architecture books

ZEDlife: how to build a low carbon society today, by Bill Dunster

Bill Dunster is an architect and a pioneer of sustainable building. He is best known for BedZED, the Beddington Zero Energy Development, Britain’s first zero carbon housing estate. He has since gone on to found ZEDfactory, which is researching, designing and promoting sustainable buildings around the world. In his new book, ZEDlife, he explains the most important tools behind his approach.

“We use the word ZEDlife to describe how everyone could live in a way that will make things better if they knew how” he begins. “The primary aim is to make fossil fuels, incineration and nuclear power things of the past. This is so much easier than people realise.”

To do this, we need buildings that are energy efficient, and that recover heat when ventilated. They should be oriented to capture the sun’s warmth, making the most of solar heating. Add natural light and ventilation, water efficiency, materials with low embodied carbon, and solar power, and you have a building truly fit for the 21st century. This much we know, but getting it all together in a package that people want and can afford – that’s the tricky bit, and the opening chapters of ZEDlife describe a series of tools for acheiving this.

One idea is to use building integrated solar power. Instead of building a home and then putting solar on it, why not reduce costs and materials by building it with solar panels? So ZEDfactory have designed solar roofing panels that can be bolted onto the rafters, and insulated panels that can be installed on south-facing facades.  Another ingenious idea is to store water in concrete tanks under the floor or under the pavement, using it for flushing toilets and for cooling. Chapters also cover battery storage, district level energy, and retro-fitting.

The second half of the book looks at a series of case studies, showing how the various tools can be combined and adapted for different contexts. The ZEDpods are one example, which I’ve described on the blog before. Then there’s the Zero Bills Home, located on the BRE testing site in Watford. I rather liked this holiday park designed to restore an old cement works. It’s currently a scar on the landscape of the South Downs, so the proposal is to fill the pit with ‘hobbit holes’ around a central lake and make it a venue for festivals.

Beyond Britain, there are design concepts for refugee camps in Somalia, and container-based business hubs for African cities. There are three chapters covering buildings in China, where ZEDfactory is doing a lot of work at the moment. There’s the pavilion for the Shanghai Expo, a ceramic centre, and intriguing designs for high density housing ‘wrapped in landscape’. In order to give residents some outside space, these tower blocks are wedge-shaped, with green roofs that slope from the ground all the way up to the 20th floor. You can walk up them like a hill.

ZEDfactory has a recognisable style, which is beautifully showcased in the book’s many photos, diagrams and cutaways. It’s something of a treat for those with an interest in sustainable architecture and technology, with just the right balance between conceptual ideas and technical details. Most importantly, these are realistic buildings. They are affordable. And that makes it a book for developers, planners and policy makers too.


  1. Greetings friends of Zed factory. Here is a proposal that might be of interest to you:
    Despite the high quality of life that some of the so-called developed nations have achieved, the truth is that the world, considered as a group of countries located in a fragile and geographically limited biosphere, is threatened with extinction due to human conflicts and the depredation of the environment.
    Notwithstanding the good and very important actions taken by groups and individuals in favor of a better world, deterioration at all levels continues to increase dangerously.
    After more than thirty years dedicated to these matters, and since “an image is worth a thousand words” we have come up with a novel idea of designing a self-sufficient and sustainable model city that has all the characteristics of infrastructure and organization inherent to the peaceful and sustainable society that we want for ourselves and our descendants, whose representation in the form of scale models, animated series, feature films, video games and theme parks, would constitute a model to follow to generate the necessary changes.
    The prototype that we present has some characteristics that are opposed, sometimes in a radical way, to the religious, economic, political and educational traditions and customs that have been transmitted from generation to generation, yet are the causes of the aforementioned problems, and therefore must be transformed.
    If you are interested in knowing about this project, or even participating in it, we invite you to visit our website (written in Spanish and English), where we are working in that sense.

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