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In Arcadis’ latest International Construction Costs 2023, we highlight how owner, occupier and investor demand for low-carbon performance and climate change resilience - alongside inflation and energy costs - is increasing construction costs worldwide, as well as long-term value. The report highlights the risk to the longevity of assets due to the pace of change and threat of asset obsolescence driven by net zero requirements.

Our five-step plan helps clients think about the full range of issues influencing the long-term value of their property assets and stresses the importance of identifying opportunities to reposition assets and maximise the value of locations and sites. We advise to ask if a change in use could enhance value and to take advantage of the strengths of existing assets and find opportunities to maximise the reuse of fabric to minimise embodied carbon.

Jan-Maurits Loecke, sustainability fellow and associate director, discusses our ‘Re-craft’ methodology used to help breathe new life into existing assets to meet new demands.

Place Healing: Sustainability begins with the thinking

Over the centuries, cities around the world have developed an incredibly rich heritage of buildings, places, identities. The bar preventing demolition is far too low, there is a great temptation to mindlessly tear down perfectly intact structures.

In the face of an uphill battle against climate change, neither as a society nor as a profession can we justify a 30-year building lifespan or a throwaway culture. It also makes economic sense that buildings last longer and can adapt to changing needs.

The amount of resources and raw materials stored in existing buildings is gigantic. This not only calls for their reuse, but also a fundamental rethinking towards less material-intensive construction such as circular use of materials or building elements, unmixed constructions, reversible assembly amongst other principles. Transformation and conversion are the most effective strategies to keep the carbon emissions at bay.

But there are challenges, as some existing buildings may no longer connect to people or their context, appearing like a wounded patient who needs to be healed. Some of the existing buildings were built at a time when people believed in unlimited natural resources and growth, when diversity, daylight, well-being, healthy materials and the importance of public space didn’t matter. These are challenges that require out-of-the-box thinking. Given the current climate urgency and precarious economic situation, the rehabilitation and repair of such existing structures is a priority: We call it “Re-craft.”

New life into existing assets

Our ‘Re-craft’ methodology was designed to help breathe new life into existing assets to meet new demands. There are three key aspects to this process, starting with Re:define – looking at changing citizen and planet’s needs. Secondly, Re:craft existing assets by curating, blending and reshaping the experience and finally; Re:spond by applying these learnings to create high quality spaces that reflect our ethos of supporting people, planet and positive design.

Castellana 66 in Madrid is an office building from 1990 which now 30 years later needed to be upgraded to meet current building standards. Rather than demolish the building and design a new one, we diversified the program and carefully upgraded the façade. The new facade now generates energy through integrated photovoltaics with minimal additional embodied carbon and leads to a significant reduction in operation emissions, improvement in daylight and overall wellness inside.

We also successfully breathed new life into another one of Madrid’s icons: the 120 m tall Torre Europa. Built in 1985 it was in need of key upgrades to enhance its modern appeal for a target market of international office tenants. It is now a widely published award-winning example of a sustainable retrofit with a significant urban agenda.

The transformation of our growth-oriented economy towards a new model of reduced resource consumption, sharing, preservation and repairing as an alternative to a throw-away culture requires radical steps. We want to accompany people on their way to a more sustainable and regenerative future. New forms of living and working are already emerging, with the transformation of ageing department stores, old buildings, abandoned infrastructures becoming catalysts for urban regeneration. We see the day coming when emission of any carbon or other greenhouse gases will be banned, then Re-craft could be a way.

This type of thinking is key if the real estate industry is to change the way it operates and meet ambitions of creating a sustainable future for all. We cannot throw away the planet and build a new one, there is no planet B.

This article was originally published in Architecture Magazine.