Green Architecture Spotlight: Beddington Zero-Energy Development

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At once a glorious success and also a failure, the Beddington Zero-Energy Development in London (known as BedZed) has helped transform ideas and pioneer the way for sustainable architecture.

Located in the London borough of Sutton, BedZed was designed to be a carbon-neutral community with sustainable housing on a multi-unit scale. BedZed would have ample green spaces and gardens, recycling facilities, water and energy-saving features, and a green transportation plan.

BedZed
Beddington Zero-Energy Development in Sutton, England. Photo Courtesy Bioregional Development Group.

BedZed was designed by architect Bill Dunster for the partnership of the Bioregional Development group, the Peabody Trust, Arup, and Gardiner and Theobald. Built between 2000 and 2002, BedZed was short-listed in 2003 for the Stirling Prize, which is awarded to the building with the most significant impact on evolution in architecture in the past year.

One of the things that makes BedZed so unique is the magnitude of its plan. Instead of creating a sustainable home, BedZed sought to make a sustainable community comprised of 82 houses, 17 apartments and 1,405 square meters of workspace.

In order to achieve its goals of carbon neutrality, BedZed incorporated a plethora of green technologies and lifestyle changes. BedZed was built from natural, recycled and reclaimed materials (found locally whenever possible) to keep its carbon footprint low. Roof top gardens and standard gardens provide places for residents to grow their own food. Waste-water recycling and low-flow appliances help conserve water. Super-insulated homes retain heat, and a centralized Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) reduces the energy needed to warm the homes. The houses embrace passive solar energy with south-facing terraces for maximum sunlight and heat gain while offices, which often use air conditioning to counter overheating, stay cooler on the north side of the building. The home ventilation system uses wind cowls to let in air while preventing heat loss in winter.

Lifestyle changes as well as architecture are also a part of BedZed’s environmental strategy. The community encourages people buy local, organic food or grow their own in the community gardens. Easy-to-use, home recycling bins cuts down on waste. BedZed promotes pedestrian walkways and cycling, and bus and train stops are within walking distance of the community. Carpools and a car club cut down on personal car use.

BedZed Village Square
BedZed village square. Photo Courtesy Bioregional Development Group.

All in all, BedZed should have been the perfect green utopia. Unfortunately, many parts of the project failed when put into practical application. One of BedZed’s major hindrances is the expense of going green. The CHP and waste-water system were new technology and needed replacements and modifications over time—ones that the housing community simply could not afford. While CHP systems have worked elsewhere, at BedZed it was too unreliable, and could not supply the needs of the tenants. Other facets of the architecture, such as the wind cowls, were effective, yet more expensive than they were actually worth. BedZed was not able to meet its overly ambitious goals of being a carbon-neutral community.

Despite its faults, BedZed can hardly be considered an unmitigated failures. An evaluation by Bioregional in 2009 showed that the homes used 45 percent less electricity than the average home in Sutton. BedZed homes used 81 percent less gas to heat and less than half the water used by locals in Sutton. Eighty-six percent of BedZed residents said they bought organic food, while 39 percent even tried to grow some of their own food in the gardens.

While BedZed wasn’t the perfect green utopia, the companies involved in its creation have learned from their mistakes and have continued to move forward with new sustainable buildings and communities. We need more BedZeds as we continue to move forward toward a greener future.