N8 experts call for renovations instead of new builds for sustainable post-pandemic recovery


If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, then it’s essential that we reuse more materials and renovate existing buildings rather than constructing new ones, according to researchers from the N8 Research Partnership.

The call, made by engineers in the University of Sheffield’s Urban Flows Observatory, is in response to the built environment emitting up to 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions and using 60% of materials.

With the UK’s current construction practices being seen as unsustainable in a low carbon recovery, the University of Sheffield researchers have developed a new tool that could be used to design and construct buildings more sustainably.

Developed in collaboration with the infrastructure firm AECOM, the tool draws on circular economy principles, which aim to eliminate waste and reuse resources in order to reduce carbon emissions.

Named Regenerate, the practical design tool can be used by designers in the construction industry and aims to measure and assess how well projects fit into the circular building framework.

The framework consists of a series of Circularity Criteria (CCs), which are split into four categories: design for adaptability, design for deconstruction, circular materials, and resource efficiency. These criteria are then applied to the core building layers: site, structure, skin, services and space. The framework can be applied to all building types, retrofits and new builds, and also provides practical examples and case study references.

The tool highlights design strategies that should be embedded into a construction project to ensure that the least material is used, over multiple lifecycles.

It aims to encourage the design of adaptable, deconstructable buildings that make use of existing resources and materials. For example, building structures can be designed for future reuse and adaptation, e.g. facades can be stripped away and the fundamental structure retained, or ideally buildings are renovated and repurposed rather than being demolished.

The Regenerate tool has been developed by Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, Will Mihkelson and Charles Gillott from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with David Cheshire from AECOM. It has been funded by the University of Sheffield’s EPSRC Impact Accelerator Account. The University of Sheffield’s own Estates & Facilities Management team intends to incorporate the tool into all future building projects and has helped to test it.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley from the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, who led the design of the tool from Sheffield, said: “If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery post-Covid-19, then it’s essential that we implement more sustainable practices in our construction industry. Shifts to circular practices such as increased building retention rather than demolition, or designing new buildings for adaptation would enable building life extension and make positive steps to reduce material consumption and carbon emissions.

“We hope the tool will be widely used in the construction industry so that designers can continually assess just how circular their buildings are, from conception to completion. And whether the building can be sustainably repurposed for future generations.”

Mark Holden, Head of Estates Development at the University of Sheffield, added: “I’m delighted that our project managers have supported colleagues in the testing of Regenerate. It has offered useful insights into one of our planned developments, where we were able to note recommendations and record findings. We now intend to use the tool on all new projects over £2 million.”


For more information on the Regenerate practical design tool, including how to access it, visit: https://urbanflows.ac.uk/regenerate/