Buildingthe future

How do you create sustainable urban living? University of Brighton researchers have developed high-profile ways to promote sustainable living, which have captured the imagination of both their peers and the public.

The University of Brighton's Waste House has become a platform for promoting sustainable design. The project originated in 2008 when Duncan Baker-Brown, an architect and Senior Lecturer at the university, took part in a TV documentary challenge to build Europe’s first prefabricated house out of compostable materials. The six-day build was filmed live and broadcast at the end of each day on the Channel 4 programme The House that Kevin Built, part of Grand Designs Live. The building was the first A* rated house for energy performance, as well as the first prefabricated dwelling constructed with replenishable and compostable materials. It was later dismantled and its components were used in new builds around the UK.

The City Council has drawn considerable inspiration and valuable guidance from working with Duncan and his work has advanced policy and practice for sustainable design across the city. His contributions have influenced a considerable number of development schemes in the city which now has one of the finest portfolios of sustainable buildings of any UK town or city.

Martin Randall
Head of City Planning and Development
Brighton & Hove City Council

In 2012 Baker-Brown decided to redesign and rebuild the house using waste and surplus material in response to the fact that the equivalent of one house of waste goes into landfill for every five houses we build. One of the main aims of the project was to prove “that there is no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place.” During a major fundraising campaign, The Mears Group, a local construction company with a national portfolio, offered to underwrite the whole house, ensuring the site was safe and with other key partners, including Cat Fletcher from FREEGLE UK, the real potential of waste as a valuable resource was reinforced.

20,000toothbrushesNew and used for wall cavity, north-east corner downstairs.

Through Mears the project was connected to City College Brighton and Hove, and as part of the college’s annual building project 70 students worked on the Waste House in their workshops and over 250 students helped in total including those on site. Brighton & Hove City Council has since incorporated Baker-Brown’s research on eco-retrofitting and waste minimisation into its award-winning sustainable planning policy. The Waste house is also a case study supporting Brighton & Hove City Council’s One Planet Living Action Plan the first of its kind in UK.

4,000VHS video tapesIn eastern wall cavities downstairs.

The house, which stands on the University of Brighton site at Grand Parade, is open to the public and offers an educational space as a new design tool. The house includes peepholes where you can see the materials used in its construction, including 20,000 toothbrushes, two tonnes of denim jeans, 4,000 DVD cases, 2,000 floppy discs, 2,000 used carpet tiles (used to clad the external walls) and 500 cycle inner tubes.

The idea, developed with Cat Fletcher, is to test the performance of these undervalued resources over the next few years. The house has been visited by over 850 school children, has generated international media coverage (over 250 published articles to date) and forms the basis for the university's MA in Sustainable Design. Since its completion Baker-Brown has made it a venue for anybody who is interested to debate issues relating to sustainable design.

500musiccassettesFilled gaps in wall cavities with videos and DVD cases – downstairs.
2,000nuts andboltsSecond hand. Especially in
roof rafters.
500bicycle inner tubesOld ones used as sound/impact insulation in upper floor.
1.8tonnesdenimJean legs and jacket arms in large upstairs western wall cavity.
20LpaintUsed everywhere.
4,000plastic DVD casesWall cavities downstairs.

Filmed by Kurt G Rademeyer