Urban Splash commercial property conversion in Plymouth (image Urban Splash)


David Connacher, Marketing Manager at West Fraser, discusses the need to design and construct buildings that can be adapted and transformed

Across millennia, buildings have been altered to meet changing needs. Recent centuries have seen Georgian and Victorian houses become highly sought-after for their flexibility, enduring character and build quality. The potential of old factory and mill buildings has also been recognised with developers, such as Urban Splash, building their brands on converting such structures into state-of-the-art accommodation, retail and office spaces.


This transformative process succeeds due to a building’s adaptability and durability. It is a concept Sir Alexander John Gordon, a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, addressed more widely in 1971 when he argued for long life, loose fit, low energy buildings.


These holistic principles readily translate into today’s language of sustainability but, while low energy design has moved up the agenda, the concept of long life and loose fit is less evident. The notional lifespan of new homes is just 60 years*; the construction and demolition of some commercial and office buildings may occur in a timeframe of as little as 20 years. We cannot continue to design such one-use, short-lived buildings; we must consider lifespan. To do this, we must deconstruct the design process and create buildings adaptable to functions that may not initially be obvious.


Designers, cost consultants and clients should remember that it is easy to be seduced by the immediate gain of introducing systems and technology without considering the longer-term validity of these interventions. Poor material choices and over‐specification can result in a lack of flexibility and structures that are neither durable nor open to future adaptation.


Despite attitudes to buildings and spaces being shaken profoundly by the coronavirus pandemic, mindsets must shift. A room is just a room and could, in many buildings, be purposed in numerous ways: sitting room, bedroom, study, office, showroom, workplace, classroom, shop, gallery, studio.



or for further infomation call 01786 812 921


…………UPDATE:  The Retrofit Academy Awards 2023

– Deadline Extended to 7th Feb 2023

Be Recognised for Your Passion and Commitment to High Quality Retrofit …………

The Retrofit Academy CIC will be returning to Futurebuild 2023, 7th – 9th March,

curating the Retrofit Seminar programme, and at the heart of the thriving Retrofit Zone.

The first day will also culminate in the prestigious Retrofit Academy Awards,

which will take place on the main stage at 6.30pm.

The Importance of Retrofit

Futurebuild is a chance for building industry professions to access inspiring ideas, innovative solutions, and knowledge sharing to drive sustainable construction to achieve net zero. One of the busiest sections of the show last year was The Whole House Retrofit Zone, in partnership with The Retrofit Academy CIC (TRA), the zone will be returning this year, bigger and better.

Visit to find a showcase of the best solutions, technologies, and services, that together, can unite and strengthen the delivery of whole house retrofit at scale. With an even larger space for 2023, the area will identify products, technologies and systems that can help scale up and meet the challenges of delivering retrofit at an unprecedented scale.

CPD-accredited Seminar Programme

Over the three-day show, the diverse, fresh, and cutting-edge retrofit seminar programme will be curated by TRA and sponsored by Elmhurst Energy. The line-up will feature industry leaders, pioneers and innovators who are driving forward with retrofit. Speakers include Jarrod Green, Retrofit Technical Solutions Manager – EQUANS, Edith Colomba, Senior Sustainability Consultant – Useful Simple Trust, Antonia Craze, Senior Energy Officer – Portsmouth City Council, and many more.

“The Futurebuild show aligns with our values and goals at TRA, as we forge a path for safe and high-quality retrofit. The Retrofit Seminar programme is designed to offer valuable insights at all levels from assessment, coordination, deployment, and evaluation,” said David Pierpoint, CEO at The Retrofit Academy. “We’re about to undertake one of the greatest infrastructure challenges in history to deliver the UK Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050. Futurebuild is another opportunity to provide access to knowledge and skills development as we continue to make a difference together.”

The Retrofit Academy Awards

There is still time to enter the Retrofit Academy Awards and be a part of the celebration at Futurebuild on Tuesday 7th March. As well as increasing credibility, the awards set out to recognise the rising stars in the industry and showcase the hard work and dedication going into outstanding retrofitting projects across the UK, being made across all levels, including retrofit coordinators, installers, social housing, local authority delivery programmes, and individual projects.

There’s still time to enter – nominate yourself, your business, or another individual or business in one of the eight award categories. Entries close 31st January.  NOW EXTENDED TO THE 7TH OF FEBRUARY


For over 1.3 million UK workers, the office is simply not ‘good enough’.

A new report released by Leesman, the world’s leading assessor of workplace effectiveness, analyses how organisations can better support employees by offering an office environment that actually works.

Today, Leesman launches ‘The Next 250k’, a global report based on the evaluation results from more than 250,000 employees across 2,200+ workplaces in 67 countries. The study looks at how a poorly planned workplace can have a negative impact on employees, inhibiting their ability to perform. The data reveals a shocking level of dissatisfaction among the workforce.

The findings show that while employers continue to face economic uncertainty, many of their employees are having to endure workplaces that fail to support their basic working day, obstructing their ability to positively contribute to business success.

43 per cent of employees globally do not agree that their workplace enables them to work productively. In the UK, that figure jumps to 46 per cent. Therefore, in line with ONS employment figures, For over 1.3 million UK workers, the office is simply not ‘good enough’.

The report points to five key areas that organisations need to focus on:

  1. The top productivity killers: offices are routinely presenting barriers to daily work that impact everything from how proud people are to be there, to how much they actually enjoy working there. The features that have the biggest impact on employees’ ability to work productively are ‘space between work settings’, ‘dividers’ and ‘noise levels’.
  2. The most demanding generation: millennials repeatedly show themselves to have the simplest workloads and thus the narrowest set of requirements. Attention should instead be directed at those in the 35-44 age band who consistently record the lowest satisfaction scores, and typically have more complex roles.
  3. The winner of the open-plan v. private office debate: the research shows that both open-plan and cellular solutions can be equally good and bad. Across 2,200+ workplaces surveyed, employees in the highest performing locations will almost certainly be sat in an open-plan setting, so demonising this way of working is not the way forward.
  4. Workplace transformation projects are not always transformative: with the vast capital sums invested in refurbishment and relocation fit-out projects, leadership teams would be forgiven for expecting them to deliver significant operational benefit. But evidence shows this to not always be the case.
  5. Workplace + Behaviour = Effectiveness: based on Leesman’s research across 11,336 employees in 40 ‘activity-based’ workplaces (where employees can select a series of different spaces that best supports the particular activity being undertaken), these employees rarely work in an activity-based way. In short, employees don’t just change the working habits of a lifetime because employers tell them to.

Dr. Peggie Rothe PhD who led the research said “Great organisations build a business framework that enable their employees to do their best work. And the workplace is integral in this equation. Offices are assets – tools in talent management strategies, gears in product innovation, instruments in brand development and organisational performance. The central findings of this study should concentrate attentions on how workplace strategies can support business competitiveness, not by cost mitigation but through increasing employee engagement, loyalty and output.”

Tim Oldman, Leesman CEO, added “What this report demonstrates is that there is still more that organisations need to be doing if they’re going to leverage the workplace as a source of competitive advantage and a booster of organisational performance. We still see far too many workplaces that are simply not fit for purpose and that represents a huge missed opportunity for business leaders. We hope that the key central findings can help more organisations create better, more productive environments for their workforce.”

Multi-million pound funding to transform the UK’s coastal communities through investment in jobs, skills and local businesses opened for bids this week announced Coastal Communities Minister, Jake Berry.

500 new businesses supporting 5,500+ plus jobs have been created thanks to the government’s Coastal Communities Fund.

The opening of the next £40 million round of applications was announced by Coastal Communities Minister, Jake Berry, while visiting Barrow-in-Furness to see first hand how the fund has delivered major economic benefits for the Cumbrian town and wider coastal area.

Coastal Communities Minister, Jake Berry, said “I’m delighted to announce that applications are now open for the next round of the Coastal Communities Fund.

“Coastal Communities up and down the country from Barrow-in-Furness to Brighton have been boosted by this funding which has spurred inward investment, sustainable growth, new jobs and exciting economic opportunities for local businesses.

“By 2020, we’ll have invested nearly a quarter of a billion pounds in our seaside areas, providing thousands of jobs, training places and opportunities along the Great British Coast.”

The Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) supports the economic transformation of UK coastal communities by giving funding to create sustainable economic growth and jobs.

Since 2012, the government’s CCF has awarded grants to 295 projects across the UK, totalling over £174 million. Analysis shows this has been money well spent, with every £1 invested having the potential to create an up to £8 boost to our coastal economies. Successful projects have included:

  • Cornwall council receiving a £1.95 million grant in 2014 to repair and re-launch the Grade II Listed Art Deco ‘Jubilee Pool’ in Penzance to create an all year round visitor attraction sustaining existing jobs and creating new positions (including much needed apprenticeships in an area with higher than average youth unemployment).
  • In January 2015, Blackpool city council received a £2 million CCF grant towards the “Lightpool” project to deliver a radical transformation of the iconic Blackpool Illuminations, creating a compelling new visitor experience and a major boost to the local economy. The project is forecast to have increased visitor numbers by 2.6 million.
  • The Tate St Ives was awarded a £3.87 million grant in 2015 to refurbish and extend the Tate Gallery in St Ives. The new facilities include a new apse gallery connecting the existing gallery to the new extension; a new suite of learning and event spaces; increased capacity for visitors in the reception, cloakrooms, café, new exhibition space, staff accommodation and training space.
  • Amble – the seafood town – Northumberland. Northumberland county council was awarded a £1.8 million CCF grant in 2014 to improve the economy of Amble through infrastructure works to transform the town into a visitor destination promoting seafood, attracting new visitors and creating jobs. The project has provided two new restaurants, improved facilities incorporating a Harbour Village with retail space, and enhanced access along the shore.

Barrow-in-Furness has also benefitted from multiple rounds of coastal communities funding which has completely revolutionised business support in the coastal area from north of Millom across the Furness peninsula to Grange.

This has included:

  • £900,000 in CCF round 1 (2012) being granted to Furness Enterprise Limited to create an innovation network which seamlessly connects local businesses with each other to streamline their supply chains. The funds also supported marketing of key sites, formation of 70 new start-up businesses and help to SMEs in providing training opportunities for unemployed residents to gain the skills they need to find a permanent job.
  • £865,000 in CCF round 3 (2015) to Furness Enterprise Limited to accelerate regeneration in Barrow and the surrounding areas by strengthening supply chains and transforming skills as well as attracting inward investment and helping to provide specialist businesses support to local companies to up-skill and grow.
  • A pilot scale internship scheme placing young people in high tech firms. This led to the OGDEN Trust agreeing to fund 60 placements from 2018 to 2020.
  • Participation in the Manufacturing Forum and revolutionary proposals for a pan-Northern supply chain initiative connecting Northern businesses with manufacturers and service providers
  • A new Furness Energy Forum bringing local businesses together to capitalise on energy supplier opportunities
  • £444,000 in CCF round 4 (2017) to Barrow and Furness Coastal Communities Team to transform visitor facilities on Walney Island and covert an old, derelict built into a community run visitor hub.

Originally built in 1941 as a special decoy target for German bombers, The Decoy Bunker is tucked away in the rolling hillsides of Monmouthshire and has been fully restored as a unique holiday home.

As the bunker had to blend directly into the hillside, a highly durable waterproofing system was needed to provide full protection against water travelling down from the surrounding landscape: a green roof waterproofing solution that would provide the desired ‘camouflage’ effect by using the existing soil and grass from the surrounding landscape.

Alumasc’s Registered Contractors Span Roofing installed Blackdown Greenroof Drainage Layers, Intensive Substrate and Washed Pebble Ballast to finish the green roof. A Derbigum Black Anti-Root Built-Up System sits below the green roof and provides a highly reliable waterproofing solution and maximum peace of mind for the future, as the Derbigum system holds 40-year durability certification with the BBA (British Board of Agrément).

Further details about Alumasc’s full range of waterproofing systems can be found at or call the Alumasc technical team on 03335 771 500.

Last week, the Treasury announced the ‘essential’ £369m renovation plans for Buckingham Palace. To fund this 10 year endeavour, the Queen has been given a 66% pay rise which will last for the entirety of the project. However, this news has caused a backlash from the general public and has left the UK questioning who should be paying for this refit. Consequently, a petition asking the Queen to pay for this refurbishment herself reached its target in a matter of days, attracting over 140,000 signatures. Now, leading home services marketplace,, has found that 2 out of 3 UK taxpayers feel unhappy with the costs.

Ultimately, 68% of UK taxpayers feel unhappy with the £369m price tag. As the home of Buckingham Palace, Londoners appear more supportive of the final price with only 61% feeling unhappy with the costs. This may be due to Londoners being more aware and accepting of higher costs in the capital, making them less surprised by the level of funding needed for the renovations.

Similar to the referendum and Brexit, Scotland has taken a distinctly negative stance and has proven to be the most unsupportive country in the UK, with 81% of respondents claiming they are unhappy with the costs. 82% of respondents in Edinburgh disapprove of the costs, whilst Glasgow appears to be the slightly more sympathetic with 77% feeling unsatisfied.

With only 54% feeling unhappy with the 369m investment, Bristol shows the highest level of support for the price tag in the country. Brighton, too, shows more understanding for the costs with 59% feeling unhappy.

The results also show that Liverpool (73%), Leeds (70%), Nottingham (78%) and Sheffield (72%) are the least happy of all locations in England.

Spokesperson for Plentific, Stephen Jury, said “Whilst the price for upgrading seems steep, these refurbishments are essential to the safety of the building and will allow Buckingham Palace to continue to attract tourism and generate revenue. For the average UK taxpayer, the cost obviously comes across as a shock, which is highlighted by our research with the majority not being happy with the bill.”

Whitehall is currently abuzz with panicked chatter, deep anguish and parliamentarian discomfort. With general consensus now being that the palace of Westminster is in dire need of a retrofit, the taxpayer will ultimately be footing the bill. Seeing as we voters currently have the choice of who goes in and out of Parliament, shouldn’t we also have a say on its refurbishment? Building Specifier editor Joe Bradbury discusses.

A brief history

Completed in the 1860s, the Palace of Westminster is an iconic building that currently houses the British Parliament. It is a world famous and instantly recognisable structure and stands as a celebrated international symbol of our parliamentary democracy. Just as UK Parliament is constantly in a state of flux, so too has the building; adapting accordingly to suit its primary and functional purpose. Taking massive damage during the WWII blitz, the Houses of Parliament were repaired as a matter of utmost national priority post-1945. The project was seen as a real opportunity to create some much-needed new facilities that would be consistent with the original design.

From the 1960s onwards the requirement for individual Members of Parliament to have offices, coupled with the expansion of other parliamentary services led to the acquisition of additional buildings and the Palace became the core of a much larger Parliamentary Estate. In 1992 responsibility for maintaining the Palace ‘on behalf of the nation’ transferred from the Government to Parliament itself. How did this work out?

Fighting a losing battle

It appears that since 1992, every effort has been made to maintain what is ultimately an outdated and increasingly unsuitable infrastructure. Services such as heating, cooling, water, sewage, electricity and cabling have been kept semi-functioning, but have not been modernised. Astoundingly, there has been no real general renovation of the building and its services since the partial rebuild of 1945-50 – some of the services even predate the war. The original basements and vertical shafts that litter the building are now completely filled with pipes and cables, making further work difficult to carry out – which results in further expense.

Reports illustrate that asbestos features heavily throughout the palace and although asbestos remains safe if treated with great care in compliance with safety regulations, it makes any intervention so much more difficult. Another issue is that most of the work undertaken over the last 50 years is largely undocumented and since many areas are inaccessible, the state of dilapidation and subsequent risk is mostly uncharted. The building is completely at the mercy of fire, with little modern safety practices in place and fire compartmentation considered almost impossible.

The original roofs are no longer watertight and there are many areas plagued with penetrating damp, damaged by interior leaks and flooding.

Today, an influential committee is expected to recommend that MPs and peers should abandon the crumbling Houses of Parliament for six years so that drastic refit works can be carried out.

The cost

So now at the crux of the issue, how much does it cost to renovate a 150 year old Grade I listed building which is partly sinking, contains asbestos and has outdated cabling? The short answer is ‘a lot.’ The sheer amount of work and the sensitive nature of refurbishing a World Heritage Site results in a sky-high estimate of between £3.5bn and £5.7bn, with some suggesting the sum could rise to as much as £7.1bn.

A 2012 report warned that “major, irreversible damage” may be done to the building unless significant restoration work is carried out soon, making the refurbishment one of the most urgent and arguably important renovation projects in the UK today. Some feel that the whole thing is a needless expense to the taxpayer and a vanity project for British Parliament. Another previous report concluded that the maintenance costs alone are so astronomically high that if the Palace of Westminster was a commercial structure of no historical significance, it would be far more cost-effective and efficient to demolish it and rebuild using modern methods of construction, such as modular offsite building.

Whatever you stance, the Houses of Parliament are of national, historical and cultural importance and refurbishment will happen. It should therefore be imperative that efforts are made to soften the bludgeoning blow to the taxpayer’s pocket, shouldn’t it?

“Should I stay or should I go?” The parliament predicament

Assuming renovation does take place, the big decision to make will be whether Parliamentarians stay put throughout restoration works or whether there will be a need for them to temporarily relocate. Estimates predict that if the palace was vacated for just 6 years, the cost of works would total around £3bn. If MPs decide they want to stay whilst work is undertaken, the figure is doubled and renovation is expected to take up to 32 years. Needless to say, vacation of the building for six years is the cheapest, quickest and viable solution. One option would be to set up temporarily over the road, by moving to either the Methodist Central Hall or the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Some have suggested MPs could relocate as far away as Birmingham – or perhaps even hold a touring parliament. This option is unsurprisingly unpopular with many parliamentarians.

There are some interesting and difficult challenges ahead, some difficult decisions to take, but I would say to the House that instinctively I think it is important that this building remains consistently at the heart of our democracy and that we don’t end up being forced to move somewhere else. – Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling

Others feel that something must be done quickly and efficiently.

Doing nothing or muddling on are not options. – Lichfield Conservative MP Michael Fabricant

Who makes the decision?

A select committee of both the House of Commons and House of Lords is expected to be formed to consider the findings of the Independent Options Appraisal and make recommendations to members of both houses. In the meantime a joint committee of Commons and Lords will be set up with the task of recommending a way forward. A decision on which option to adopt is expected to be taken by MPs next year, with work to begin after the next election in 2020. However, is it really their decision to make?

Affectionately nicknamed the “Mother of Parliaments,” the British parliament is respected as the most ancient parliament in today’s world. Apart from a few brief interruptions, it has carried out its business on the same spot, the Palace of Westminster, since the year 1265.

The longevity and overwhelming presence of this building is a physical testament to our very democracy. Parliament was originally formed by the people, for the people. Therefore, under the very democracy that the building stands for, shouldn’t we have ultimate say over how our tax money is spent and renovation is undertaken? Meanwhile parliament continues to crumble around our legislature.

Leading window, door and curtain walling designer, fabricator and installer CMS Window Systems has been appointed to work on a £30 million project to redevelop the prestigious Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Working for main contractor McLaughlin & Harvey, CMS is tasked with providing curtain walling as part of the two year project designed by Hoskins Architects which will transform the city’s Art Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Memorial Hall. This will create new educational facilities, upgrade performance and reflection spaces and provide 21 new galleries in what was previously unused space.

A significant part of the project will be to alter the building envelope and create a new rooftop extension by removal of the existing pitched roofs and skylights, together with a new build extension to the rear. CMS will provide the solutions for this part of the project.

The company, which is based at Castlecary near Glasgow, will fabricate and install nearly 150 sq. m of curtain walling using Metal Technology’s System 17 SP (Silicon Pointed). This structural glazing system’s classic visual appearance provides a continuous and expansive external glass face to the façade in order to meet the contemporary design of the new building elements.

The curtain walling features 32mm insulating glass units (IGUs) which incorporate a 6mm SECURIT glass outer skin, a 6mm PLANITHERM low e glass inner pane and a 20mm cavity with warm edge spacer bar, silicon sealed with toggle glazing insert. The façade on the west elevation offers additional solar control with the inner pane on these IGUs being 6mm COOL‐LITE SKN 174 to manage solar gain in peak sunshine. The façade also features spandrel glazing created with a 6mm EMALIT ceramic painted inner skin insulated with 75mm foil faced rigid PIR.

Aberdeen Art Gallery was handed over to the main contractor in July and CMS is scheduled to begin installing the windows, doors and curtain walling in September. This comes as the gallery continues to raise the remaining one third of funds required for the project, which is already backed by The Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council who have each granted the project £10m.

A public fundraising campaign is helping to bridge the gap, which will see donors digitally acknowledged and anyone wishing to donate can visit: or call 01224 523670. Donations can also be made by texting AAGM001 to 70970 to donate £5, and AAGM001 to 70191 to donate £10.

Find out more about CMS at

Rinnai’s Infinity Plus Cascade is a major move into bigger sites and applications which have a high demand for hot water and energy efficiency, the design parameters of the cascade systems mean that upgrading the traditional water heater to a technologically advanced continuous flow system is simple.

Rinnai, leading innovators in the manufacture of continuous flow water heaters, can now offer commercial hot water provision which is virtually limitless in this custom-made solution with a choice of either two unit or three unit modules of its award-winning condensing continuous flow water heaters.

Infinity Plus Cascade has been developed by Rinnai to guarantee high volumes of temperature accurate hot water. The design parameters of the cascade systems offer ease of integration into new and existing buildings even when retrofitting from traditional storage systems. The modules incorporate Rinnai’s proven energy-saving 1500 or 1200 condensing continuous flow water heaters with its newly developed common header flue system technology.

Infinity Plus Cascade is designed to deliver high efficiencies for the building operator whilst also streamlining the installation in one “turnkey package.” As any number of modules can be manifolded together, it is an ideal solution for large sites and for those applications – where there is a heavy demand for constant hot water.

Installers will find fitting the modules easy and straightforward as Infinity Plus Cascade comes with its own made to measure rack making installation simple and quick, and with no need for excessive rejigging of pipework. The compact footprint of Infinity Plus Cascade means it can be housed in a small space and still be easily accessible for maintenance and servicing.

Not only does the choice of Infinity Plus Cascade give highly significant cost savings over other forms of water heaters, but there also the added remedial work savings, for instance there is no need to knock through walls to cater for the movement of large cumbersome water heating equipment, valuable internal space can be created or saved.

Hot water downtime is also virtually eliminated as the modular nature of the system means that when service and maintenance is performed, elements of the system are still operational saving on service interruptions.

For more information on the RINNAI product range visit

Giacomini UK is on a mission to create homes out of underused office spaces around the country!

In recent months Giacomini has been involved in many projects that transform commercial office units into residential areas. The latest project is on a site in Crawley, called Babcock House, where 185 apartments are being created in a disused eight storey office block.

The Babcock House site will create 185 units comprising of studio accommodation as well as one and two bedroom flats – all designed to a very high specification, along with having excellent communal facilities.

The work will involve re-roofing the building, renovating the external façade and installing 185 of Giacomini’s twin plated heat interface units to allow each apartment independently controlled, efficient heating and hot water in the multi-dwelling building.

Since regulations surrounding planning permission were altered, meaning that Class B1 offices could be converted to Class C3 residential dwellings without the need for specific planning and development permission, there has been a noticeable growth in projects of this nature.

Matt Lowe, Giacomini UK’s managing director, commented “The planning permission policy change for projects like this aims to support an increase in housing supply, bring empty properties into productive use and encourage regeneration of office space. The Crawley development is the latest project we have been involved in where we are utilising disused space to bring revenue and housing to the local economy whilst complementing the buildings’ existing features.”

The project, estimated to cost £16.5 million, is due to be completed by September 2016.

For more information on Giacomini, and its heat interface units, please visit