All the buildings are green? Imagine that

Architecture students at Kingston University are showing the way forward in environmental design. Nick Holdsworth reports
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Practising architects and students will soon have access to integrated resource guides, helping them to put together ecologically sensitive building designs using the latest materials at the most economic prices, according to academics in a new centre being developed at Kingston University in Surrey.

The School of Architecture, headed by Professor Peter Jacob, is undertaking a green audit to collate European-wide research on green design and its effectiveness in conserving energy and limiting the environmental and social impact of building and landscaping.

By collecting, evaluating and publishing data on technical and economic research in this field, the team hopes to encourage greater application of ecologically sensible architectural and landscape design in Britain and Europe - still a concept that tends to bow before narrow notions of costs.

Sue-Ann Lee, an environmental psychologist who is co-ordinator of a team which includes architects, a structural engineer and an ecologist, says they hope their work will eventually establish Kingston as a UK centre for European green studies in building and landscape, with regular conference and publications.

The strength of the project - set up 18 months ago with pounds 60,000 from the university's Higher Education Funding Council research funds - lies in its European dimension and the fact that, unlike many older, more traditional universities, it cuts across academic demarcations.

"We're trying to address architectural practitioners - the people making decisions about building design. We're trying to help them rather than just create a vehicle for more research by other academics," Ms Lee says. The green audit is also a useful part of the university's efforts to develop a strong brand identity - a noticeable trend in the new university sector.

The heart of the team's current work is the collation of a mass of information which is beginning to stream in from institutions and architects throughout Europe. The team hopes to begin publishing its findings by the end of the year.

Development of the centre comes at a time when environmental auditing - a separate area of study which is designed to measure and to reduce the ecological impact of an institution and to introduce environmental awareness into degree courses - is gathering steam in the higher education sector.

Two years ago, the Toyne report on environmental responsibility urged that university funding be used to encourage environmental good practice. Now more than 30 new universities and a quarter of the old have agreed environmental policies. Several have conducted audits to reduce costs and pollution.

But the work of Kingston's green audit is seen as wider than this and reflects its drive for a European identity. A partnership with the Hungarian Association of Architects, which owns the 19th-century Almassy Palace in Budapest but has little funding for its restoration as a headquarters, will allow Kingston to open an East European study centre and base.

Professor Jacob, whose students have entered a competition to redesign and refurbish the palace interior, says: "Allowing students exposure working and studying in another culture is an invaluable experience."

Francis Duffy, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, says: "Research activity in schools of architects does not make sense unless it relates to practise. We're all part of the same movement of developing architectural knowledge, which in the end is about action."

The Welsh school of architecture at Cardiff University of Wales runs an MSc in the environmental design of buildings, and the school's building ecology group has drawn up a database of green design books.

Green design information is also available from: the Centre for Alternative Technology, (0654 702400); the Ecological Design Association (0453 765575); and the Association for Environment-Conscious Building, which produces a directory of green design services and goods (0453 890757).