Putting the Bourgeoise back into ciBse?…

A month in which your President gets some sad news and the UK gas supply nearly ran out...

According to the UK Press, an Energy Minister this month complained that environmental critics were bourgeoise and ‘a bit detached’. He probably never said that -  the Prime Minister didn’t actually say ‘Hug a Hoody’ [much to the relief of the lads on site], and someone else never said ‘Pleb’. But if the Minister had, wouldn’t that in any case have been the sobriquet  the Opposition would have naturally applied to his party? May be it was intended to be a compliment after all. The Minister has since been promoted without portfolio to the Cabinet Office, so I rest my case. But ‘bourgeoisie and proud of it’ was in my mind visiting this year’s Ecobuild at Excel.

The Eco-build exhibition is a welcome upbeat relief from serried ranks of shining heating exchanges I had seen at Dallas in January. The stands were all rather nice and sun-lit. CIBSE had a really smart stand (not the least chintz-y) and congratulations to the staff for spotting me instantly (despite the dirty raincoat) as a secret shopper. While I am not much of an enthusiast for the audit trail bureaucracy that feed in tariffs seem to induce, they do switch the sales pitch from bling to ‘but will it work?’  Far fewer ‘sustainable’ and ‘innovative’ qualifiers filling the PR space. It was all a welcome relief from the industry’s other troubles. No ‘men in sheds’ (only ZEDs?).

Talking of the creeping housing underbelly, I attended the Construction Industry Council where amongst other heady strategic issues we received a presentation on the CIC report on Offsite Manufactured Housing.  Did you know for example that, of the massive population increase projected for the UK, none of it occurs in Scotland? That ppt slipped by fast! The final conclusion seemed to be that the only market for offsite construction in housing was social housing fast build, which was apparently a good thing.  I’d have thought it a disaster. Offsite is just beginning to establish itself for top end quality (as it does in grown up countries).  Now apparently it is to revert back to its dreadful 1970’s ‘half as good for tuppence less and twice as fast’ strap line. The lesson is harder for some to remember in 2013 because the last wave of offsite construction has mostly been demolished without even getting Listed. No wonder, as the authors’ remarked, it’s a technology that comes in and out of fashion...

Talking of detached, strange things happened in the gas market this month. Alistair Buchannan in the CIBSE Annual Lecture alerted us to the shortage of natural gas storage in the UK as it moved towards being a 100% importer of energy.  We nearly, give or take an LNG tanker, ran out of gas at the end of March. It was of course largely because the odd UK spring had extended design conditions out from January until March. So much for global warming? Not so unfortunately since the temperatures we had were more consistent with our latitude than the usual ‘gulf stream’ milder winter we would have expected. If the gulf stream wandered or weakened we’d be back to St Petersberg. In my experience you need to stretch a climatologist on a rack before they’d confess the climate has changed. That confession, as it would for us, implies throwing away 50 years of weather records as approaching the irrelevant. That is a bit painful. But to me the real story was how much gas shippers were being paid to top up the gas grid, around 100p/therm.  An awful lot of building managers with that price on offer would have run their buildings quite differently over the Easter holiday.  The sooner smart tariffs arrive with the smart meters that are being installed in commercial buildings the sooner we can bid down these prices. Has anyone actually even been offered a smart tariff to go with their shiny new meter?

Blogs are supposed to end with Good News. A bright new copy of the second edition of Howard Liddell’s Eco-minimalism  ‘antidote to Eco-Bling’ arrived from the RIBA Bookshop. Those of you who can remember my Presidential Address against green wash can guess why I had been invited to write the forward to the new edition. It’s such a great little book and it does not pull punches unlike your uncontroversial President - so buy it and add your vote to Amazon’s 5 star rating. Sadly  Howard died at the end of February having only just learnt of his OBE.  If I were richer I would have posted a copy to every member of YEN to remind them that there are architects out there in the smaller practices, on ‘our side’ who think that their life’s job is to make buildings that work for their clients and the environment, not just get planning permission.

That led to Bright Idea of the Month, addressed to the President of the RIBA. An RIBA International Fellowship is surely a much sought after honour, so my innovative award winning proposal is without the slightest malice. Why doesn’t 66 Portland Place convert all its non dom starchitects to international fellows recognising, amongst other virtues, their contribution to the globalization of bling? Then the small guys, trying to do a real job while paying real local taxes, would know who the opposition really is.

Have a Good Easter, being thankful that CNN wasn’t around to cover the Second Coming (‘After the break We ask our expert ‘Hell – just how good a Tax Haven is it?’’) and also thankful that the Qatari’s are generously sending an LNG tanker to bide the depleted gas network over to when the Spring eventually arrives.


  1. David,

    There are many questions raging about Smart Meters. What I would like to know is who will pick up the liability - DECC or the installers. This hearing of the Select Committee is interesting:



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