The future of revitalisation: “It’s all about the concrete”
Munich, 28 January 2021. Once the symbol for driving nature out of our cities, concrete may actually end up becoming the catalyst for a more sustainable future. The real estate industry in particular has a lot to learn about using existing resources better and more efficiently. There is a massive opportunity to reduce the environmental impact within the construction industry, which ranks fourth in terms of annual CO2 emissions after the energy, manufacturing and transport sectors. “With everything we have learned during the pandemic and about climate change, maximising profit can no longer be our sole objective; more than ever, we now need to focus our efforts on saving the planet. The construction industry can play a key role in that transition, if it commits to using existing concrete,” says Timo Brehme, Managing Partner at CSMM GmbH. The architecture and consulting firm is encouraging companies and real estate developers to make the most of the existing property stock through retrofitting and revitalisation. Brehme: “It’s all about the concrete: We can leverage the grey energy hidden in the building materials of existing properties through resource-saving retrofitting. A lot of buildings just need a second chance!”
According to a study by Germany’s leading auditing and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), real estate investors are also starting to recognise the advantages of revitalisation. They are particularly concerned about the construction industry’s emissions, which are estimated to account for almost 40 percent of the country’s total emissions, in addition to the higher price tag of new builds. As many as 68 per cent of real estate investors say they believe redevelopment is the best way forward. Timo Brehme: “The statistics show how impactful retrofitting can be in both economic and ecological terms. By keeping a building’s basic structure, we can save around 40 per cent of the overall costs and as much as 80 to 90 per cent of the CO2 emissions. And this doesn’t count the future cost savings that come with retrofitting the building’s engineering, insulation and HVAC systems.”
That is why CSMM is calling on investors and asset owners to advocate for revitalisation of existing property complexes. “Especially given the targets of last year’s Federal Climate Change Act, we need to increase the share of renovations from the current rate of around one to at least three, or better four per cent, if we want to achieve a noticeable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry,” says Brehme.
Think global: The UN is showing us the way forward
In the global context, the UN was already talking about how the preservation of the property stock can support climate change goals in its 2019 Global Status Report for Building and Construction. The UN recommends, among other things, tearing down fewer buildings and focusing on reusing existing structures – a strategy that is already in use in several prominent projects. One example is the pan-European initiative “BUILD UPON2”, which feels like the start of a renovation revolution. The initiative has launched in eight pilot cities with awareness-raising and events that promote retrofitting the existing property stock.
Act local: Investors in Germany are also discovering the benefits of revitalisation.
Several of CSMM’s current projects are demonstrating what revitalisation and redevelopment projects mean for the future of urban planning and climate change. After retrofitting and expanding a Munich office building from the 1970s, CSMM transformed it into the state-of-the-art FRITZ office complex, which won the 2021 German Design Award. In Munich’s Arabella Park, the firm’s architects and consultants completely gutted the office building of a high-profile insurance company and stripped the façade back to the weight-bearing supports. For Managing Partner Timo Brehme, projects like these illustrate how existing concrete can become a currency for more sustainable, low-cost building in the future. “By wrapping the building skeleton in a new façade and restructuring the interior layout, we usher in a new and improved stage in the building lifecycle and give the structure a new lease of life. This helps us make a contribution to the campaign against climate change, which can both be lucrative and have a positive impact on the developer’s image.” After all, more and more employers and employees are paying attention to their environmental footprint and the demand for greener properties will only increase in future. Who would have thought that the main building fabric of the last century – concrete, of all things! – could become the foundation for our climate-neutral future?
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“It’s all about the concrete: We can leverage the grey energy hidden in the building materials of existing properties through resource-saving retrofitting. A lot of buildings just need a second chance!”
Timo Brehme, Managing Partner CSMM – architecture matters