Three Observations on Sustainability in the Design Process

There has been significant coverage on green initiatives within the building industry recently. BREEAM, LEED, Green Globe and Green Engage spring to mind when one thinks of sustainability in the design and construction process. In this article, Jo Payne, one of our architectural technical services members, focuses on what sustainability actually means, and relates it back to his experiences in the design process.


In many dictionaries the definition is as below,

Sustainability (Noun). “The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.


  1. Future proofing for change

“Maintained at a certain rate or level”.

To meet this objective, shouldn’t the design process first consider how buildings can be future-proofed for change, enabling them to stay relevant longer during their operational timeline?

How can hotels, for example, easily accommodate different room configurations, so that owners can maintain high occupancy levels in ever changing markets?

Can structural and MEP systems that enable reconfiguration of space be explored at the design stage so that hoteliers can later respond to changing demand over the building’s lifespan?

Or, how can F&B be easily adapted to accommodate new concepts in a quick and manageable process?

IT systems and technologies, which evolve at an ever-increasing pace, should be considered, so that buildings can evolve and develop after completion, without being limited by IT backbones that may have been specified purely on a cost basis at the design stage. Built-in flexibility in the construction industry often equates to increased cost, but when those costs can sustain a longer building lifespan, then this will not just repay initial costs, but delay the need for new build, lower carbon footprints, and reduce the energy used to build new buildings.

So during the design stage, we should be taking a much longer-term view of the building, not just to completion date, but over its lifecycle, so that owners are able to maintain buildings at a relevant level.


  1. Repurpose existing buildings and structure

Secondly, we should also be looking to reuse and repurpose buildings. There are significant greenhouse gases produced at both the demolition and construction stage, so if we can convert buildings, re-use structures and not demolish, then the carbon footprint is obviously reduced.

It has been estimated that a third of all waste in the United Kingdom is from the construction and demolition phase, so let’s look at existing buildings, many of which have a rich history and can therefore appeal to target customers. If we can repurpose buildings, the effect on waste and CO2 emissions would be direct and significant.

There are successful developments where warehouses have been converted into flats, and the government should be looking at ways to encourage this more and allow developers tax breaks and incentives.

This will help the government’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050.


  1. A clear plan at project commencement date

Thirdly, if owners wish to engage with green initiatives and undertake future proofing, then it should be before or at the very beginning of the design phase.

The majority of green initiatives are based on a points system, and deciding to attain points at the detailed design or construction drawing stage is simply too late in the process, and could result in significant change to the design thus delaying works, whilst still not achieving the desired green rating.

Design is an iterative process, with decisions being based on previous decisions. If new parameters are introduced part-way through the design process, then this may not just alter current decisions, but all those decisions leading up to that point.

A clear plan by the developer at project commencement, working with and shared amongst all consultants, not just architects and engineers, so that an integrative design process is realised between all project members, is vital in achieving sustainable goals during the design process.


Jo Payne is a member of Hotel Solutions Partnership’s technical services team. His architectural career has been spent in Asia on design and documentation of complex large-scale, mixed-use developments throughout the region. He has advised extensively on sustainability design and technical standards, as well as preparing operating guidelines for hotel owners and operators.