Regeneration towards a sustainable cityscape

While demand for new green buildings continues to grow - to a large extent - these will not replace the importance of the existing building stock, particularly within our city centres and urban hubs.

If we look at urban hubs that are economically key, like Sandton for example, commercial office space is sitting at vacancy rates in excess of 15.9%, much higher than the national average . This leads me to believe, that currently there is an excess of available office space and as a result, there likely won’t be many new buildings being built in the short- to medium-term.  In addition, new building projects only represents a very small portion of the entire built stock.

This presents an even greater opportunity to focus on urban regeneration – through refurbishing and retrofitting the existing building stock - keeping sustainability principles top of mind. And, there are two main change actors that continue to spur the urban regeneration movement; 

#1: ‘Building’ for resilience

Resilience has become a bit of a buzzword when we refer to designing and building new or retrofitting and refurbishing existing buildings. We can no longer afford to take a passive approach to adaptation and planning needed to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. 

The built environment accounts for 39% of global carbon emissions , and continues to rise around 1% each year . Coupled with compounding pressure to address challenges around aging and inadequate network infrastructure and/or insufficient energy and water resources, as well as tightening building energy efficiency standards – a clearer picture of the wealth of the urban regeneration opportunity begins to take form. 

This regeneration, or urban renewal, can take place in different forms such as – but not limited to - corporates establishing campuses around their head offices, or future proofing old buildings and city centres. The most important consideration for developers, and businesses who own and occupy their buildings, is to aspire to incorporate climate responsive design into maintenance and refurbishments, being mindful of resource constraints and future weather assaults which may impact comfort and safety of old buildings. 

#2: Optimising building performance (and commercial viability)

Some cynics might argue that refurbishments are difficult, and do not make economic sense to go through that effort.  However, there is in fact a strong business case for implementing “green building” interventions, aimed at ensuring that the building operates in an economically and socially sustainable manner, and improving the liveability of the space and thereby, the desirability for future tenants. For example, if specified and installed correctly, systems and structures can produce a sustainable return on investment (ROI) that may amount to between 20% - 70% of energy and gain revenue through this investment. Demonstrating these improvements would be a real incentive to attract tenants to older buildings in the more established part of the city.

Therefore, for a more objective and balanced view, it is important to evaluate the full life cycle costs of any intervention. This can be achieved by conducting a full audit of the performance of the building using one of the Green Star rating tools available in the market. For instance, one might use the Existing Building Performance tool to evaluate smaller retrofitting projects, establishing a benchmark of building performance prior to investing in the refurbishment. The Green Star new build rating tool can be used to rate substantial redevelopment projects where plant and façade are overhauled. Doing so provides a solid metric to measure the success of the interventions and justify the capital investment. 

Additionally, businesses and their people – as the primary targeted tenants or “users” of industrial and commercial spaces – continue to grow increasingly socially conscious to the effects of climate change and safeguarding and managing critical resources in a more sustainable fashion. These users also recognise the role green buildings can play in these aspirations. Green buildings therefore offer significant value adds to savvy users; making these buildings more commercially viable and attractive, as what benefits the users also benefits the developer/owner.

The interventions may be vast, and vary between buildings, but will most certainly, at the very least, include things like; 

  • The materials, and specifically the recycled/reused contents of the materials, used in the refurbishment to reduce the embodied carbon of the development
  • Achieving improved energy efficiency, especially through the use of natural light balanced with efficient light fittings and smart switching
  • Improving water consumption with more efficient fittings 
  • Optimising temperature and air flow management, through considerations around the façade, placement of people in according with the façade and - depending on the scope of the refurbishment project – driving more efficiencies through upgrades to the mechanical plant (HVAC) system
  • Onsite recycling access and waste to landfill considerations for the refurbishment and operational phases of the building
  • Operational measures to guide building managers and occupants to adopt more sustainable processes when it comes to managing the day to day operations.

Delivering on successful regeneration projects requires a deep-seated understanding of the local context; including the built and natural environments, economic, political and social factors that can affect the outcome.

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