Preserving older buildings to achieve net zero in architecture

Gareth Woodfin, Cardiff Studio Lead at HLM Architects, discusses preserving the old to save the new

The demolition and replacement of buildings contributes significantly to fueling the current climate emergency.

In the UK, we lose over 50,000 buildings a year to demolition, contributing almost two-thirds of the 200,000 tonnes of material waste the country produces each year. The construction industry alone is responsible for around 20% of the UK’s annual carbon emissions, which shows how much we need to change tack.

Reallocation of existing structures for modern purposes

Rather than replacing existing infrastructure with new construction, we should first consider how to best use what already exists.

Modernizing downtown buildings could be the lifeline we need. This approach brings us closer to the principles of a circular economy. Buildings of architectural significance could thrive with their exterior facades preserved and their internal infrastructure made more energy efficient. The reallocation of these buildings into education centers, in particular, offers a solution as it breathes much-needed new life into our changing and post-pandemic urban centers. In order to identify the opportunities offered by modernization, the challenges must first be addressed.

The envelope of a building typically provides half of the carbon incorporated in a structure. By reusing an existing build, this value is immediately saved. As an example, older schools, especially Victorian ones, were built at a time with a very different approach to providing:

As a result, the structures have been designed to optimize external energy and heat sources, with high ceilings and windows, providing well-lit environments with good ventilation.

Although teaching and learning methods have developed since the design of many buildings, these basic comforts are still relevant for a supportive learning environment.

The reallocation of existing structures is essential to enable a culture of modernization. Empty spaces in city centers can become hubs of learning; university campuses can expand into surrounding buildings; and the main streets can become lively again, but with mixed and improved objectives.

Plus, it’s almost incalculable how much extra carbon would be saved by reducing the need to travel.

Building a sustainable and zero carbon future

HLM architects recently demonstrated these advantages after completing work to develop a new framework for university faculty succession.

Initially, the focus was on providing new space, but a rigorous assessment of occupancy, use, performance and high-level full life cycle assessments have shown that it is more beneficial to ” undertake a major renovation of existing buildings to provide the space they needed in a smaller package. footprint.

We all know the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Why, then, have we so accepted the demolition of so many structurally sound and historically significant buildings in order to make room for new structures?

Building new in this scenario contradicts the goals we have set for ourselves to achieve a sustainable and zero carbon future. We need to celebrate and recapture what we already have and make modernization the new normal.

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