We exist to accelerate the transition to zero carbon cities. Creating zero carbon neighbourhoods isn't straightforward, especially when you aren't willing to compromise on making it an absolutely amazing place to live. But we think it is crucial to ensure that the design means people want to live there. Without that, the green aspect can quickly fall by the way-side. 

To design the Climate Innovation District we partnered with a number of architects, including White Arkitekter, Swedish architects who are world leaders in sustainable design and placemaking.

We’ve been collaborating closely with White on the design, and worked with them to ensure it was the most sustainable place it could possibly be. After all, when you call somewhere the ‘Climate Innovation District’, it’d better do what it says on the tin.

We talked to Keith Boxer, White’s Director of Innovation and Sustainability, who has worked extensively on the Climate Innovation District, about all the features that make the climate Innovation District a zero carbon neighbourhood

How has the design of the district been influenced by the desire to make the development zero carbon?

Keith: The CID Phase 1 site shape and orientation has dictated the rationale for the development arrangement. Th layout has been designed to optimise the qualities of the site while protecting the proposed public realm from the adjacent heavily trafficked roads. The goal has been to create an urban orchard and meadow, to form a haven in the centre of the city. 

The 11.8 m deep apartment buildings protecting the site from traffic noise. The particularly narrow width is driven by a belief that good quality apartment blocks have a majority of dual aspect units. This building depth helps the site arrangement which is particularly narrow at the northern parts of the site. The building heights increase towards the centre of the site where it widens. Pragmatic design responses to the building placement and form are at the heart of any zero-carbon development.

The apartment blocks take advantage of a large Southwest facing aspect. The block typical plan layout of 4 unit per core gives good opportunity for natural lighting to all apartments. 

The houses on the development have been designed from the outset using the CITU high-performance panel. The designs have been developed using thermal modelling and daylighting analysis to optimise their thermal performance.

Why was timber selected as a construction material for the houses in this project?

Keith: Timber is, without doubt, one of the most environmentally friendly building materials available. It is extraordinarily versatile, naturally renewable, light and strong to build with – when exposed it gives a warm and welcoming expression. Timber is a high-performance material, light in weight, yet with excellent load bearing and thermal properties.

Carbon, and especially CO2 emissions, are recognised as a key factor in climate change. In the UK 40% of all carbon emissions come from buildings. Timber can play a major role in reducing this, thanks to the carbon sink effect of the forests, the carbon storage of the timber and as a substitution for carbon-intensive materials such as steel or concrete.

How does the district’s design encourage the use of low carbon transport options?

Keith: Location, location, location – the central location of the development and introduction of a new bridge over to the western riverside walk, means the city centre is only some 10 min walk away.

Once fully developed the Climate innovation district will provide local amenities and schools for the inhabitants limiting the need for use of transportation

Undercroft/basement parking is provided, but by installing electric car charging points into every parking space, Citu hope to encourage residents to transition to electric vehicles

Ample bike storage is also provided within the undercroft area with easy access to the riverside walkway.

What goals informed your design for the 320 houses in the Climate Innovation District? 

Keith: The design vision for the 320 houses was to combine and incorporate Scandinavian and UK best practice, using the latest technology to create new low carbon homes and climate resilient public realm for Leeds.

The houses in the Climate Innovation District are the first to be built in central Leeds for 90 years. What informed the decision to create houses rather than having only apartments? 

Keith: CITU’s brief and vision has driven the goal of creating family homes in central Leeds - so this was our starting point. However, our Scandinavian approach would be to create family apartments in a well-balanced and mixed community. In Scandinavia, there is a culture of apartment living which supports this approach to residential development. When working in the UK we understand this and often propose a development that combines apartments and houses, this approach gives a mix and scale of development that we believe offers a sustainable level of development in many urban districts.

What elements of Scandinavian design have influenced the design or features of the Climate Innovation district?

Keith: The Scandinavian approach to design is embedded within a design development process as well as in Clarity of space planning, robust and ‘no-nonsense’ approach to design solutions and client requirements. Designing from a holistic starting point and seeing the value of a quality environment informed by a response to buildability. Seeking out logical and uncomplicated design proposals that allow the spaces in-between buildings to become a public asset.

What informed the decision to design the Climate Innovation District to have large areas of green space?

Keith: Green space is connected to health and wellbeing – studies show that communities benefit from access to quality green space adjacent to their homes. The CID phase 1 site is fortunate in being located beside the River Aire. The presence of the riverside walk out into the surrounding countryside provides an opportunity for further recreation for the community and residents.

The encouragement of biodiversity within the development is beneficial on a local and national scale – the inclusion of opportunities for growing plants and cultivating for the residents with the greenhouse building further encourages an engagement and appreciation of nature within the development.

How does the climate innovation district make use of the latest technologies to make it sustainable?

Keith: The district uses a range of technologies to make it as sustainable as possible, these include:

  • Extensive use of Photo Voltaic panels which provide a community energy source.   
  • Envac refuse collection system
  • Innovative construction materials and techniques – CLT and CITU panel
  • High-quality windows composite timber aluminium  FSC® certification
  • Home & Away switch
  • MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery), a whole house ventilation system that captures the heat generated by appliances and keeps it in the home whilst letting air circulate. 
  • High-Speed Broadband

How is the Citu home designed to emit far less carbon than the average UK home?  

Keith: The Citu home is designed to Passive House standard. Substantial studies and calculations have been done to ensure the thermal integrity, solar heat gain and energy sufficiency is as close to Passive House Standard as possible. Photovoltaic panels, open data and smart technology will allow residents to access and monitor their home and to maximise energy efficiency.


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