Dec 23: Making London’s commercial spaces fit for a net zero future!

The demand for grade-A energy-efficient office space in London is increasing. Rather than demolishing and constructing new buildings, the refurbishment or retrofitting of existing ones is seen as a more sustainable solution. By converting older office stock, developers can adapt existing commercial properties to meet client needs, with a focus on low operational and embodied carbon, and a view to achieving net zero by 2050.

In a post-COVID world, many people are returning to work in what could be considered sub-standard workplaces, particularly in older buildings. Some of these London offices do not currently meet the required standards for energy efficiency, safety codes and accessibility, and at a time when meeting spaces, clean air and natural light are more desirable than ever, refurbishment offers an opportunity to improve functionality and environmental performance. Plans including landscaping, heating and cooling strategies, and addressing poor layout and design are all indicators of a transformative move towards combining first-class amenities with energy efficiency. Offices are no longer simply a representation of the company in terms of decoration – it is superior design and environmental impact that represent the key drivers.

Bourne Group work hard to mitigate the impact upon the environment. We champion low emission steel use, hold the BES 6001 Responsible Sourcing accreditation and are committed to SteelZero, of which we are founding signatories. We support architects and clients in the delivery of their ambitions, and our recent London projects reflect a desire to marry steel re-use and low embodied carbon with architecture and purpose. Respectful of the grade listing status of many buildings in London, our refurbishment of 1-4 Marble Arch echoes a trend in stripping back to expose original steelwork and highlight the structural integrity of the building. The retention of façades with rear areas infilled with new steelwork is more common, as developers seek to enlarge existing retail and office space with a view to creating more open plan, user-friendly environments. Concrete columns are often removed to make way for steel beams supporting double height reception and retail areas.
80 Charlotte St, a multi-storey mixed-use development, is an example where all columns and beams are exposed within the completed scheme and is a net zero operational building which has a BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’.
On the banks of the River Thames, Millennium Bridge House is a commercial refurbishment which reuses the building’s existing structure and floor plates, with reconfiguration to the internal layout and façade. Exposed columns are painted dark red in keeping with the area’s industrial heritage.

HYLO, which won a Structural Steel Design Award in 2023, had environmental friendliness as its primary driver, achieved by minimising the embodied carbon of the scheme and reusing the inherent capacity in the existing structure. The refurbishment and extension solution for the site doubled the leasable area, from 12,000 to 25,800 square metres, while saving 35% of the ‘upfront’ embodied carbon in comparison with an equivalent new construction, simply by reusing its existing frame and foundations. Much of the original structure was retained, some existing floor plates enlarged, and the top of the building extended with new floors. 

From a design point of view, many of these refurbished projects benefit from the addition of finishes such as curves and colours to add dramatic impact, with previous light and space constraints overcome with atriums, glass roofs and floor to ceiling windows. Not only does refurbishing reduce construction waste and minimise the carbon footprint associated with new build projects, but smart design choices also contribute to urban renewal and revitalisation efforts by attracting businesses and improving the overall aesthetic appeal.

Bourne Group work closely every day with our clients to radically reduce embodied carbon and promote our low emission steel use, responsible sourcing accreditations and commitment to low embodied carbon/steel. It is through retaining and repurposing as much of a building as possible, and by re-using and recycling materials, that we can achieve the highest sustainability credentials.