Tag: Retrofitting

14 Aug 2023




By Matt Schaaf, Partner in Commercial Project Management at 3PM

Michael Gove’s recent decision to reject the redevelopment of the M&S site on Oxford Street has elevated the ongoing question of whether to demolish or refurbish existing buildings into arguably the highest profile case of its kind.

Supported by the likes of the 20th Century Society and SAVE, the case set a precedent by being the first of its kind – the first public inquiry that considered sustainability alongside heritage as a major deciding issue.


In the case of M&S, the decision hinged on Gove’s view that the development hadn’t sufficiently demonstrated that a refurbishment option wasn’t viable and that a full development scheme would produce less carbon in the future as green energy will be more readily available. 


The first point is a clear indication that developer’s and design teams will always need a robust process to review options to refurbish a building, before turning to new build options moving forward.  This can be done by examining the Minimum Viable Product a developer needs to be able to let a building and then looking for ways to add area, rationalise floor plates and refresh finishes to add value.  Not only will this help to reduce embodied carbon, but it has the potential to reduce the cost to the client and reduce time to market.


The second point lies at the heart of many refurbishment schemes.  When does the embodied carbon of a new build balance against the operational carbon of an in theory less efficient refurbishment?  Our understanding of carbon modelling as an approach is still in its infancy – many feel the science is new and the data not good enough but it’s 2023 and the concept of reducing the amount of embodied carbon now on the basis we will improve green technology in the future should be a sound one if the Government continues to invest in it.


How we assess the balance of embodied versus operational carbon will evolve moving forward: it has to! Whole life considerations need to be undertaken based on clear replacement cycles.The design life of different building elements are enshrined in British Standards but haven’t been revisited in the context of sustainability, which makes them archaic to say the least.  Why is the design life of a structure 60 years when the Tower of London has stood for almost 1,000?  Lengthening these periods would shift the balance between embodied and operational carbon, a key factor in deciding whether to rebuild or refurbish.


One of the criticisms of the Levelling Up Secretary’s decision is the economic impact it will have.  One of the key challenges in refurbishing existing buildings is a supply chain which is set up to carry out new build projects and views refurbishment schemes with caution.  There is huge potential for the UK to promote economic growth by developing new industries aligned to sustainable development and it’s crucial that both public and private bodies support this.

We recently worked as part of an extended team that agreed to forgo an existing planning permission for demolition and rebuild of a fairly high-profile central London office building and instead retrofit. The decision was the right one – not just environmentally – but economically too: we delivered a project that will be low carbon, saving two blue whales worth of embodied carbon while also saving six months on the build programme, delivered 2,000 sq ft extra NIA and a £10m capital cost saving.

It can be done, and it should be.

My personal view is that we need to respect our heritage buildings and give them a new lease of life wherever possible – they’ve earned their right to survive with their sound original fabric and structure, remarkably built without the benefits of technology and knowledge we have today. The least we can do is apply the latter towards keeping them and working with what has survived longer than any of us! It won’t always be possible, but the approach should be retrofit first (rather than retrofit only).


The merits of the individual case of M&S will continue to be debated. What is certain is that project teams will have to make an extremely robust case to gain planning approval for a new build option from now on and this is absolutely crucial if we are to change the mindset of ‘it’s too difficult’ to ‘we can do this’. And that is a very promising and possible outcome from all of this.


14 Aug 2023



By Rana Rehman, Senior Project Manager at 3PM


Cost of materials, supply chain challenges, complicated design, lack of data, a lengthy planning process and heritage constraints are just some of the reasons given for favouring new construction projects over retrofitting ones.

The list of problems is long but the main thing holding us back from #Net Zero trumps all others – mindset. And that matters.

Data is a good example. At a recent event I listened to a discussion whereby those partaking were bemoaning the lack of data that means they cannot benchmark or use existing data to showcase what can be done, or that the information designers have today is already two years old and therefore not live – because live information most often only comes in once the development is post construction, in RIBA stages 4-6. This raised the question of when the live information should be tied to the project – at what point on its timeline is best?

There’s an easy answer to this. RIBA Stage 1. The earlier the focus on net zero with any project the better, but especially when retrofitting. The building is already largely built – we are already working backwards so the earlier we factor in ESG the better.

We, as stakeholders in the future of our built environment, all must agree to plug the massive knowledge gaps across the industry, not accept them. And this requires a change of mindset from day one.

If sustainability focussed PMs and designers are brought in at concept stage there is simply no reason not to retrofit and reach net zero. It can still be done later, it’s just harder.

The experts start with embodied carbon, looking at passive principles, the circular economy – yes steel can be recycled, stored and reused – and biobased materials. Operational carbon also should be factored in early to predict and control live data. This stage includes designing and planning in the maximisation of efficiency and reduction in energy, the practice of energy harvesting and use of renewables. Finally, we move towards energy storage and, as an absolutely last resort, offsetting which together take us to net zero and eventually the panacea of absolute zero.

At 3PM, we work with our own mindset route map which factors in these various stages to win over the 100s of reasons why a retrofit to net zero can’t be done, focussing instead on how to cut through and deliver the lowest carbon intervention. This can be applied to every building, no matter how heritage – to restore, retrofit and future proof.

This has seen us through the decarbonisation and degassing of some of the most heritage and oldest Universities in the UK so there’s absolutely no reason it can’t be applied to a post war office buildings.

After all, if a building has lasted hundreds of years, why shouldn’t we commit to giving it a new lease of life?


06 Aug 2023


As people all over the UK basked in the glory of the June heatwave, few would have been thinking about the impact on buildings – both new and heritage alike.

Then came more serious incidences across Europe, where focus understandably turned to the wildfires and health concerns associated with the soaring temperatures.

As Project Managers striving to build, future proof and retrofit sustainable buildings, ‘heat’ is a topic that occupies our thought processes rather disproportionately.

Today, there’s just no reason for not considering climate change – not just in terms of the impact of construction and operation of a building on the environment – but the impact of climate change on the building.

The recent high temperatures (whilst positive for those on the beach) are just a reality of our collective future. We have already exceeded the 1.5deg rise and global warming is only increasing, yet capital projects are still being developed without this fact being recognised.

Inadequate benchmarks and limited exposure to progressive fabric first, low carbon, practical strategies within the design world are holding us back. As project managers with significant expertise and experience in sustainability, we know that energy savings of up to 90% are perfectly achievable. We have also proven e/o costs can be delivered well within a normal design development allowance. While air conditioning may give an immediate respite (for buildings and people), burning coal to provide the power required is just illogical.

So why hasn’t this knowledge reached the design or strategy phase of a building project yet?

Why do commercial developers, Higher Education institutions and other stakeholders in the build environment – AND their project teams – still appear so reluctant to change and develop facilities that will actually be fit for the next decade, to weather the weather and deliver a more sustainable option for those interacting with their buildings?

There are any number of reasons that we could point to but in 2023, these don’t carry much weight. A simple solution for all of this is to bring in the sustainability experts from stage one – vision. This will enable knowledge sharing for designers, planners and all other partners in the extended team. It also builds in ‘live data’ from the start of the process, making it ultimately easier to measure, benchmark, report and share best practice. This would be a real step change for all rather than bemoaning data that is readily accessible for designers but decreases in relevance day by day.

The earlier the better. The later the more expensive, complex and risk prone the project will be.

So next time the barometer hits the late 20s – and apparently that will be soon – remember that the increase in severity and frequency of our ‘heatwaves’ is a visible reminder of climate change. And, it should also be a reminder that we should be acting now, bringing in the experts in sustainability from day one to lead the brief, support the design and drag the naysayers into the 21st century.


27 Jun 2023

I set foot at Footprint+ to see who else was walking the talk

I set foot at Footprint+ to see who else was walking the talk

by Rana Rehman, Project Manager and Sustainability Expert at 3PM


I was eager to attend the recent Footprint+ conference to share knowledge and discuss ways to accelerate the built environment’s
emphasis on net zero, amongst other things.

I found a number of likeminded people who were there, like me, to discuss innovative approaches on incentivising the circular
economy and cradle-to-cradle practices. What’s more, these experts were there to collaborate and share best practice and lesson learned.

However, there were also delegates that needed to do a lot more in this area in order to actually put their money where their mouths
were, particularly when it came to retrofitting.  There were a lot of ‘cannot’s not as many ‘can do’s which was a little disappointing.

For businesses in the built environment that are starting their net zero journey, there are two crucial principals that are central to
success. Firstly, you must foster an environment where stakeholders demonstrate openness and enthusiasm for sustainable practices.
Mindset is one of the biggest obstacles in this entire space and so culture needs to support and nurture people to where we want to get to.

The second principal is the attitude and agility of designers who play a vital role in driving sustainability. By focussing in on design,
we can encourage designers to adopt a proactive and adaptable mindset which could lead to innovative and sustainable solutions.

These principals are supported by putting in place performance-based design over prescriptive measures; and encouraging a
streamlined approvals process and a proactive approach to risk assessment in order to facilitate the implementation of sustainable

Over the coming months I’ll be exploring other thought-provoking points on this subject – many of which were raised at the
conference but not so many answered concisely. Partly because we don’t have the answers yet, and partly because there weren’t
enough can do’s across the industry.

I’ll be addressing the importance of wellbeing and absenteeism in sustainable building design, especially in commercial buildings;
the use of sustainable plant and machinery on construction sites, the debate between pushing circular economy in a project brief
rather than a brief targeting low embodied carbon, discussing the fact that designers often rely on supply chain knowledge that
may already be two years old; exploring the concept of materials such as appreciating assets; asking how early is too early to engage
with a supply chain in a project; and why and when you could and should challenge any brief if there’s more that can be done.