The GenZero Classroom

GenZero classroom heralds new dawn for net zero school design

About this project

GenZero is a research project led by the Department for Education and funded by Innovate UK. The project brought together a cross-section of designers, technologists, architects and engineers to create an ultra-low carbon building standard for schools that are net zero in both operation and construction.

The research ran from 2019 to 2021 and challenged all elements of a school’s design; from building construction and operation, through to how classrooms are used and the application of cloud technology. The final research outcomes will be shared as best practice across government departments and wider industry.

During COP26, a prototype GenZero classroom was showcased at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s Innovation Factory near Glasgow.

A kit of parts enables efficient construction

The GenZero classroom prototype is configured using a pre-defined ‘kit of parts’. These have been proven to demonstrate greater whole life value, lower carbon and energy use, better safety and quality and improved overall performance of buildings.

The concept offers standardised spaces that are unrestricted by furniture or fittings, allowing for full flexibility in their use. In addition, the kit has been developed for design for manufacture & assembly (DfMA) to allow for offsite construction with the associated benefits of efficient manufacturing, faster construction, cost reduction and lower carbon emissions.

The project also includes standardised, modular furniture with variations to suit different room types. Fixed furniture is limited; there are just five different chair types, and work benches are on wheels to enable them to be easily moved around.

Keeping nature at heart

With nature at heart, the schools are designed to promote the wellbeing of children, young people, teaching staff and others who use them.

The designs have drawn on biophilic principles including a focus on rich biodiversity, an improved micro-climate and better water management, together with the aim to improve educational outcomes with the calming effects of a feature-rich landscape.

An abundance of trees helps to protect the building’s façade while also offering solar shading. Focusing on the importance of spending time outside, the schools are designed with spaces for outdoor learning, sport and social activities as well as bike stores and horticultural areas.

Technology for sustainable design

The design standards for the GenZero school support the use of technologies that enable the schools to store, reduce or generate their own energy for heating, lighting, kitchens and IT systems, including solar walls, solar panels and hot water pumps.

The reduction in energy use will also help to lower the overall running costs of the school.

Use of timber

The buildings are designed to be constructed with timber, ensuring a low embodied carbon design that can be efficiently manufactured offsite with minimal waste.

The main construction material is cross laminated timber (CLT), sourced from the UK. It is a fully natural, renewable resource which is long lasting and carbon capturing. Moreover, the project uses 35% less timber than a typical mass timber school.

The school buildings also have a timber envelope; simple cladding which can withstand UK weather conditions and which together with opening windows, enables cross flow natural ventilation.

The windows are recessed and trees are planted nearby to provide shade. Meanwhile, timber ribs provide visual contrast and direct rainwater into the rain gardens below; a sustainable urban drainage system which also reduces surface water flooding.

Outdoor seating and dining areas are also crafted from sustainably sourced, home-grown timber.

Calculating carbon for the classroom prototype

The GenZero classroom prototype contains 10t (20m3) of timber. The creation of the structural materials and the classroom construction produced in 9t of CO2e emissions. However, the carbon stored in the trees while they were growing is equivalent to 16t CO2e, which means the classroom prototype can act as carbon storage during its lifetime.

8t (16m3) of glulam and CLT were used in the prototype which was grown and manufactured in Scotland. It takes approximately 27 trees to produce this amount of engineered timber, which would be harvested from an area the size of about a tenth of a football pitch – or approximately 800m2.

Further information: GenZero

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