After our Bryanston School tour, we headed to the town of Frome (pronounced “Froom”).  There we were met by a large gathering of English architects who shared our enthusiasm for sustainable school design, and we assembled in an amazing restored 1707 building.  We were treated to delightful English sandwiches with tea and wine.  We then assembled in the main hall of their building.  The roof overhead was supported by two massive stone columns, neither of them particularly plumb.  But given that it had stood for over three centuries, who was I to question its structural integrity?  

Our panel discussion consisted of five speakers, each giving five minutes of remarks on sustainability and school design.  The range of ideas and depth of insight was inspiring.  I may have learned more from those presentations than from any other single experience on the trip.  My distinguished colleague John Dale from Harley Ellis Devereaux in Los Angeles had just described his firm’s efforts to use sustainability as a teaching tool. 

I then tackled the quantitative differences in energy use in English schools versus U.S. schools.  Despite extensive efforts to reach a definitive conclusion regarding energy use in English schools, our office had not been able find a reliable answer.  So I presented my best estimate on energy use in English schools and compared it to the fairly exact figures we have on hand for the U.S.  Fortunately, I admitted this imprecision in my data and invited anyone in the audience to correct me.  I didn’t have to wait long for a volunteer, and one of our hosts provided the missing data.

Now, what was really strange about that experience was that I had previously asked a few dozen English architects and even a few contractors and engineers for such information.  Not only did none of them know the answer, they didn’t even know what metric to use (kWh/square meter/year) or what the range should be.  Whereas in the U.S., architects in the business of school design compete for projects partly based on how efficient our buildings are, architects in the UK seem for the most part completely uninvolved? in such matters. 

A second revelation came out of that presentation.  If one researches energy use in the UK, one finds many references to carbon per occupant.  In the UK, discussion about sustainable schools focuses on carbon.  In comparison, such discussion in the U.S. focuses on energy use, and kBtu/square foot/year.  Why the disparity?  Simple.  In the UK, climate change as a result of global warming is readily accepted.  In fact, the English are keenly aware of their vulnerability to sea level rise and frequently see evidence of that in the use of the Thames flood barriers east of London.  In the U.S., we still debate climate change and there is no clear consensus.  As a result we in the U.S. default to the economic basis for energy efficiency as opposed to the global impact.  For American architects to refer too overtly to carbon output would be to imply a belief in anthropogenic climate change.

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