Designing climate resilient schools: a case study of St Faith’s School, Cambridge

Moncaster, Alice; Cheng, Vicky; Littlewood, E and Muscat, Daniela (2012). Designing climate resilient schools: a case study of St Faith’s School, Cambridge. In: Proceedings of 1st international conference on urban sustainability and resilience, 05-06 Nov 2012, University College London.


Social and political concerns are frequently reflected in the design of school buildings, often in turn leading to the development of technical innovations. One example is a recurrent concern about the physical health of the nation, which has at several points over the last century prompted new design approaches to natural light and ventilation. The most critical concern of the current era is the global, rather than the indoor, environment. The resultant political focus on mitigating climate change has resulted in new regulations, and in turn considerable technical changes in building design and construction. The vanguard of this movement has again been in school buildings, set the highest targets for reducing operational carbon by the previous Government. The current austerity measures have moved the focus to the refurbishment and retrofit of existing buildings, in order to bring them up to the exacting new standards.

Meanwhile there is little doubt that climate change is happening already, and that the impacts will be considerable. Climate scientists have increasing confidence in their predictions for the future; if today’s buildings are to be resilient to these changes, building designers will need to understand and design for the predicted climates in order to continue to provide comfortable and healthy spaces through the lifetimes of the buildings.

This paper describes the decision processes, and the planned design measures, for adapting an existing school for future climates. The project is at St Faith’s School in Cambridge, and focuses on three separate buildings: a large Victorian block built as a substantial domestic dwelling in 1885, a smaller single storey 1970s block with a new extension, and an as-yet unbuilt single storey block designed to passivhaus principles and using environmentally friendly materials. The implications of climate change have been considered for the three particular issues of comfort, construction, and water, as set out in the report on Design for Future Climate: opportunities for adaptation in the built environment (Gething, 2010). The adaptation designs aim to ensure each of the three very different buildings remains fit for purpose throughout the 21st century, continuing to provide a healthy environment for the children.

A fourth issue, the reduction of carbon and the mitigation of other negative environmental impacts of the construction work, is also a fundamental aim for the school and the project team. Detailed modelling of both the operational and embodied energy and carbon of the design options is therefore being carried out, in order that the whole life carbon costs of the adaptation design options may be minimised.

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