From macro to micro, this guide takes you through the key considerations, practicalities, concepts, resources and strategies to deliver net zero in use. 

We have written this guide to share our experiences of the challenge of designing net zero carbon buildings. It is presented as a guide for architects but we also welcome anyone interested in reducing carbon emissions in the built environment to take a look. 

We all know that reducing our carbon emissions is a matter of urgency and we hope that this guide will improve your knowledge, distil your thinking, and ultimately change your design process. 

This guide is one output from a collaborative Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between AHMM and University College London's (UCL) Bartlett Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (IEDE). The KTP is a two-year programme researching the opportunities and implications of developing net zero carbon large scale, mixed use, urban, commercially driven and densely occupied buildings. Our aim is that discussions arising from this guidance will contribute to the ongoing research and inform further revisions.



Designing net zero carbon buildings is incredibly complex with many considerations. We have broken the guide into four parts and invite you to jump in where you need the most support and research: 

In part one we break down the definition of 'net zero carbon' into its component parts and the influence architects have over each one. We have also included snapshots of AHMM projects that apply the principles of net zero carbon design in practice. 

In part two we proceed chronologically through the lifecycle of a building an identify the issues involved at each stage.

In part three we look at the relevant international standards, frameworks and guides available to architects.

In part four we have included a detailed case study of a project that puts into practice many of the issues and considerations described in part one and two.


The guide has been prepared on behalf of AHMM by Dr Simon Hatherley for UCL IEDE with support and guidance from Dr Craig Robertson and Matthew Murphy of AHMM. AHMM also benefited from our KTP collaboration with Professor Dejan Mumovic and Dr Esfand Burman of IEDE. Some members reviewed early drafts, and excellent dissertation research by IEDE Environmental Design and Engineering MSc students supported the section on the embodied carbon performance gap.

The UCL and AHMM collaboration provided a framework to engage with the construction industry. In the course of preparing this guide a series of workshops were held with dozens of industry consultants and AHMM architects in order to understand their perceptions of the obstacles to, and opportunities for, achieving net zero carbon developments.


As part of the KTP, the project chosen for the case study is Plot F at Canada Water in south London. This high density mixed used development was designed by AHMM for British Land and comprises three buildings: two residential towers providing 410 new homes, and a large flexible office building with a range of retail uses at ground level. 

The client established net zero as an aspiration and an ambitious set of carbon targets has been agreed to challenge assumptions around building performance and analyse the gap that exists between design, construction, and occupation. This case study has provided an excellent opportunity to explore what adopting net zero carbon principles means in practice and offers guidance for the future. The reader is taken from first principles to examining more nuanced decision making identifying some of the trade-offs required to drive down whole life carbon on a live commercial project.