London architect: ECD Architects

Energy-conscious design is the focus of ECD Architects, an award-winning practice with offices in London, Preston and Glasgow. This architecture firm designs low-energy buildings with a minimal environmental impact that have a positive influence on their locality and the natural world.

Established in 1980, ECD Architects has pioneered sustainable design for over 40 years and recognises the importance of working collaboratively with clients and stakeholders, including local authorities and government departments, housing associations, developers, public and private companies. Projects range in value from £100k to £100m, and include:

  • new-build housing
  • refurbishment and retrofit
  • commercial and industrial
  • education and community
  • leisure schemes

Architectural services

With over 60 staff, ECD Architects offers a full range of architectural services including feasibility studies, master plans, concept design and development, submissions for planning permission, drawings, project management, oversight of construction and completion reviews. In-house expertise is also available in Passivhaus & EnerPHit, retrofit coordination and energy assessment. These London architects are experienced in retrofit schemes from large scale projects to small, from individual homes to tower blocks, specialising in decarbonising buildings to make them warmer.

A fabric-first approach is adopted to improve a building’s thermal envelope with insulation, external, internal, and door and windows. ECD Architects take a contemporary view when designing buildings, and ensure they understand the key issues to consider each challenge in social, economic and architectural terms. This architecture firm’s schemes will have a minimal impact on the environment; their light touch designs involve innovative construction techniques to minimise embodied energy and energy consumption.

Specialist approach

RIBA architect James Traynor, author and Managing Director of ECD Architects, said:

As an architectural practice we have over four decades of experience in delivering Energy Conscious Design – often at scale – for local authorities, housing associations, government departments and developers throughout the UK. Our specialism lies in the design of low energy, low environmental impact buildings, and over the last 44 years our business has grown to incorporate an award-winning team of over 60, working across offices in London, Glasgow and Preston.

We are currently retrofitting over 10,000 homes through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF), as well as providing expertise on building safety and cladding remediation projects, including tower blocks, viable decarbonisation and Passivhaus.  As a business it’s very important that we promote the Passivhaus Standard because it provides better quality, more comfortable buildings that minimise energy use and close the gap between ‘as designed’ and ‘as built’ performance. 

As such, ECD has a Passivhaus Certifier in-house and a quarter of our operational staff are Passivhaus designers. ECD is one of the few architecture practices in the country to have achieved Building Safety Charter Champion status, a marque awarded by Building a Safer Future (BSF) and reserved for companies wholeheartedly dedicated to improving building safety.  We have also just been Highly Commended in this year’s AJ100 Practice of the Year, for which we are exceptionally proud.

Industry awards:

  • Winner: Constructing Excellence Awards 2019 – Digital Construction Award.
  • Shortlisted: London Construction Awards 2019 – Excellence in BIM / Digital Construction Award.

Urban design in harmony with its surroundings

Let’s look at one of these London architects’ featured projects. The Canonbury Schoolhouse Apartments in Islington, below, demonstrate their ability to design buildings that sit comfortably within their setting.

The Schoolhouse Apartments on Canonbury Road provide three high-quality flats over three floors on a brownfield site adjacent to a busy road, a designated ‘red route’, in Islington, London. Located on grounds sold by the adjoining Canonbury Road Primary School, health and safety were of paramount concern throughout the project’s design and delivery, both during the construction process and during the building’s completion and occupation.

ECD Architects’ solution ensured that the project works could be fully enclosed and separated from the school activities and those of the surrounding community while protecting the school grounds from being accessed and overlooked by the new development.

The site is within close proximity of two conservation areas and adjoins a listed Georgian property which was once part of a terrace. Therefore, although not directly controlled by conservation area requirements, it was crucial that the new development could demonstrate that it would not adversely impact the surrounding environment and the heritage of the area. Consequently, the design of the Schoolhouse Apartments reflects the area through the quality, articulation, and materials chosen for its facades: this approach simplified the planning process and engendered support from the local community.

Attention to detail

To maximize the number of dwellings while ensuring appropriate massing, ECD created an attic storey partially hidden from the road, offering good quality amenity space with a rooftop terrace providing natural light. Given the need to protect the privacy of the adjacent school, the new residences were designed to face the road whilst a buffer of screens and balconies provide privacy and amenity, modulating the building’s front facade. At upper levels, the architects identified an opportunity to use the existing tree canopy as an external amenity space and shade for the top floor. The interior design involved creating generous, well-lit areas and a rational layout to make the best use of living space and views.

The variety of adjacent materials – from the white stucco on the Georgian building to the dark red brick of the Victorian school – meant that any new building would need to complement rather than distract from the existing buildings in terms of the architectural treatment and palette of materials used. ECD selected buff brick for the lower levels with dark brown zinc for the attic storey, offering a ‘soft contrast’ to its surroundings with deep reveals and detailing agreed with planning officers.

While the building form was relatively simple, the architectural richness was derived from the detailing of both the building and its external elements, such as bin stores, planters, and boundary walls. All these elements were carefully considered and designed to ensure that the building provided the enduring quality required. The client was the London Borough of Islington, and the project value was £600,000.

What we like about these London architects:

While being specialists in energy efficiency and contemporary designs, we like the fact that this firm can also apply its deft design touch to sympathetically retrofitting older buildings.

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