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Building a renewable city
Back in February I attended a roundtable discussion which was part of a wider research piece by the NLA. It was looking at strategies and case studies for how to build a Circular City, and followed NLA’s Zero Carbon London (2020) and Resilient London (2021) reports.
Civic Engineers kindly hosted us, with Peter Murray chairing the session. The group was a mix of experts, developers, industry bodies, designers and local authorities, and we discussed questions like “What is the definition of Circular Economy for the built environment industry” and “What solutions could be developed to address the issue of material storage”.
Now the output is available in a new report, “Circular London: Building a Renewable City”.
So let’s take a look inside…
In his Foreword, Peter explains that The London Plan focuses on sustainable growth and carbon reduction through active travel, urban greening, and circular economy principles, but notes the latter is probably the biggest challenge. London lacks a functional second-hand materials market. He notes that in the UK, we do have initiatives like the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products and Seratech working on reuse and sustainable materials, but we are behind some friends in Europe.
He tells us that the concept of long life, loose fit was first promoted by RIBA President Alex Gordon back in 1974, underpinning the idea that buildings and infrastructure should be designed to have long lifespans and be easily adaptable for future needs. And he recognises that prominent architects do support adaptability, but this needs needs to be engrained throughout the industry, including developers.
I like the final part of the foreword, where Peter reinforces that this could bring economic benefit and open up new business models - it’s a growth market.
The Exec Summary gives a nod to the progress that London has made through circular economy projects, but recognises that broader implementation is necessary. Commitment from developers and design teams is a must, plus regulatory changes like Part Z and removing VAT on refurbishment. Prioritising reuse over demolition is important, but you know I’m retrofit first, not retrofit only… let’s not go down the M&S rabbit hole again here.
There is a call to action for every reader in the report:
Before you assume I agree with all of these, I’d want some more detail. Some are obvious and no-brainers, however restrictions, limits and audits all add cost and complexity to a development. We will need to ensure a healthy balance between cost and value remains, otherwise development will go into the ‘too difficult’ box and just stop.
Within the report, it’s great to see that Steel is first on the list when it comes to material reuse. Unfortunately no mention of Circular Steel, but if you know you know, and there are so many overlaps with the CS2023 Partners and projects getting detailed attention. I’m sure if they were to publish today, NLA would link to the 28 shorts from CS2023 🎥
As well as steel, there’s clearly lots of stuff happening in the world of concrete, whether this is how to reuse or recycle it, or how to produce a lower carbon cement.
Many other materials are mentioned and I found it interesting that within the section on materials is a piece on fit-out. We need to do a lot better when it comes to fit-out, which is a lower carbon activity, but occurs far more frequently.
There’s loads to absorb in the report, with some interesting pieces on viewpoints, then lots (and I mean lots) of project examples, before a section on guidance, tools and research.
I’m really pleased to have helped with the research behind this piece of work and hope that it is useful to the industry. There’s lots to do and we shouldn’t forget a point made in the foreword… there is so much opportunity here and it’s a growth market.