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Future of the Sustainable Office: An AJ/Mace roundtable

Industry experts talk legislation, embodied energy and the impact of the recession in Arup Associates’ Ropemaker Place. Hattie Hartman chairs the event

Developers, architects, engineers, project manager, cost consultant, contractor and letting agent met at Ropemaker Place in September 2010 to discuss ‘The future of the sustainable office’. The event wascaptured on film, and a transcript of highlights from the discussion is printed at the foot of this page.

Lessons from Ropemaker. (5:05mins - see embedded video player above)

Future of the Sustainable Office: the Ropemake Place Roundtable

The plastic covers had to be removed from the chairs so that we could take our seats in the upper-floor conference room at Arup Associates’ recently completed Ropemaker Place (AJ 12.08.10). Our subject: ‘The future of the sustainable office’. The full project cycle was well-represented around the table; developers, architects, engineers, project manager, cost consultant, contractor and letting agent, several of whom were involved in Ropemaker Place, which, with its high BREEAM ratings, was an apt venue.

The building is also notable because the building was delivered less than three years after British Land acquired the site near Moorgate in Islington, London. A small collaborative team meant that decisions could be taken quickly, and sustainability was built into the brief from the outset. Arup Associates provided integrated design services and Mace acted as project manager, quantity surveyor and construction manager.

Hattie Hartman: What are the main lessons from Ropemaker?

Mick Brundle: I’ve always been interested in the fifth elevation, creating gardens at high level. If we all look out of the window, it looks like a junk yard out there. I would take it further and also think about winter gardens. We’re doing that in China where clients are very up for innovative ideas… Offices are places
for gossip, and gossip creates energy and new ideas. In fact, most of the ideas in this building came from gossip with people from Arup facade engineering. If you can maximise gossip potential, it’s a great move
for an office building.

Sarah Cary: The LEED Platinum pre-certification process made me much more conscientious about documenting where materials come from. You need to know if the steel comes with an environmental management certification, what factory it was manufactured at and, if possible, what percentage of the steel is recycled at that factory.

Hattie Hartman: What do you see as the main obstacles to the future of sustainable offices?

Arlo Mills: There’s not necessarily a high premium to sustainability if it’s embedded from day one.

John Bushell: The world cannot be saved site by site. We should learn from the Scandinavians. They work on up to twenty buildings to address energy efficiency holistically.

Sarah Cary: I’d really love to have a modelling tool that would allow me to work with designers at detailed design stage to predict actual building consumption and understand how you can play with different systems in a parametric, iterative approach.

Bradley Baker: One of the biggest challenges is educating the occupier sector because there is a perception out there that green means expensive.

Mark Kowal: My concern is whether planning policy should be guiding on energy efficiency. I believe it should sit with building control and be dealt with through the building regulations process.

Jonathan Forster Today’s competitive tendering environment means that we now have to look far and wide to source materials. Whole cladding systems are now shipped from China. That may not be the most sustainable way forward.

David Glover The industry is confused about how we articulate value. We have EPCs, DECs and everything else. It doesn’t need to be so complicated: per-metre-square and per-person metrics are key.

Dave Fairbrother: I’d like to see the 20 per cent renewables target replaced by a carbon target for building.

Simon Sturgis: Currently all legislation is geared to reducing operational usage with no mention of embodied. We will soon be subject to European legislation called CEN/TC 350. Components will have an embodied carbon rating, and soon after buildings will, too. We are currently advising Paul Morell on carbon accounting and impact of the European legislation in the UK. We should also develop green tendering and ask contractors for costs of components and their CO2 or CO2E profile

Hattie Hartman: Let’s drill down on embodied energy.

Simon Sturgis: What’s really interesting is to consider the lifespan of a building’s different components: the finishes, the cladding, the services, etc. How the lifespan of different systems relate is also important so that there’s synchronicity between building components and leases.

Sarah Cary: I want to add to Simon’s reasons for looking at embodied energy. We now report our carbon footprint every year, and the embodied aspect of our construction activity is about half of our corporate carbon footprint. We did not expect that. A lot of the big wins around steel and the structure and the choice of concrete have huge program and cost implications. You need to think about those during RIBA stages C and D. So embodied energy is something that architects and engineers are going to have to get their heads around first and foremost. I am also starting to require all of our major sub-structure and major structural packages to keep really good records so that I can go back and look at this.

Mark Kowal: Looking at embodied energy is a real eye opener. We did it recently on a building in Paddington. How aware are you, as the architect, that your gaskets are coming from China? You don’t have a clue. We need to think up front rather than in hindsight.

Bradley Baker: My experience is that even for sophisticated tenants, sustainability is rarely high on their agenda. It’s more about location, size, the floor plan, and timing fit with the lease. Sustainability, especially in the downturn, has almost taken a back seat.

Hattie Hartman: On that optimistic note, we had best conclude, but before we do I want to get your thoughts on how to push the sharing of post-occupancy energy data.

David Glover: There is a real nervousness amongst people who occupy buildings about sharing that data. I’ve been a designer for over thirty years and I know very few buildings where we’ve been invited back.

Sarah Cary: There’s a huge programme of funding for post-occupancy reviews through the Technology Strategy Board. Information will start to surface over the next couple of years.

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