How Buildings Learn: Adaption of low grade commercial buildings for sustainability in Melbourne

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Facilities, 2014, 32 (7/8), pp. 382 - 395
Issue Date:
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Purpose Informed adaptation of existing stock is imperative because the challenge of attaining sustainable development in the 21st century will be won or lost in urban areas. Local Authorities promote adaptation to reduce building related energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The City of Melbourne aims to retrofit 1,200 CBD properties before 2020 as part of their carbon neutral city strategy. Australian cities date from the early 1800s to the present day and the concepts of adaptation and evolution of buildings and suburbs is not as well developed or entrenched as in other continents. As such there is a pressing need for greater knowledge and awareness of what happens to buildings over time. Design /methodology /approach This research examines all building adaptation over a period from 1998 to 2008 within the Melbourne CBD. This paper concentrates on the question; what is the pattern of adaptation within low grade office buildings over time? Using the Melbourne CBD as a case study, the research analysed all commercial building adaptations. Here a range of office building types are selected and profiled to discover what happened to them during the period and to ascertain what may be learned as a result to inform future adaptation strategies and policies. Findings Adaptation of existing buildings is vital to deliver the emissions reductions required to transition to carbon neutral urban settlements. In the short term, it is opportune to capitalise on existing behaviour patterns in respect of adaptation and to `learn how buildings learn, rather than seek to instigate major changes in behaviour. Limitations The researcher acknowledges that the depth of analysis for each individual case does not attain levels achieved through a purely qualitative approach to data collection and that this is a limitation of this method of data collection. Practical implications Examination of adaptation patterns showed that the events were similar regardless of age or location and typically involved multiple adaptations to separate areas within buildings such as office floors, lobbies and foyers. Such a pattern misses the opportunity to benefit from economies of scale or to incorporate more extensive adaptations to reduce environmental impact of the building as a whole. Social implications The patterns of ownership and relatively short term multiple tenancies compound the piecemeal approach to adaptations in this sector of the market. Moving forward a more holistic approach is required to optimise adaptation and sustainability benefits and to minimise unnecessary waste. Originality / value A real danger is that numerous adaptations over time which may seem `sustainable within the context of the one adaptation may not be sustainable in the context of the entire building over the whole life cycle or the city over the long term and this is a challenge we must attend to.
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