Can existing buildings be made to be sustainable?  Of course they can be, but unfortunately people often look at dilapidated and under-used existing buildings and assume that the most sustainable and environmentally friendly solution would be to replace the building with a new, modern building.  This approach can of course have it’s benefits; the building can be built from the ground up using the latest technologies and methods, making it easier to achieve the highest standards of energy efficiency.  It can also work out to be a more cost effective approach.  However, sustainability is a complicated issue which demands that we consider the entire life span of a building when deciding the most responsible approach to building.

Many modern buildings are built with construction efficiency, energy efficiency and cost efficiency in mind.  Their intended life cycle may not span beyond 60 or 70 years, but this can still be justified as a sustainable approach for new builds.  However, many older buildings were designed with longer life spans in mind, using a selection of durable materials that were not chosen for their sustainable credentials, such as solid brick, concrete, or stone.  There is a huge amount of embodied energy in well-constructed, old buildings so it would be irresponsible to demolish them if their lifespan can be extended significantly further unless the building cannot be adapted to fulfil current demands.

Unlocking the potential of existing buildings…

GUYS NHS (50)We specialise in adapting existing buildings.  We’ve learned that maximising the potential of an existing building requires resourcefulness and innovation, and when we succeed we discover that these buildings can perform beyond many people’s expectations. We’ve created high spec environments in existing buildings which boast dramatically improved energy efficiency, generously sized spaces, intelligently controlled environments, state-of-the-art technology, advanced security and high specification finishes, all of which you’d normally associate with a new-build facility.

A lot of our work involves large institutional and public buildings such as hospitals.  We often discover large expanses of under-utilised space in these existing buildings, which can easily be reconfigured and put to better use.  For example, a few years ago we discovered a staff changing facility at Guy’s Hospital that was under used.  At the time we were designing admissions facilities for their operating theatres, but we soon realised that the existing changing facility could be put to better use to serve the operating theatres.  After further investigations we put forward a proposal to use the space as a Laminar Flow Theatre Suite with full support facilities.  The suite was built the very next year.

Conservation in mind…

We take our responsibility to deliver sustainable solutions for new and existing buildings very seriously.  We also take our responsibility toward conservation very seriously.     We’ve worked on numerous Listed and protected buildings in which we’ve discovered concealed architectural features.  In these situations we have to be particularly considerate as historically or culturally significant items cannot be replaced.  A good example of a Listed Building we’ve worked in is the Grade II Listed South Wing of St.Thomas’ Hospital.  We recently completed a clinical refurbishment in this building, where we discovered original features from a ‘Nightingale Ward’ concealed behind dry-lined walls and suspended ceilings.  We successfully restored and integrated many of these features into the new design, which added character and enhanced the patient experience.

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Feasibility Studies…

There is of course a myriad of other issues that need to be considered when weighing up new-build vs re-use.  For example, is the existing building occupied?  Would it be quicker or cheaper to build from scratch?  Is there a risk of discovering unidentified hazards, e.g, asbestos?  Is the existing building protected in any way, e.g, a Listed Building?  Will the council be sensitive to a new development?  We can often help you to answer these questions as part of a Feasibility Study, which is often the first step that we recommend taking if you’re considering what to do with your existing building.