Making better use of buildings key to sustainability

Using existing commercial buildings in more flexible ways can significantly cut their environmental impact.

These buildings emit a significant contribution of the UK's total carbon output, around 20%, but are only be used to a fraction of their full potential.

This was the core of a presentation from Despina Katsikakis, chair of design house DEGW, when she spoke at Ecobuild this week.

She argued for more flexible use of commercial space, to meet the needs of an evolving workforce and help meet environmental targets.

"Technology has completely transformed over the past 50 years but unfortunately buildings don't move at the same rate," she said.

"The needs of organisations and people have also changed - the new generation coming into the workplace and all of us who need to keep working because our pensions aren't what we expected require more flexibility on how, when and where we work."

She claimed that commercial buildings are in use than 10 per cent of the time and that something needs to be done urgently to address this colossal waste.

"We need to focus on density, intensification and re-use of existing fabric," she said.

"We need to rethink the way we use space, away from these ideas of monolithic, one-organisation, one-use buildings towards more complex, multi-use buildings."

This can be achieved using buildings for different things at different times, as with Shell's learning centre in the Netherlands that provides staff training during the week and is used as a hotel at weekends.

Or, she said, we can look more closely at mixed-use buildings, she said, giving the example of London's Oxo Tower which combines commercial, leisure and residential units by housing flats, shops and a restaurant.

Renovating existing buildings was key to this, she argued, particularly making better use of those in locations that would minimise the environmental impact of those using them.

"We do not need to be tearing down buildings from the 1960s or 70s," she said.

"When we can renovate their interiors to support a much more sustainable environment."

Sam Bond



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