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Pablo La Roche

Principal, Architecture and Urbanism

What are they and why are they key to sustainable cities?

Savings from Universal Buildings, also known as regenerative or open buildings, can reach up to 46% over new construction when comparing facilities with the same energy performance level. As hybridized, adaptive structures, Universal Buildings can transition between multiple uses, such as market-rate residential, workplace, hospitality and senior living. They have standard building systems and arrangements positioned to meet changing demands.

Universal Buildings enable designers and architects to rethink the concept of the center core office building, from the floor plates, MEP and columns to technology, the podium and parking structure. These buildings deliver some of the most resilient, cost-effective and sustainable solutions. They provide uniquely flexible platforms to adapt program uses based on changing market needs and demands.

Greater sustainability outcomes result from this approach. Building reuse almost always yields a lower environmental impact than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size and functionality. The range of environmental savings from building reuse varies widely based on building type, location and levels of energy efficiency. Savings from reuse are between four and 46% over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level.

Several building components affect carbon emissions; the most significant are embodied and operational emissions. Most of the embodied carbon is in the structure and then the envelope. It is possible to keep an existing structure and update the envelope so that an increased envelope performance reduces operational carbon. Sustainability is at the heart of Arcadis’ strategy; from 2020, the firm maintains carbon neutral operations and pledges to have all projects climate-positive for operation by 2030 and extend to climate-positive materials by 2040.

The Universal Building approach includes repurposing car parks into co-working areas, urban marketplaces, e-commerce support centers, fitness centers and retail locations. In high-density urban cities, parking garages often sit on valuable land that could generate a much greater return on investment if redeveloped to meet changing program needs. Ground-level parking spaces can convert into storefronts and mid-level floors can transition into office, residential or hotel spaces. Parking structures could be reconfigured to include parks and green spaces to encourage the wellness of communities.

From the column grid to carefully considered floor to floor heights, the Universal Building can shift between residential, office and social spaces easily. In the Middle East there is a clear direction towards greater sustainability of buildings, as well as efficiency and reduction of carbon emission as countries work towards Net Zero. Our latest research on the Universal Building concept shows that there is significant opportunity for greater savings through the use of these types of structures. They can increase resilience, drive sustainability and strengthen communities.


Pablo La Roche

Principal, Architecture and Urbanism

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