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3R Awards debate: Is cost the principle driver for retrofits?

Speakers at last night’s 3R Awards retrofit debated whether cost was the only driver for innovative reuse of buildings

In a heated discussion over Bennetts Associates’s Elizabeth II Court project in Winchester, panelists responded to questions from the audience about the emerging market for retrofits in the UK – thought to be worth £500 billion over the next three decades.

‘The cost was almost half the price of a new build which we estimated to be £70 million,’ said Peter Fisher of Bennetts Associates.

The practice’s award winning £40 million scheme for Hampshire County Council transformed a deteriorating office building into a modern, naturally ventilated facility.

Contrary to public conceptions, Fisher explained: ‘1960s and 1970s are often very well made, quite heavy weight and quite thin.

‘In fact the real challenge is 80s buildings that are often very deep plan and very difficult to make work as retrofits’.

The project achieved a 70 per cent increase in occupancy, allowing the client to sell off £10.5 million worth of redundant properties elsewhere in the city.

There was also a reduction in ‘churn’ and fewer absences according to Ian Harrison of Davis Langdon, QS for the project.

‘People spent a lot longer in the office because it was a pleasant environment,’ he said.

Speed to site was a key factor, he explained. ‘The project fitted within a political cycle which meant we finished before the election.

‘With new build we wouldn’t have been able to do that and from Hampshire County Council’s point of view that was a big issue.’

AJ sustainability editor Hattie Hartman said: ‘Elizabeth II Court really remains an exemplar scheme and all you have to do is look at the before and after images to be persuaded by the power of the transformation.’

AJ editorial director Paul Finch added: ‘Hampshire has changed from when it did the original building, going for something which is in embodied energy terms quite virtuous.

‘The analysis of cost in the retrofit versus rebuild debate seems to be a sign of a more sophisticated discussion about what buildings should be doing.’

He added: ‘It appears the more warehouse style buildings actually are more adaptable, more flexible and have more of the aptitudes of the Georgian house in terms of flexibility.’

‘The main drivers for retrofit projects will be cost, energy and de-risking - because you don’t need a significant planning application if it’s already on site.’

The event took place in the New London Architecture gallery at the Building Centre on Store Street in London.

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