An expert in contemporary methods of ecology-friendly building design, architect and academic Duncan Baker-Brown leads the practice BBM Sustainable Design, and brings sustainable design practice and philosophy to teaching and scholarly projects at the University of Brighton.
Baker-Brown’s research tests the viability of a number of practices and materials, recognising the potential of discarded “waste” as a valuable resource in the future of building, as well as live projects as valuable teaching aides. Through his projects he fosters community development and regeneration, drawing on apprentice builders and students, informing young people of all ages as to their role in sustainable living. In 2017 Baker-Brown published a book, 'The Re-Use Atlas: a designers guide towards the circular economy'.
Architect Duncan Baker-Brown is an expert in sustainable development in the construction industry. His Waste House project developed from work for Channel 4's Grand Designs L, seeks a practice that strives to be environmentally benign. His teaching focusses on live projects as pedagogical tools. In 2017 he published a book, 'The Re-Use Atlas: a designers guide towards the circular economy'.
Duncan Baker-Brown's work interrogates the potential of sustainable development, looking to whether it is possible to develop contemporary buildings in an environmentally benign manner and whether this challenges notions of economic and aesthetic viability. With projects such as the Brighton Waste House, Duncan creates examples of community practice that, through the use of innovative techniques such as ‘resource mapping’ can redefine what local materials are and match them with local skills and trades. Perhaps this can form the beginnings of a new local architectural identity.
A primary feature of Duncan Baker-Brown's design work is the reduced dependence on fosil fuels as well as a consideration of the sources of materials for the construction and other industries. Architectural projects have been delivered using locally sourced, non-toxic, organic materials to ensure healthy buildings with small ‘carbon/ ecological footprints’. A number of the materials specified by BBM, such as Sweet Chestnut Glue-Lam beams and cladding were used for the first time in the construction industry.
Baker-Brown is particularly interested in developing an new architectural language borne out of an aspiration towards sustainable development, merging with issues of how we live our lives today. He believes architects should engage with the ‘nature’ of the place they are sited as well as to a brief and programme. Through his practice Baker-Brown has focused on projects that demonstrate ways of translating a combination of local ‘grown’ materials and local ‘waste’ materials from the surrounding landscape into architectural form. This research focus manifests itself in built architectural projects, writings, supervision of MAs at The Universities of Brighton and East London where he ran the MA in Sustainable Design for 3 years, as well as a touring exhibition of the work of BBM entitled ‘Built Ecologies: Translating landscape into architecture’.
Duncan Baker-Brown has taught at the University of Brighton since 1994, where he and his BBM colleagues have taught in both undergraduate and postgraduate design studios. The relationship between teaching, research and architectural practice is an important one, testing emerging ideas through both office-based and student design projects. In 1996 he set up R.E.D. (Research into Environments and Design) with colleagues Sue Wolff, Ian McKay and Professor Susannah Hagan.
His work in education informs his interest in the devleopment of collaborative and community working methods. BBM Architects have delivered many workshops in primary and secondary schools considering issues around three dimensional design, the relationship between art and architecture (in partnership with Artists from Tate Modern’s Education Dept.), and sustainable design.
This work has profoundly affected the working methods of his practice and the Waste House project at Brighton was a testament to the potential of a building project to fully engage the local community. School pupils, students and apprentices were onsite working as builders and documentary-makers. There was also an active community collection of household and industrial "waste" to be tested as building materials in the development.
In practice since 1983, Baker-Brown studied part-time while working for architectural practices in London. From 1991 - 1993 he worked in London for Rick Mather Architects on award winning ‘low energy’ student accommodation blocks for the University of East Anglia and Keble College, Oxford.
While working for RMA, Baker-Brown collaborated with Ian McKay on the winning scheme for the RIBA ‘House of the Future’ competition. He was responsible for delivering the built project in 1994. This unique experience involved the specification and design of a building that adhered to an extremely low energy sustainable brief. The experience gained with Futurehouse and at RMA ensured that BBM had the means and ability to deliver genuinely sustainable buildings such as the award-winning Priory Neighbourhood Centre in Hastings and Romney Warren Visitors Centre. He has successfully negotiated Technology Strategy Board (TSB)-sponsored 'Retrofit the Future projects' in partnership with Professor Andrew Miller and Mischa Hewitt of the Low Carbon Trust.
Baker-Brown curated a three day seminar ’The WasteZone’ (http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/staff/nick-gant/waste-zone-at-ecobuild) with colleague Nick Gant considering waste as a potential resource for (re) manufacture. This event was held at EcoBuild (http://www.ecobuild.co.uk/) and included Baker-Brown’s 9m high ‘Waste Totem’ (http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/footprint/-waste-is-just-stuff-in-the-wrong-place/8643971.article) built by students and apprentices.
Baker-Brown lectures widely on issues relating to sustainable development in the design and construction industry. He has recently published a number of peer reviewed papers focusing on the challenges presented by designing architecture in an emerging 'Circular Economy’. He sits on a number of design panels including the South Downs Nation Park Design Review Panel.
In 2017 Baker-Brown published a book, 'The Re-Use Atlas: a designers guide towards the circular economy'. He has recently presented a number of peer reviewed papers and keynote addresses at conferences around the UK and Europe.
My teaching is focused on practice and technology in the undergraduate architecture programme. As a vocational subject, practice forms an important part of teaching architecture and provides a context to academic study. Students are engaged in a complete process by working on their own design projects, from a feasibility study stage, through building regulations application, to getting the design built and then on to post-occupancy evaluation.
Workshop sessions enable students to feel they are in a professional studio practice. We use an official planning portal so that they learn how scheme proposals are submitted for planning approval and we bring in experts including heads of planning and building control, helping to create a vibrant environment. As part of their assessment, students reflect on what they are doing and why, helping them to understand the value of the workshops and the practice modules.
The use of the Waste House, as a ‘live’ project has taken students from the design stage through to construction and has now become a ‘live’ monitoring project. It has been valuable in providing answers to many of the kind of questions that students may ask. They have had to make real decisions about how the project could move forward, engage with students from other backgrounds, contractors, builders and volunteers. Through such projects, students are able to learn how to deliver really good design ideas and to negotiate effectively. Students are also able to work in a knowledge transfer partnership with a company pioneering lightweight growing, or ‘meadow’, roofs which draws together academic, practice and the commercial worlds.
Architecture is very much about communicating ideas and concepts and it’s important to inspire students through the subjects we talk about. Design journals often perpetuate the idea of the architect as a lone voice, but the reality is that people working on the ground are collaborating and discussing projects with other practitioners, engineers, and environmental scientists. It is always about collaboration and, for this reason, I encourage students to work in teams.
I expect my students to be good researchers, and not to just ‘Google’ subjects, but learn to research, understand and enjoy what they are doing. I always tell students that “Doing architecture badly is hard work, and doing architecture well is hard work”, so there is no soft option.
I think a good teacher is someone who is also a good learner and who acts as a facilitator. I may have more experience in particular areas, but I’m also willing to learn from others. It is a matter of working with the students, understanding their backgrounds, their knowledge and being able to build projects around a particular cohort of students and testing their collective knowledge. In this way, my research and the students’ research come together. I enjoy the moment when I can say to my students “Guys you know more about this [particular area] than I do”.
The development of a ‘living laboratory’ for ecological architectural design.
The Channel 4 architectural commentator continues his funding appeal for The House that Kevin Built.
12 Jan 2011
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2017) The Re-Use Atlas: a designer's guide towards a circular economy RIBA Publishing, London. ISBN 9781859466445
Baker-Brown, Duncan and Evans, Lee (2016) Investigating the benefits of Swiss lightweight organic meadow roofs in the green retrofit construction sector In: Sustainable Innovation 2016: Circular Economy Innovation Conference, University for the Creative Arts Epsom Surrey KT18 5BE UK.
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2016) Developing the Brighton waste house: from zero waste to on site re-use of waste In: Sustainable Built Environment Conference 2016 in Hamburg: Strategies, Stakeholders, Success factors, University of the Built Environment Hamburg Germany, 7-11 March 2016.
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2015) Transforming THTKB into the Brighton Waste House In: ‘State of the Art’ Sustainable Innovation & Design, University for the Creative Arts, Epsom, Surrey, UK, 9-10 November 2015.
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2015) Architecture matters - an exploration towards a circular economy In: Innovation Kongress 2015 Power of Innivation, Villach, Austria, 13 November 2015.
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2013) The Brighton Waste House [Design]
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2011) The Nook [Design]
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2008) The House That Kevin Built [Design]
Baker-Brown, Duncan (2005) St Pancras School DfES Innovation Unit.
Selected further activity and practice
March 2015 Baker-Brown writes ‘How VAT forces homeowners to harm the environment’ for The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/how-vat-forces-homeowners-to-harm-the-environment-38474?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitter).