The Fabric First approach to building combines many different principles of energy saving and carbon reduction. The energy and carbon embodied by the building itself, as well as pollution, resource use and a building’s effects on the surroundings all have an impact on the environment.
However, putting fabric first only secures the physical sustainability of a building. When designing and constructing a building we should also be thinking about people – the individuals who will live and work in the final product. Putting people first ensures that a building is as sustainable as possible, regardless or the materials and methods used to build it.
Those involved in construction must have an understanding of their chosen materials, why they have been designed and why they are being used in a certain way. But those using the building must also be given the information they need on how the building works and how it should be maintained. Bringing together all the people involved with a building (i.e. the client/owner, contractor, designer, occupants) can be crucial to its final success.
We often find the spirit of a project, and the enthusiasm of the people involved, can affect everything. For example, for a building focussed on sustainability, everyone must be concerned about energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. If one party is not concerned about sustainability issues, then certain elements may be omitted or things could go wrong, costing time and money in the short, medium and long term.
Image: Ponteland First School
Health and Wellbeing
Consideration for a building’s impact on its occupants is also key to the people first approach. Toxic materials, poor ventilation and mould are the more obvious health hazards often found in buildings, but poor lighting, bad design and poor usability can also have significant physical and mental effects. It is possible to have a very healthy and very energy efficient building, but only if human health is acknowledged as a significant factor during design and construction, repair and renovation. Remedying negative effects on health and wellbeing is often much costlier than the time and money spent ensuring it is made a priority from day one. Unfortunately the health of both building occupants and builders has been ignored for too long.
The Way We Live
Putting people first also involves thought for the future. After all, it isn’t buildings that create carbon emissions, it’s people. If we can collectively change our frame of mind to a simpler, more human way of living we may be able to survive or even prevent some of the current threats we face to the way we live, including climate change, energy shortages, resource scarcity and economic / financial decline.
People first means working on buildings with humanity as well as technical ability to achieve the best possible results for all of us.