'Medieval' building wins green award

Architecture/ low-energy design
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A LOW-ENERGY building that draws inspiration from medieval and Gothic architecture has won the Green Building of the Year Award, sponsored by the Heating & Ventilating Contractors' Association and the Independent on Sunday.

The Queen's engineering building at De Montfort University in Leicester, designed by the London architects Short, Ford, and the consulting engineers Max Fordham Associates, is as eye-catching as it is innovative. One of the largest naturally ventilated buildings in Europe, its tall chimneys and pitched roofs give an exotic flavour to the Midland city's skyline.

The building has beendescribed as "low-energy Gothic" and "New Romantic". However, it relies on traditional techniques - a massive masonry structure and high chimneys that suck in cooling air - to reduce energy consumption by 58 per cent compared with a conventional air-conditioned building. Most buildings of its size and complexity - it houses lecture theatres, computer rooms and huge engine-testing laboratories - would also be artificially lit. But large windows and careful orientation mean that natural light penetrates throughout: its designers say this improves the occupants' quality of life and helps avoid "sick building" syndrome.

One of its most impressive features is a vast, roof-high interior concourse designed as a kind of covered street, with garden-style seating and airy walkways. This was inspired by medieval thoroughfares such as Trinity Lane in Cambridge.

The judges praised the building's simplicity of design. They were also impressed by the reclamation of an inner-city site and the building's intimate and sympathetic relationship with nearby houses. Two other buildings were highly commended. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, designed by local architects Annand and Mustoe, is built from bricks and roof tiles reclaimed from barns and farm outbuildings.

The Bishop's Wood environmental education centre in Worcestershire, designed by the county council's architects as a "three-dimensional textbook", is a lightweight timber construction which can be dismantled and recycled at the end of its working life.

The awards, now in their fourth year, were presented last week by Robert Jones, the minister for energy efficiency. They are supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Department of the Environment's Energy Efficiency Office, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and the Building Services Research and Information Association.