Meet Patrick Bellew, founding director of Atelier Ten. Patrick is one of the UK’s Royal Designers and is a Chartered Building Services Engineer with more than 30 years’ experience in the design of high-performance buildings and systems.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
“Atelier Ten started out as a building services engineering consultancy, but we’re known these days much more as environmental designers and building physicists. I first met Jonathan [Smales, Founder and CEO of Human Nature] in the late 1980’s when he was working at Greenpeace. I worked on the team that designed its headquarters building in London. The building is still there and still occupied by Greenpeace, and it still looks great – it was really ahead of its time. Jonathan left Greenpeace and I started my business in 1990. We went on to work together on the Earth Centre in Doncaster, which was Jonathan’s project for many years – it broke a lot of new ground in terms of sustainability thinking and environmental design. It was a springboard to carry out investigations into applied sustainability across landscape, buildings and all types of resources, from the ‘normal’ ones around energy to the more esoteric ones that are now very much part of the lexicon of environmental thinking around resources, social engagement, landscape and biophilia, as well as closing the loop on lots of the things that we consume in daily life. The project became a philosophical centrepiece of my emerging business and from there on Atelier Ten tried to have this type of focus on all of our projects; a lot of which we learned working with Jonathan and his team on the Earth Centre.
As well as running and growing the practice, I’ve always retained an interest and involvement in education and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture for the past 20 years, on and off, teaching architectural students about sustainability and green building design.”
Atelier Ten has worked on some breathtaking buildings – do you have any you’re particularly proud of?
“In the UK, it would probably be the World Wildlife Fund building in Woking [the Living Planet Centre], working with Hopkins Architects. It embodies some of the things we learned at the Earth Centre, put into practice with the same landscape architect and some of the environmental team working on it. Also, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (winner of the World Building of the Year Award 2012) which is a stunning piece of design, and turned out to be a bit of a tour de force in the way that the environmental systems work. We found a waste stream in Singapore, where all the wood waste from a tree management programme was being incinerated offsite, out of the city. We intercepted that waste stream and turned it into a fuel supply for the whole garden, which runs on what was previously incinerated waste in a very clean burning system that generates all the cooling and the dehumidification that we need. We had an end-to-end involvement in that one, which I’m very proud of.”
How are you involved in the Phoenix Project and what drew you to it?
“I’m working with the Human Nature team initially doing some visioning work around energy, materials and what we should be aspiring to achieve in terms of closed-loop systems. We are aiming to minimise the carbon emissions associated with the construction and operation of the buildings as well as looking at water management in this interesting context of buildings on an urban floodplain. Our early involvement has really been around trying to work on the art of the possible, to know how far we can push this. Human Nature is interested in pushing way beyond triple bottom line thinking, we’re talking about ‘exponential sustainability’ and how the project can move the dial both nationally and internationally.
“The great appeal of the Phoenix Project is the opportunity to work with a really visionary team, which has already set the bar very high, making great decisions. On the face of it, it’s going to be a difficult project to develop; technically, there are a lot of challenges, particularly with the water and existing infrastructure. It takes a great deal of ingenuity to figure out how to make this a really great settlement. That’s why it’s a really interesting challenge, the sort that doesn’t often emerge on this scale with a visionary client like this.”
Is there a particular challenge you’re excited by?
“I think it’s a bit techie, but the move in the UK from gas-based heating and hot water solutions to an all-electric, zero emission future is something we’re starting to tackle at urban scale. Up to now it has been very much at building scale. Some of our early explorations are about asking, ‘How do we make “democratic availability” of power? Do we make a community power system that everyone shares in? How do we reset some of the structures that are written through European law around access to competition in the power market? And can we develop a community power system?’ These are the sorts of things that are interesting, and of course we’ve got to figure out to make this project ‘net zero’!
“We’re also thinking about what you might call third horizon ideas around things like using hydrogen as a fuel. I think the future, for projects at scale, will include elements of hydrogen. At the moment, it’s mainly used for transport and industrial processes, but there’s the question – is it going to start to scale up and be used for buildings? Most of all, what we’re looking at is linking the buildings together with a network that’s linked to the ground water network, that we actually use the ground for heat rejection and heat absorption. It’s a technology we’ve applied elsewhere, but we want to apply it to quite a scale here. I’m at a time in my career where a project like this is one that you just really want to knock out of the park. It’s going to be a great, great thing.”
How are you involved at the Phoenix Project Design Festival?
“I’ll be doing some speaking and chatting at the practical panels and talks. Anything short of juggling or doing karaoke, I’m happy to do – actually at, a push, I’d do karaoke! We’ll talk a little bit about what we’re thinking about for the purposes of the carbon neutral agenda – to be properly carbon neutral on the site.”
What have you been inspired by recently?
“The book that is inspiring me right now is Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism by John Elkington – he was the guy who coined the phrase triple bottom line originally. He’s asking, how do you push beyond the norm? How do you sort of unleash – if there are black swan events – a green swan event? How do you make big change? I also always go back to a book by Buckminster Fuller called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth . It’s a bit hard to get through – I’ve never got through it! – because you dip in and out of it. But it has one wonderful quote: ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something [you must] build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’ That’s how we need to think about this regeneration project. We are building a new model.”