbon Conscious Places report is a resource which can be used by different places across Scotland to work across sectors to design for a changing climate.

The report is available here.