Calling for action on resource-efficient, circular design

Posted by David Symons on 14th June 2018

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UK hospitals are typically designed to last 70 years. Railways are expected to last 110 years. And worldwide, only four sky scrapers have ever been dismantled. If we wanted to dismantle The Shard, for example, it would take longer and cost more than building it in the first place.

The UK landscape will change hugely over the next 70 years. The buildings and infrastructure we design now will be in use for the lifetime of children born today. And just think of how technology and ways of working have changed over the past decade, let alone since 70 years ago when the first NHS hospital was opened in Trafford, Manchester, by Aneurin Bevan.

If we design the world around us for today’s needs only, it will build-in redundancy. Buildings and infrastructure would need to be demolished before designs reach the end of their lives. This wastes money, wastes time and wastes materials. 

Today the construction industry is the largest user of resources in the UK. If we’re going to have thriving public and private services, and if we’re going to make the most of scarce resources, there has to be a better way.

WSP have published 10 practical recommendations on designing flexible, adaptable and modular infrastructure. The recommendations have the support of the 15 leading companies, universities and NGOs that helped craft them, including Aldersgate Group.

We’ve resisted the temptation to put all the action at government’s door. There are actions for all: from calling on universities to include flexible design in their degree courses, to asking clients to specify future flexibility in their schemes. From calling on the industry to put in place a system so it’s easy to access design drawings decades later, to asking government to take the lead on improving waste regulations as a major buyer of buildings and infrastructure.

The opportunities are huge. Our recent research shows that designing a hospital for future, flexible use means that it can be refurbished and repurposed for 25% less investment than it would if it was designed in the ‘business as usual’ way. Modular developments also create opportunities to cut construction time, and if the UK is going to double resource efficiency by 2050, the construction industry has to be more ambitious than it is today.

David Symons is UK Director of Sustainability at WSP

Read the full recommendations here: Accelerating resource-efficient, circular design in buildings and infrastructure