'Lego block' buildings: Adaptability essential for building stock to combat climate change

The impacts of climate change are exasperating the living conditions of humans, forcing them to be adaptable, a trait that should be mirrored in the global building stock.

Wilson implored companies to introduce design methods and technologies that were both scalable and dismantlable

Wilson implored companies to introduce design methods and technologies that were both scalable and dismantlable

That is the view of construction giant AECOM’s sustainability director, and MBE, Ant Wilson, who claimed that buildings should be designed for “dismantling” to reduce the risk of being locked-in with outdated sustainability technologies that don’t cater for a changing climate and environment.

Wilson, who was speaking at Policy Connect’s ‘Built to Last’ event in Westminster last week (27 April), suggested that construction firms were building green projects without a broader understanding of how a “rapidly changing” climate would interact with these buildings.

“Climate change is accelerating and getting worse. I like the idea of maintainability and adaptability and, if we’re going to be resilient, we have to develop things when we’re not sure what is coming at us,” Wilson said.

“Things are rapidly changing because of climate change, impacts on market prices and temperature rises, there are all sorts of issues. Things are changing and we have to be the most adaptable people on this planet to evolve. We have to design buildings for dismantling. We need to be able to take them apart like Lego blocks and make them portable.”

Wilson alluded to Lord Stern’s recent remarks that he had “underestimated” the impacts of climate change, as an example of how companies were building to pre-determined climate standards that weren’t accurately reflecting on future climate trends.

According to Wilson, increased global temperatures had impacted a building's ability to cool residents, because designs didn’t account for continuous ‘hottest years on record’. A similar approach was impacting ability to cope with rainfall and flooding and Wilson was concerned that policies weren’t enabling the sector to change.

Instead, Wilson implored companies to introduce design methods and technologies that were both scalable and dismantlable. This would enable the building to either expand or be relocated depending on its immediate environmental concerns.

Building blocks

A prime example of a building that couldn’t be dismantled was the Sainsbury’s located in North Greenwich. Sainsbury’s revealed that the store consisted of a number of “emerging sustainable building techniques” but that it had “outgrown” the facility, which couldn’t be “enlarged or reused”. The building was closed in 2015.

AECOM has been working to develop a greater understanding of how major infrastructure programmes interact with the environment, through a research partnership with the University of Salford.

The company was also an integral team member in the construction of Nottingham University's carbon-neutral laboratory, which achieved the highest certifications under BREEAM and LEED standards systems for green buildings.

As edie’s case study on the lab, which was exploring its feasibility for GlaxoSmithKline, explains, it was designed so that it and its low-carbon technologies could be relocated across numerous regions, without the need to change the design. 

Matt Mace


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