After a busy year, focusing our energy on our projects, we have been taking some time to reflect on our work and our evolving approach to sustainability. Sustainability has always been an important part of our practice and we continue to evolve our thinking and approach to sustainable design on a project specific basis. As architects, the decisions we make have a profound impact on the wider environment, with the built environment being the largest single contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 49% of annual carbon emissions in the UK (LETI, 2020).

Graphs comparing the embodied carbon of the baseline and retrofit (as built) with LETI and RIBA performance targets for 2020 and 2030

As part of assessing the performance of the Exo Centre, in terms of sustainability, we have collaborated with the University of Nottingham through the student apprenticeship programme to perform a retrospective analysis of the embodied carbon of the project. The research established a methodology for small practice to understand the life cycle embodied carbon impacts of buildings while providing an analysis of the Exo Centre, comparing this as a retrofit (as built) to a new build equivalent (baseline). The embodied carbon attributed to the retrofit measures totals 606,300kgCO2e – a reduction of 43% from the baseline scenario, indicating significant embodied carbon savings.

The budget constraints of this project meant there was no money for sustainable technologies or a super-efficient building fabric, meaning the focus on the design and environmental strategy needed to be low cost and low impact. We were very careful and considered in the decision we made to maximise the budget and minimise the environmental impact

Photos of the main hall during and post construction

The project falls far below the performance metrics set by RIBA and LETI for 2030 and serves to reaffirm the position that there is a clear opportunity for retrofit to play a significant role in the reduction of embodied carbon emissions in the built environment. The methodology established by this research study has been carried forward onto future projects and has become an integral part of the design stage, allowing us to evaluate and review the embodied carbon impacts of our design decisions to ensure we achieve evidence-based outcomes.

Author: Cameron Spence