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I had a busman’s day out on Saturday at the Tate Britain, I’m not a big traditional art fan but I do love old buildings so it was great to go down into the Crypt to see how the Building has developed and changed over the years from inception, through the war and bombings to present day modifications.

Construction drawings and Visualisations have changed a bit over the years and the level of detail on the old GA’s is really is really nice to see. I can’t imagine what a builder would say if you handed them these today!

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Some good modern sections were on show as well, I started off on a drawing board so know how long and painful some of these drawings are to create and how frustrating it is to change them! We try to teach our staff about symmetry and keeping drawing from the same viewpoint to ensure the reader does not have to think what’s changed or so changes can be instantly noted, so it’s always good to see these principals have a history.


A great piece of text was also found when works were undertaken by one of the plasters, unfortunately, the ‘Plasterers Association’ no longer exists, and the fibrous plastering skills that are left today is only practised by a very small number of companies. (some of which we have had the pleasure of using to recreate a number of original mouldings on some of our listed projects)


In the Main Hall was two of my favourite things a very cool piece of art and lighting design, this  by Cerith Wyn Evans ‘ Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) 2017, a chaotic piece of neon work which as you viewed it more the more repetition I saw, not one to fit in your house, unless you are a multi-millionaire, but definitely one to take inspiration from.



If you’re in London all of the Tate Museums are free and always have something to look at and think about even if it’s just the building

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If you want to know more about our listed works or lighting design do get in touch 

John is a Chartered Architectural Technologist, Building Services Engineer and Low Carbon Consultant.

Following on from our 2012-13 project at Brighton’s Richardson’s Yard, Cityzen were fortunate to work with developer QED Sustainable Urban Developments Ltd once again to deliver a temporary container housing solution for homeless residents this time within Ealing Council London.

shipping container housing homeless

Marston Court temporary homeless accommodation Ealing


Ealing has 2,293 homeless households, emergency accommodation has declined in terms of suitable options in the borough and so Marston Court enables 34 households to remain within the local community.

Whereas Richardson’s Yard was shipping containers already converted, the residential modules for Marston Court were designed from scratch, the design team Isospaces and Cityzen worked on producing a studio, 1-bed and 2-bed modules that met the requirements of thermal, fire and acoustic performance. Cityzen provided the construction detailing and Isospaces converted and fit out the container housing.

We also took care of the building services engineering, arranged the utilities to site. Structural engineers Design ID designed the drainage, the foundations, walkways and stairs. JCJ Construction pulled it all together on site.

Walking round on the open day we overheard people being shown where they will be moving to, and heard people commenting about how much better the container housing option was compared to some of the current options. Marston Court may not be a permanent solution, or the height of architectural design, but container housing answers a homelessness need and we are pleased to respond. Read more about the project here:


It’s been a full week for me and the team so I thought I’d write up what my week looked like, just so you all can see what I get up to in a week and some of the projects we are working on.


  • First job every week, workload meeting prepping me and the team for the week ahead. (so Mondays are not a good time to call me!)
  • We got the photos for one of our small projects from our favourite Photographer Simon Callaghan which look amazing now the client has moved in.

  • Then at lunchtime, we went to a new project meeting with an existing client to discuss a new property above an existing building, in Brighton. We also got some great feedback about the service we previously provided to the client which was great to hear!
  • Dropped into Parker Bathrooms in Brighton to discuss products for our Listed project, great guys with am amazing knowledge of sanitaryware products.
  • In the afternoon we had a meeting with our Business coach to keep us on track, it’s always good to have a few hours out to take an overview of the business and look at what we are doing and why? Followed by a few hours of going through our action from the day to make sure the week goes smoothly as it’s a busy one.


  •  Run through our Listed building project to mop up any outstanding items as I’m out of the office most of the week.
  • Run through a new project where we are designing a new extension and whole house refurb, I imparted my sketches and the clients want’s to Roman and Ainara to set them off and program in the design work.
  • Quick walk at lunch time and saw a new fox in the builders merchants just along from our offices, I like seeing nature in our little industrial area by our office, we are only 2 minutes from the sea, but we don’t often get out to the natural world, which we all should do more of!



  • Then in the afternoon, we ran through our innovation centre project ready for a site meeting on Thursday, checking we were upto date on the Building regulations sign off and had answered all the clients and contractors questions and our filing was upto date.


  •  Early start off to London with the team to check out some social housing container homes we have been working on. it’s good to get everyone on the team to site to experience a project and understand the constraints and to see a book I’m referenced in on site. The project is one of a few socially responsible projects we are doing at the moment and we are proud to help people through architecture. (keep an eye out for photos soon)



  • Then off to Ecobuild, bit smaller than usual this year and me, nor the team found any really innovative products but some really good talks were on, I could spend 3 days there listening to talks!




  •  In the office for a few hours catching up on the urgent/important emails and project questions from the team
  • Then a drive to kent from a design team meeting about Innovation Studios we have been doing the detailing and services designs on, not much to see yet but things should start happening pretty quick once the modules arrive.




  •  Started the day picking up some locks en route to our listed project from Banfields & Sons (Architectural Ironmongers since 1856) nice guys who know their clasps from their latches.
  • Then to site for a catch up on our listed project and give them the locks, we have been working on this project for since December 2013 and it’s really nice to see it finally coming together, with the second fix well underway, and external elements now starting to be done, new molded pilaster has finally been built, and the building is starting to look great, I can’t wait for the scaffolding to be struck in a few weeks time once all the painting is finished.



  • Skipped lunch for a meeting at Brighton University with our BYTs (Bright Young Things) Marketing Students, to catch up on how they are doing on our marketing research, it’s great for us to have a resource for us to go “can you look into this for us?” and they come back with answers!
  • Quick stop back in the office to do a quick design for a client to take to their board on Monday, followed by a hasty exit as I realised I had to be at the Amex Stadium in Brighton for an informal networking event at the Football, courtesy of Baystar, having never been to a football game it was an interesting night and the company was great! And some goals were scored which I believe is a good thing!





  • Back in the office to catch up on the emails and do a bit of design, Matt has done me a few VR panoramas in Revit to check out for clients which is cool, we are trying to do everything in Revit now which is fun for me, having started out on a drawing board then 28 years of AutoCAD it’s quite a change!



Here’s looking to a day off tomorrow and another big week next week!

John Smith MCIAT.

Today I had an invite to Westminster to:

“Low Carbon Housing: how policy needs to change”

Run by the “Centre on energy innovation and energy demand” and the “Energy saving trust” the aim – discussing and debating how the government’s low carbon targets are to be met when the challenge is so great.

Policy makers, market leaders, academics, councils, RIBA, EST, BSI, BEIS, RTPI, UKGBC, CBI, Energy UK, the Passivhaus Trust and more, all sat in the same room to understand the challenges ahead, work out the way forward to ensure our future buildings are smart and working towards a carbon neutral housing stock.

The morning’s sessions were looking at the government’s Bonfield review / “Each home counts” Report. Need to read this in detail.

Followed by two speakers from Brighton, Alex Hunt of Bright Green Homes discussing some of the projects that Cityzen was part of, the Pioneer Places project, and Dr Mari Martiskainen of Sussex Uni. They covered the lessons learned, and how these can be taken as exemplar projects. Alex’s insights were that local skilled professionals can provide low carbon retrofits and new builds. And the challenges they face. Also when it comes down to it there were instances where the projects couldn’t give away retrofit – some homeowners just don’t want the hassle or want to spend money on the kitchen instead.

Other learning from Dr Martiskainen was how the “intermediaries” involved make / made the project work. For example, a passionate designer or the Eco Open Houses project or the Centre for Alternative Technology. My take home message was that as we know from experience-  people who want to make a difference are the ones that make the difference.

The ‘why’ homeowners engage with retrofit or sustainable new build was touched upon but not really discussed in the research. From all the case studies it stemmed from the clients wants rather than a need.

Over our time in practice we have found that the clients wants in terms of sustainability or energy efficiency have been the drivers and rarely is it a legislative requirement.


The problems

The UK government has set down and signed up to energy targets for carbon for 2050 and according the Green Building Council we have 27.8m homes so with 33 years to decarbonise them this mean that 70,202 homes per month  (or 2308 homes per day!) need to be retrofitted, and not just a new boiler and some LED lights but properly deep retrofit of additional insulation, new windows and doors and renewables.

This is not a small task, also from our retrofit experience where we provided homeowners with retrofits to Victorian dwellings, the low to mid interventions we provided were up to £15,000 and these only cut emissions by an average of 40%. So to get to net zero emissions is going to be a greater cost.

If you take £25k as a budget the cost of 2308 homes per day (for 33 years!) is £57,700,000 per day.

  • no UK Government legislation is driving the need for change
  • no coherent policies across the U.K. either at local or regional level

Planners are not policing new buildings post/during construction or pre handover. And the building control officers are often unaware of any carbon reduction targets / commitments required under planning, thus are only judging a building based upon the standard regulation documentation.

There is no will for private building owners to upgrade their existing properties, the solar market only worked due to the feed in tariff.

From experience everyone wants to make a difference until the costs are put in front of them, as most people want the holiday or new kitchen, not the extra 100mm of insulation.

Similarly the developer community are very powerful and are less inclined to provide new builds to net zero carbon standard as they are profit driven. Hence net zero has been edited out of the building regulations.

Also there is no pressure for landlords to upgrade their properties below a minimum standard of compliance, they are also  profit driven.

The EU is potentially dropping the EPC scheme and changing to building passports, which the UK may not adopt as it will be another cost.

The UK building industry currently gets most of its supplies from Europe so the risks are that prices for supplies are going up due to the weak pound and may be affected by any UK trade agreements.

(We shut down our old brickworks and steelworks due to their emissions, and cheaper labour in other countries)

What is the incentive to do any retrofit works or to do a new build which is carbon neutral?

None really! Building regulations are a prescribed minimum standard, in London some councils are still using the code for sustainable homes method, which has now been discontinued. Some have sustainability checklists, but it’s mainly down to the individual planning officer to write it in the planning decision, but even then if it’s not deemed as  economically feasible a developer can argue it out of the scheme.

The government has changed policies around renewables, the Green Deal, ECO, Code for Sustainable Homes and legislation, which has in turn has not provided stability within the Low carbon building sector

Throughout the country developers are faced with differing criteria for what could be the same scheme, thus if they were trying to replicate a scheme additional costs would be incurred and different design criteria would have to be met.

SME ‘s previously incurred costs to become accredited under green deal, code for sustainable homes etc,  all of which are now by the wayside or in minimal use as again the policies are changing under  the new government, which has been the norm for the last decade as government and ministers keep changing.

The government needs to realise that buildings and developments can take years of planning and stability in the sector will only come from cross party long term agreement.

 So what’s the answer?

Well no magic bullets are available, and I don’t see how 2308 homes are going to be retrofitted per day until 2050! (Obviously not every home is suitable for retrofitting also.)

A mixture of SMEs and large companies are going to have to do the work but the bigger question is how do you get Mr & Mrs Smith to do the work? Spending £25,000 to retrofit their house is not something that they wish to do even if it’s proven that it will increase the value of their home, or reduce their energy bills.

Part of it has to be legislation driven top down from government as a long term strategy with national and local policy being standardised across the country, together with joined up processes through planning and into building regulations.

Tougher legistlation is required so when people do works on their properties the legislation requires consequential improvements to the existing building over and above what building regulations require now.

In terms of finances today in the room we were looking at power agreements- by offsetting the cost of future power against the cost of the retrofit today.  This needs to be carefully considered as it seems closely modelled towards the old Green Deal methodology, which had too many middlemen taking a cut and people were  often better off getting a loan from the bank for the works and paying it off themselves,  rather than via the government backed scheme.

We feel there are a number of simpler options to incentivise retrofitting; one is through VAT reduction on retrofit insulation and low carbon technologies,  this could be on a product by product sliding scale – the more effective the technology the more the VAT reduction. This would allow the property owner to potentially increase their budget by 20%.  There is also a good argument that a homeowner with a larger budget would use a VAT registered company which in the long term is much better for the industry and better for the economy. Historically domestic clients will try to go for the cheapest option, which is quite often a non-VAT registered trades.

There should be a simple methodology for ensuring that retrofits are done correctly, with building control officers to be able to define works as a ‘retrofit’ for the VAT  exemption.

A second methodology could be to incentivise retrofit and zero carbon homes by reducing the amount of council tax payment based on the energy consumption or EPC of the building.

We note that  neither of these will meet the required funding stream to make the 2050 target but could start the ball rolling until legislation becomes tougher, government funding can be provided to increase the take-up of retrofit works.

The only other way is the will of people,  2308 buildings a day is a lot of early adopters and intermediaries.

The take home message was positive that there are still passionate people wanting Government to take this seriously, but less positive in terms of the challenge facing the U.K.


John Smith MCIAT


On the 11th of november 2013 I had just met a new prospective client with a newly purchased Listed property which had a quirky ‘staircase to no where’ that was a left over piece of history from when it was originally two separate buildings. Today I just finished doing a joinery drawing for the idea I had back on the 11th of November 2013, 982 days ago! Listed buildings take a long time to get through planning, have lots of unknowns and issues which mean plans change and it can be quite stressful for the client and us as designers as well.

The first two years of the project was just developing the brief and negotiation with the conservation officer as to what common ground we could find between the wants of the client and the wants of the planners.  The last year has been developing the design to building regulations again meeting needs of the conservation officer and the client, specifying everything so as builders could tender for the works. Once on site we have an archeological team on site and found some of the building structurally unsound so back to the planners and building regs.

Now most of the structure is done I can focus on where it all started for us, an idea around a ‘stair to no where’.

Hopefully my next update will show the joiners details and then the finished article.



Today was the first day of Grand Designs Live 2016!

John at Ask An Expert Grand Designs

John at Ask An Expert Grand Designs

John from our practice is volunteering in the “Ask An Expert” hub representing Cityzen LLP and the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technology. The “Ask An Expert” hub offers the public free advice on architecture, construction, interior design, renewable technology, sustainability, or any other home renovation or new build query.

The show has grown over the years it is packed with great products based in 7 different zones covering interiors, technology, kitchens, bathrooms, gardens, and building methodologies- something for everyone!

Today’s queries to John followed the same pattern of previous years and it is something that concerns us and makes us reflect on the service we provide to our clients.

Almost every visitor comes to “Ask An Expert” with building design plans from an architect, architectural technologist, or other building designer. Why are they coming? To get an independent second opinion.

The visitor with building plans comes to “Ask An Expert” looking for the following:

1. Reassurance that the design solution is the “right one”
2. Help to enable them to back to their architect or designer to say they’re not happy with the design

This makes us realise that the client – designer relationship is a tricky one. Architects, architectural technologists, and other designers should always ensure the client is being well-served, but from today it is clear misunderstandings can occur. Our thoughts from speaking to people today.

Be clear on your goals

It’s your home, you need to think about what you want and do your part in communicating that clearly upfront.  For example before we even go to site we ask prospective clients to complete a questionnaire to ensure we understand what the aims and goals are in terms of family living not necessarily design solutions.

So, the “right design solution” might not be the solution you thought you needed, as your designer might see an alternative that would be better suited to the goals expressed in your brief. (Showing how important the brief and goals are).

Of course if you feel you’ve been misunderstood express yourself at the earliest opportunity, leave it later in the design process the more likely that you may incur re-design fees.

Be clear on what design you want to pay for

Design is always required, it is your choice who you get to do this- you could sketch something out for a builder, or you could pay a professional to develop your vision. So why were people expressing their disappointment in their professional’s “uninspiring designs” today?

If inspiring design is one of your goals be very clear about this- in writing.  Realise that the level of service is related to the level of fee. So, please be open and realistic with your designer and yourself about your funds / budget for construction and the design process.

Architectural design details, materials, and quality of finish can change the same space from “budget” to “top end”, be clear what you can afford.

Of course, if despite being clear on what you are looking for you still do not get what you want, (after checking the terms and conditions of your contract with your designer) give notice and find someone who is able to design your vision.

John enjoys volunteering at Grand Designs not only is helping people to make sense of the complex and exciting design process a lot of fun, but it’s also a good learning experience to get insight into other designer- client relationships.

Grand Designs was very busy today, here’s hoping for a busy Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.

Busy Ask An Expert Hub at Grand Designs

Busy Ask An Expert Hub at Grand Designs

Under the Energy Act 2011, from April 2018, it will be unlawful to let properties that fail to achieve the minimum energy performance standard until qualifying improvements have been carried out. This minimum standard will be equivalent to an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E. As a result, owners of properties with EPC ratings of F or G will, in some circumstances, no longer be able to let these properties until their energy efficiency has been addressed and there E rating met.


Example EPC


As Low Carbon Consultants, Non Domestic Energy Assessors & Architectural Technologists we can help you ensure your building remains compliant and that you tenants have an good user experience.

Raising an EPC by 2 levels is not necessarily a simple task and as each building is different our team will look at the most appropriate solution for your building, the best options are usually fabric first elements but these can also be the most disruptive, the next is usually existing plant, equipment and control which could possibly be swapped out, finally renewable systems should be looked at.  If you think be Lean, be Clean, be Green you wont be far wrong.

External Insulation

External Insulation being added to an existing property

rubber roof tiles

PV upgrade and new insulation to roof


We have surveyed, performed energy assessments and developed consequential upgrade packages, and refurbished buildings to meet and exceed the prescribed energy standards of many buildings.

If you think your building needs our help let us know.

Also as part of our membership to the Green Building Partnership we are hosting an event to support property professionals affected by these up and coming changes:

The seminar is open to all property professionals and will take place on Thursday 5th May 2016, 9.30am-4.30pm at Jubilee Library, Jubilee Street Brighton, BN1 1GE. Ticket prices range from £79-£129, to register visit