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Building Better Buildings

Ed Barsley

Founder of ‘The Environmental Design Studio’ and ‘Hazard + Hope’ and author of ‘Retrofitting for Flood Resilience: A Guide to Building & Community Design’

The issue of how and where to build is often contentious. With one in six properties in the UK at risk of flooding, it is vital that any new building stock is designed to be flood resilient as well as sustainable. But the question of how we go about doing this has been problematic to answer, as for a long time there has been no distinct method and procedure through which to undertake flood resilient design at the property level.

We now however, have the ‘Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience’ (CoP), which sets out a framework for developing Property Flood Resilience (PFR) in both new build and existing contexts. Following the Steps, Stages and Standards set out in the CoP will help to ensure a detailed understanding of flood risk contexts and site/property setups, which PFR options are available and the way in which schemes are constructed, handed over and maintained over time. The CoP process can help inform the overall development layout, position of habitable areas, materiality and the datums at which key thresholds are set. As always though, context is key and if one were to duplicate a suite of measures from one place to another, it could well be wholly inappropriate.

There are unfortunately many locations in which urbanisation and the resulting proliferation of impermeable surfaces have increased run-off rates and levels of flood risk. But it would be a mistake to generalise and assume that these issues pertain to all new development, because that’s simply not the case. There are a many different ways in which a development can be designed to be flood resilient. For example, planning permission has recently been granted for Stolon Studio and Lanpro’s ‘Garrison Gardens’ scheme in Shoeburyness. This mixed-use sustainable development (which includes 215 homes) incorporates a range of PFR strategies throughout its layout and configuration, and its landscape design makes a positive feature of the way in which water is managed throughout the site.

Where we build can be a sensitive and controversial topic. In England, planning policy is structured around a risk-based approach to development with a range of vulnerability classifications set out for different development typologies and flood zones. Yet, locating a property away from watercourses and in lower risk flood zones does not mean it will not flood. An intense or sporadic rainfall event could lead to surface water flooding and it only takes very small amount of flood water to cause a significant amount of damage to a building if it is not flood resilient.

There will always be a degree of residual risk when it comes to flooding. To help mitigate this inherent uncertainly, we will need our building stock to be designed for future rather than historic flood risk contexts as well as for resilience to potential heatwaves, periods of extreme cold and drought. But rather than seeing these as insurmountable challenges, as we at TEDS and JTP have shown in the ‘Home for All Seasons’, these conditions and constraints can be used as key design drivers and catalysts through which to create resilient and inspiring spaces and places.