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Low carbon non-domestic building design process. An ethnographic comparison of design in Wales and England

Gabriela Zapata-Lancaster (Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Structural Survey

ISSN: 0263-080X

Article publication date: 6 May 2014




The UK aims to reduce the carbon emissions in the building sector so as to achieve nearly zero-carbon new buildings by 2020. In 2010, a 25 per cent reduction of carbon emissions was mandated in England and Wales. The aim of this paper is to reveal how the design teams were coping with the energy regulation changes in 2010 in England and Wales.


An ethnographic methodology was selected to investigate in-depth the real-time design process in four architecture practices. The study was analysed in detail and compared the design process of six non-domestic buildings in England and Wales. The data collection methods included interviews, non-participant observation and document analysis and were conducted for a period of 12-21 months per case study.


The field findings suggest the disconnections between the project driver and the policy agenda and reveal what the design teams do to embed energy performance in routine project design.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the in-depth nature of the data, no claims for generalisation or representativeness are made. However, the detailed analysis of the real-time design process reveals the designers’ enactment of the policy agenda, which is in essence a timeless phenomenon about policy intervention and performance-based regulations.


The designers’ enactment of and responses to the policy changes become an analytical tool to infer lessons that can be learned from the process and lead to the achievement of expected carbon reductions and the success of the policy intentions.



This work has been supported by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Trust through a research studentship. The author would like to thank the practitioners and the firms who took part in this study.


Zapata-Lancaster, G. (2014), "Low carbon non-domestic building design process. An ethnographic comparison of design in Wales and England", Structural Survey, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 140-157.



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