Saunders: Leading the way on sustainable architecture

Since 2020, Saunders Architecture has been part of the Cambridge Cleantech community as an ‘Associate Founder’ member. With a rich history dating back to 1988 and a robust team of 50 architects, technologists, and urban designers across three UK offices, Saunders has championed full design services across an impressive array of sectors.

Saunders Architects

Saunders' portfolio is a testament to their commitment to sustainable innovation and low carbon design. Their designs range from bespoke residences, large-scale urban regeneration/mixed use projects, care home/retirement living schemes, and educational and learning developments, as well as retail projects, including the ground-breaking design of the UK’s first zero-carbon food store in Ramsey.

Martin Williams, the Managing Director of Saunders, encapsulates the firm's ethos: “For most people, sustainability seems to be about energy use/conservation and, while that is very important, we also look at what carbon gets used in implementing our developments and ask whether our designs are sustainable in how people use them.”

This philosophy extends beyond mere energy metrics, embracing a holistic approach to sustainability that influences every project undertaken by Saunders, including their extensive work in the educational sector.

Martin explains: “By integrating sustainability into school designs, Saunders not only creates efficient buildings but also instils a culture of environmental awareness in students from an early age.”

Tesco store in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire

The Tesco store in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire stands as a prime example of Saunders’ innovative approach, recognised as the UK’s first zero-carbon store. In collaboration with the main contractor, Saunders refined construction details and sequences, setting a new standard for future builds. Martin recalls “Tesco wanted their first Carbon neutral store to be in Ramsey and, because we’d done a lot of their other firsts in the past, they trusted us with it. We drew it in 3D which wasn’t the norm back then and found lots more opportunities this way.”

The store features a range of sustainable technologies, from Nanogel skylights and sun pipes that provide natural light to the shop floor, to wind catchers that adjust to the wind’s direction, and the use of harvested rainwater in toilets. The careful selection of refrigeration systems and the store’s sustainable Glulam timber and steel hybrid frame are further evidence of Saunders' commitment to innovative sustainable solutions. Everything that was demolished was not taken offsite but was instead crushed into aggregate for reuse in the car park layers. The many innovations used achieved the Ramsey store a BREEAM rating of ‘excellent’. Commenting on the finished project, the Tesco Property Services Development Director said: “The store looks stunning with great evidence of both coordination and excellent detailing in the design.”

Vandome Close, Newham

The Vandome Close, Newham development, positioned in the heart of Newham, near the Royal Victoria Dock, exemplifies an ambitious sustainable urban regeneration project. With Saunders Architecture as lead designer, this project seeks to extend the Custom House Masterplan's vision, bringing to life a new chapter of residential living with 55 modern properties. Martin Williams, encapsulates the project's ambition, saying, "This development is not just about creating housing; it's about fostering a sustainable community where every aspect, from the layout to the materials, contributes to our broader environmental goals."

Spread across three thoughtfully designed blocks, Vandome Close offers a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom flats, alongside three and four-bedroom duplexes, all aimed at bolstering affordable housing within the London Borough of Newham. This project aligns with Newham's carbon neutrality objectives for 2030, showcasing a profound commitment to sustainability through design and function. Highlighting the project's integrated approach, Martin notes  "Helping The London Borough of Newham achieve their goal of carbon-neutrality by 2030, the build is designed to achieve Passivhaus certification, and the scheme proposes that 100% CO2 reduction will be provided through on-site measures."

Cambridge Innovation Park North Campus

The vision for Cambridge Innovation Park (North Campus), Cambridgeshire was clear from the outset, aiming to create a vibrant and sustainable workplace for tech, software, and professional service organisations, as Martin explains “We met the developer through a Cambridge Cleantech event who we spoke to on and off and who eventually appointed us to look at Cambridge Innovation Park North Campus. Because it was a very sustainability-focussed project, we pitched our design by describing the route someone would take to work there, detailing how a mother could cycle to work safely, take her child to nursery on site, have breakfast in the café and work in a sustainable, healthy environment close to her children and the facilities she needed.”

This narrative-driven approach to design showcases Saunders' dedication to creating environments that foster a sustainable lifestyle, reflecting their broader commitment to addressing the challenges of urban design through innovative architectural solutions. "Working alongside Professor John French from University of Cambridge, we prepared the detailed design of the new office buildings which are designed to be assembled from sustainable, plant-based materials and modular construction in addition to the masterplan," Martin elaborates, highlighting the project's commitment to sustainability from the ground up.

Employing LETI principles and adhering to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, the design team took a holistic approach that influenced every aspect of the project, from building services and material choices to a landscape sustainable transport focussed strategy. This comprehensive strategy ensured that the unique character of the Cambridgeshire fenland was preserved, whilst also embedding sustainability at the core of the development. The project serves as a model for future sustainable developments, showcasing how thoughtful design can support both the environment and the well-being of its occupants.

Saunders Architects Image

The Arthur Hill, Reading redevelopment project presented a different set of challenges, with the goal of transforming a beloved but underutilised Victorian swimming pool into a vibrant new space for the community. "They were looking at pulling the whole thing down which we thought was disappointing because it was a lovely building; a Victorian swimming pool with the timber cubicles lining the side of the pool and a lovely neo-Georgian building at the front serving as the entrance. We proposed keeping the building at the front even if we took the pool down - that retention of buildings/partial demolition will use a lot less carbon," Martin recalls “This sentiment reflects a deep respect for the site's historical value, coupled with a commitment to sustainable redevelopment practices.”

The project embraced a hybrid approach, renovating the historic structure while incorporating new, high-performance buildings designed with energy efficiency in mind. This strategy not only preserved the site's cultural heritage but also ensured that the new development would offer substantial benefits in terms of energy savings and reduced environmental impact. "This dual strategy directly addressed a crucial aspect often overlooked in sustainability discussions: the environmental and cultural value of upgrading existing buildings," Martin notes, underlining the project's innovative approach to sustainable urban development.

The Block Compliance reports for the Arthur Hill project underscore its success in surpassing sustainability targets. Collectively, the project appears to achieve an impressive site-wide reduction in regulated emissions, equating to an overall improvement of approximately 103% over building regulation targets. This achievement is a testament to Saunders' ability to merge technical excellence with sustainable design principles, setting high benchmarks within the industry.

Saunders Partnership Limited’s collaboration with Cambridge Cleantech has been instrumental in their journey towards pioneering sustainable design. The engagement in workshops and events facilitated by Cambridge Cleantech has not only broadened their horizon but also sparked valuable connections and insights. Martin, articulates the impact of these interactions “We find the events very useful because they open us up to other subjects that we didn’t even know existed before.”

This collaborative environment has been pivotal for Saunders, introducing them to innovative ideas and like-minded professionals dedicated to sustainability. Martin appreciates the unique opportunity these gatherings offer, stating “We meet plenty of people with great ideas, clever people with clever ideas which challenge us to think again. It’s also nice to have time out of the office where you can discuss sustainable innovations with others rather than management, costs and logistics: real time for getting stuck-in to sustainability and energy use ideas.”

Through their partnership with Cambridge Cleantech, Saunders Architecture has not only enriched their own practice but has also contributed to the collective effort of shaping a sustainable future. This synergy underscores the importance of collaboration and continuous learning in driving the architectural industry towards greater environmental stewardship.


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