"World's most sustainable residential tower" proposed for London suburban New Town

beacon exterior
© Beacon

Hemel Hempstead was a “new town” built after World War II to house people displaced by the Blitz. 24 miles northwest of London, It was originally designed by the talented Geoffrey Jellicoe as "not a city in a garden, but a city in a park." It might have been like Jellicoe’s proposal for Motopia; alas, the locals didn’t like his wild plans and they got watered down to the point that one poll called it the ugliest town in the UK.

But things are looking up in Hemel Hempstead, which is getting the Beacon, which they call "The world's most sustainable residential tower." It has an incredible shopping list of green features; "This stunning landmark vertical village is a world first in sustainable luxury living, combining renewable energy generation on site with numerous energy conservation technologies to create a truly world class development."

Here are some of the features; I have put quotes around the ones that I do not understand either how it works or what the units of measurement mean.

  • A central atrium that acts as a greenhouse. “The building’s natural ventilation system combines the clean air produced in the stunning internal arboretum which keeps in radiant heat and creates a greenhouse effect to provide fresher, purer air throughout.”
  • Grey water and rainwater collection that feeds the toilets
  • Integrated solar panels on balconies and roof
  • Thermal and acoustic insulation: “The building’s thermal emissivity of less than 0.2W/M2K is 70% better than current UK building regulations, whilst the ambient acoustic rating of less than 15db in each flat is 60% better than current UK building regulations.”
  • Ground and air source heat pumps with underfloor heating and “comfort cooling.”
  • Triple glazing
  • “Renewable energy harvested from the building is stored during the day for use during the evening, so that little or no energy will be needed from the grid. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint, this also results in significantly lower energy bills.”
  • Automated car parking to reduce exhaust and “resulting 80% less CO2.”
  • Electric bike and car share

The Telegraph notes that even the concrete is greener than the usual. Chris Beanland speaks to Ambi Singh, commercial director at Lumiere Developments:

What about the huge amount of energy expended to make the concrete, steel and glass for a building? Singh says the Beacon’s concrete will be produced as near as possible to the site and also that 35,000 tonnes of excavated chalk and clay will be used to infill non-load-bearing walls in the building. That’s rather than the usual practice of carting all that spoil away in hundreds of petrol-guzzling lorries.

Singh concludes:

“Our logic is that the tools are there and we must try to use them,” says Singh. “We feel morally compelled to demonstrate solutions, to say that you can do the right thing without impacting lifestyle. It’s very low risk, proven technology.”

beacon siteGoogle Earth/Screen capture

Chris Beanland in the Telegraph kindly quotes TreeHugger about the benefits of high-rise living, where I say “When you have a lot of people living together in tall buildings, then a bicycle is all you really need because there is enough of a population density to support stores, public transit and offices.” Unfortunately the Beacon appears to not be within walking or cycling distance of very much at all, in an industrial park next to a highway.

It’s great that developers are seriously looking at green features and issues of sustainability, but I cannot help but think that there is too much of a good thing going on here. Automated parking might be necessary in London at the Shard, but it is expensive and high maintenance, as is the atrium. So many of the features and choices are… odd. So many things make no sense at all. And don’t get me started on the very weird unit plans with corridors eating up all the space.

The building as finally offered is watered down a bit from the original design proposal submitted to the municipality; the wind turbines are gone, as is a lot of the greenery on the exterior. At first glance one might wonder if this is a serious proposal, but they have been working on it for years. It is designed by architectural technologists Wardman Brown and there is no indication of what consultants were used to design such complex and unusual green features.

The TreeHugger in me wishes them the best of luck on what is still a very green project. The architect in me worries about the mix of green features and the complexity of all the systems. The former real estate developer in me thinks it looks impossibly expensive to build and operate. If they pull this off, I will be very surprised and impressed.

"World's most sustainable residential tower" proposed for London suburban New Town
It has a shopping list of every green feature you can imagine and some you can't.

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