May 21 2020
How Can We Adapt Our Spaces for a New Normal?
Restoring existing buildings to suit our future work and living spaces is a sustainable, cost-effective option
When the pandemic hit, we mobilized 260+ people in seven offices across three countries to WFH in less than a week, fast-forwarding a “future of work” scenario far quicker than any of us imagined. We successfully proved to ourselves and to our clients that we can deliver uncompromising performance from a distance.
What hasn’t changed over the past nine weeks is our desire for human connection. So, like many of our clients, we are now planning for what will need to change, because when we are back in the office, we will want to be in a safe environment.
Society’s appetite for proximity has and will continue to drive every next step. Efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable ways to accommodate new ways of working, living, and playing are needed.
Pre-COVID buildings, post-COVID life
Historically, Entuitive’s work in Adaptive Re-Use of buildings has been centered around changing the use of a building from one traditional purpose to another entirely different one. Often this was driven by a loss of relevance – the previous use of an existing building would no longer serve a purpose to the community.
Currently, we are not only facing a need for Adaptive Re-Use, but also a significant adaptation of existing buildings for the same use but with new and distinct requirements. Sophisticated owners will understand that functionality must outweigh the glamour of an asset. Spaces that do not meet social acceptance (i.e. assurance of its occupants’ safety) will discourage people from using them.
Safety is the name of the game
Given that the requirement to distance will remain for some time, how do we adapt to having the space that we need to live and work while maintaining our health and well-being?
The immediate need to reduce the density of our office workstations may be slightly offset by the increasing openness to working from home. To what extent the two might balance each other out is still unknown. Many people still crave the opportunity to collaborate in an office environment.
Public transit and transportation authorities face a steep challenge to adapt transit stations and vehicle fleets to accommodate social distancing. It is very likely that the demand for suburban office space will increase as well, driving a need to design and build spacious satellite offices to counter the stress on public transit and long-distance commuting.
Urban buildings will require an overhaul to remain useful and desirable as work and living spaces. Restoration and retrofitting will be the quickest way for owners to adapt to consumer demand. In general, it is much quicker and better for the environment to renovate or restore a facility than it is to demolish and rebuild it.
“How can I make the most of the dollars I have?”
Building owners are now faced with the unexpected cost of retrofitting their spaces to suit the evolving needs of their occupants. Considering the economic upheaval that the pandemic has caused, smart decisions are required.
It can take significantly less capital to extend the building life cycle by an additional 10 years or more, through restoration and retrofitting, than to build anew. This is an obvious benefit to owners who may not be in the financial position to tear down and rebuild. It can be applied to projects big and small, residential and commercial. Buildings like the MacKimmie Block & Tower Redevelopment and the Ken Soble Tower – Passive House Retrofit (EnerPHit) are two recent examples of how an existing building can have an entirely new lease on life.
As new public safety recommendations evolve, owners will need to lean on design professionals to make the right decisions on what kinds of retrofits are beneficial both in feasibility of construction (can the existing building undergo one type of reno vs. another?) and what the cost implications of each option will be.
The layer between inside and out
Envelope restoration will play a key role when we consider the desire for improved interior comfort, and will likely be contemplated alongside improvements to indoor air quality building via mechanical upgrades.
Building envelope retrofits themselves are not new – water and vapour control, air control, thermal control – and these practices can create psychological as well as practical health benefits by improving occupant comfort and creating a better performing building.
We anticipate a move in retrofit towards more passive modes of ventilation, such as operable windows, and potentially the elimination of high-traffic hand surfaces, such as blinds, in favour of hands-free shading solutions.
Buildings with thicker and higher quality envelopes last longer, reducing the frequency and intensity of costly repairs and upgrades over time. It can be difficult to invest in things without seeing immediate tangible benefits. By focusing on resilient, high-quality retrofit options, such as high-performance windows and re-cladding to add updated air barriers and insulation, we can achieve energy-efficient assemblies that save in the long run.
Restoration as a sustainable choice
How to design a sustainable built environment is on everyone’s mind right now.
Restoration is a sustainable alternative to demolition that favours the preservation of heritage and an original architectural vision, while saving on emissions through reuse of materials rather than carbon-intensive new materials.
In accordance with internationally recognized targets, all buildings must be net zero operational carbon by 2030 with significant reductions in embodied carbon, and net zero whole life carbon by 2050. Restoration of existing buildings and structures is key to reaching those targets due to the large existing building stock that currently have high emissions.
A note on the life cycle of a building post-restoration
While financial constraints may limit the size and extent of a restoration in the short term, some studies show that multiple renovations with a short life span can actually end up adding so much additional embodied carbon that it may have been better to build new in the first place.
This is where we work closely with our clients on our restoration design approaches, to maximize the service life to the next restoration while minimizing embodied carbon by using low carbon materials as much as possible. We also work with our partners to identify opportunities to reduce carbon emissions during the construction process, and we are committed to leading the industry toward continuous improvement.
As experts in the built environment, we are committed to new opportunities at the intersection of human connection, safety, adaptive re-use, and sustainability. Spaces must function for both the practical program/intention as well as the safety and mental health of occupants, while remaining sensitive to environmental impacts.
At Entuitive, we are continually working towards an ever-more integrated service offering, understanding that structures are not designed and built in a vacuum. They’re built for us. We build them for each other. And we will continue to make them work for all of us in the future.
To learn more, speak to our Restoration and Sustainability experts who contributed to this article: