Apartment building

Assembly 2014: Buildings within cities

Buildings have been traditionally designed and treated as standalone structures, with no consideration of their local environment. For cities to be able to adapt for the future there will need to be a shift in the way we design our built environment. More dynamic approaches should be introduced that will look at buildings as part of an urban system.

The “Buildings Within Cities” session at the ARCC Assembly was organised with CIBSE’s collaboration and looked at the challenge of modern building engineers to integrate their buildings in the city environment.

Buildings put a significant strain on resources, such as material, power, water, on the environment by creating waste and pollution, and ultimately on human health and well-being. George Adams, CIBSE’s President, highlighted the risk of existing buildings and urban centres becoming inhabitable in the near future and the engineers’ ethical responsibility to create urban environments that work now and will continue to work in the future, offering a healthy environment to their occupants.

The session participants seemed to agree that the key to resilient future cities is the retrofit of our existing buildings and infrastructure. The majority of our urban structures will be around for many more decades, so making them sustainable should be a priority. The same goes for existing infrastructure systems, most of which have already exceeded their capacity. But how do we achieve sustainable, resilient future cities? An important step is a holistic approach to design and retrofit – a whole systems perspective. A new design or a major retrofit will need to be considered within the surrounding environment and city context, i.e. what strain will it put on local resources, how can it work with the local climate and environment to maximise its resource efficiency and how can it contribute to the socioeconomic development of the local community?

The team of the Retrofit 2050 project developed pathways for the sustainable retrofit of cities and highlighted important factors that would contribute towards it. Two factors stand out: Technical solutions should be considered alongside the socioeconomic and political context – the limited uptake of the Green Deal initiative showed that although technical options could deliver the promised energy savings, more thought should have been invested in the business model of the scheme in order to make it attractive to householders.

The second, and perhaps an even more important factor is the leadership issue: who takes responsibility for the uncertainties and risks associated with every forward action? The answer has to be city-scale governance and financing – the creation of opportunities for effective partnerships that will play an important role in avoiding the silo mentality and encouraging a city-wide vision.


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