Sustainability in construction and building services is not just about being environmentally conscious or “doing our bit” to reduce carbon emissions. Commercial buildings designed or refurbished with sustainability in mind can improve the engagement, productivity, and health and safety of the people who will ultimately work in them.
Our world is rapidly shifting with advances in technology, changes in ways of working following the pandemic, and their combined impact on economies and political environments. If there is one thing the business world has learned from this experience, it’s that to effectively handle these constant and rapid changes, flexibility and adaptability are crucial to business survival, as well as a sustainable future.
Flexibility in construction engineering and design
Flexible design revolves around the ability of a building’s features to adapt to the changing needs of its occupants. Whether it’s the changing nature of a business, or indeed the change in purpose of the building itself, a flexible building will be designed in a way that allows for modifications in different areas to be made without affecting other parts of the building.
Flexibility in modern facility design
From logistics facilities to data centres, flexibility has to be built in at the design level to avoid wasted energy and obsolete plant - an issue where spare power and cooling capacity cannot be accessed because of the load distribution and configuration of the plant. A good flexible design, combined with a well-considered staging plan, will minimise the risk of this becoming a problem.
The issue of capacity that will not be required for several years, and the associated energy inefficiency of operating plant at low load, can be managed with deferred installation. This will require a smart design that allows staging of the construction where future stages can be safely constructed without impacting ongoing operations.
By prioritising flexibility and adaptability, building owners and operators are better placed to realise cost efficiencies, maximise the versatility of infrastructure, minimise underutilised equipment and avoid adverse impacts on sustainability targets.
Flexible cooling systems can be configured to meet the individual needs and preferences of multiple tenants without having to compromise on energy efficiency.
Flexible power systems incorporate built-in “blocks” comprising auxiliary power, generation systems when required, meaning that the power systems can be configured in multiple ways to respond to the building's needs and provide load shedding as part of a load demand strategy in consultation with the local electrical supply authority.
The keys to increasing building flexibility
Optimal flexible building design calls for two main considerations:
1. Design for durability
Built to last: This is all about maximising the ability of a building to fulfil its functions over a period of time, and how each element of that building will be able to tolerate changes over a sustained number of years. Durable design calls for materials that can be reused and optimised. The nature, provenance, quality and lifetime of building components are important factors in building durability.
2. Design for adaptability
What is the capacity of the building to adapt or change while fulfilling various functions over its lifetime? Using modular systems and prefabricated components will increase a building’s flexibility and also simplify the process of disassembly in order to change the function of a space.
Using prefabricated components manufactured offsite reduces construction time and energy consumption on site, all leading to a more sustainable building.
Buildings have to be designed with reuse in their future
There has been a tidal shift in recent years in the attitude toward refurbishment, with the focus now on the need to reuse rather than demolish a building. But when suitable buildings are unavailable for retrofitting and a new construction is the only option, flexibility combined with sustainable green building design can result in something innovative and sophisticated. Buildings constructed under the flexible building concept can easily be transformed and reused.
Metec Project: Twitter Cumberland House
The fitout for this project was carried out in the original 1970’s structure on Fenian Street in Dublin 2. This structure was retained as part of the refurbishment. One of the principal challenges in the fitout was the lack of raised access floors, which proved an issue from a space perspective. However Metec was still able to transform the building into modern and flexible air-conditioned commercial offices, achieving LEED Platinum and B3 BER certification.
Metec: Sustainable culture driven by our sustainability team
Our sustainability team at Metec has been hand-picked for their passion, qualifications and experience in the areas of building performance, sustainability, energy savings over the lifecycle of the building, and perhaps even more importantly, the experience of its occupiers.
At Metec, our mission is to reshape the way people think about building performance. The clients we work and collaborate with share our ambition to design a built environment for a better future.
If you would like to know more about Metec and our approach to optimising flexibility to maximise sustainability, get in touch with Scott Caldwell, Head of Sustainability at Metec, today.