Morgan Sindall discusses the changing approach to long-term sustainability

Gavin Napper, Area Director of Morgan Sindall, explains why small shifts in outlook are creating a big impact on our approach to sustainability.


Gavin Napper is the Area Director for Morgan Sindall in East Anglia; and responsible for the strategic direction of project delivery across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.


dapting and evolving is key to remaining ahead of the game, and while change can sometimes be uncomfortable, we need to embrace transformation in order to propel innovation and adaption in our industry forward.

Developing a culture committed to continuous improvement is key to the long-term success of the industry. One particularly crucial aspect that continues to evolve and develop is our approach to sustainability. We’ve grown from looking at sustainability in a rather one-dimensional and linear format, to developing a much broader outlook that looks at the environmental and social impact of the buildings we’re developing in a more comprehensive and inclusive way.

This is more than a change in process, it’s a cultural shift within the industry that touches on and impacts each stage of the project life cycle, from pre-design to occupation management. These are exciting times for the industry – we’re raising our ambitions for environmental standards, pushing boundaries and changing the way we approach sustainability.

Adopting BSRIA’s (Building Services Research Information Association) Soft Landings programme, which provides a holistic approach to managing building performance, has proved pivotal in this journey.

The Soft Landings cycle, which covers five key stages: inception and briefing; design development; review pre-handover; initial and extended aftercare; and post-occupancy evaluation is focused on delivering an outstanding end-user experience.

In order to create a truly ‘soft landing’ for clients, collaboration is key. Delivering a high value engineered building, which exceeds users’ expectations requires a highly-integrated team drawn from across all elements of the scheme – from planning to handover and beyond, working closely together.

This model of collaboration, open innovation and knowledge sharing is not one that comes naturally to the industry. Historically, we have tended to work in a somewhat modular manner – with silos of responsibility, but the industry is increasingly embracing a more holistic model. This encourages collaboration across the project and client team – drawing on specialist insights and expertise to ensure the best possible results.

The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia is a great example of how we’re adapting and improving on existing practices to deliver best-in-class buildings.

The building, which received its Passivhaus and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ accreditation earlier this year, is the greenest commercial building in the UK. Completed in 2015, the centre – which achieved unprecedented initial Passivhaus airtightness readings – is a paragon of sustainability that brings together people, product and performance to create something truly special.

The building features a number of ‘world-firsts’; key among these is the use of prefabricated and vertically hung straw thatch panel cassettes, which have been used to clad the building, creating a striking and highly innovative sustainable envelope. The straw was sourced locally, then used to fill timber cassette modules off site in barns across Norfolk.

Contributing to the building’s low carbon environmental credentials is the corsican pine stud work, locally sourced from Thetford Forest, situated 30 miles from the site. Working closely with Cygnum Timber Frame, The Forestry Commission and Thomson Saw Mill, the design and construction teams worked tirelessly to prove the suitability of the timber, generally not used in construction, for structural elements of the building.

The multi-award winning building exemplifies the use of low embodied carbon materials and is designed to achieve a 100-year lifespan. The vision for the centre was developed by the Adapt Low Carbon Group and delivered by Morgan Sindall, with a team including architects and Passivhaus designers Architype, structural and building services engineers BDP, and Churchman Landscape Architects.

A key element in delivering the highly sustainable centre involved looking at how it would perform once occupied. We weren’t satisfied with just delivering a sustainable building using locally sourced, environmentally-friendly materials, this building had to live and breathe sustainably – operating at peak performance and delivering a brilliant occupier experience, without compromising on its low-carbon credentials.

The only way to develop the knowledge needed to create positive outcomes for both hard metrics like carbon emissions and water use, but also the soft metrics like the quality of light and ease of use – is to talk, in detail, to the people who will be occupying, using and visiting a building.

At the Enterprise Centre, our Soft Landings initiative was led by a dedicated senior design manager from Morgan Sindall, who worked closely with the university’s estates team on the building’s ventilation strategy and other key aspects which would affect user experience.

This interaction was key because estates will need to be proactive in managing the operation of this highly value engineered, innovative building.

There is often an industry assumption that people will know how to use a building as it is designed to be used. Unfortunately, people often don’t get asked how they will occupy and use a building. Or if they do get asked, there’s no consideration of how their behaviour and use will affect the building’s performance. By appointing a dedicated Soft Landings lead on the scheme who was able to interrogate the brief, we were able to ensure that the building users were able to feed into and contribute to the planning, design and delivery process and create a building that really worked for them – from an aesthetic to a functional perspective.

Overall the embodied carbon of the building has been calculated to be 443kg/CO2/m² across the 100-year life cycle. This equates to a quarter of the lifetime emissions of a conventionally constructed university building of equal size and scale. Other innovations used to achieve this include the use of a recycled sub-base from a local demolition project and a 70% ground granulated blast furnace mix as a cement replacement for the building’s ground floor slab. The building also features 480m² solar panels, which are predicted to generate 43.58MWh in the first year.

Underpinning all this has been a commitment by the whole team to create solutions that have been complementary to the rigorous requirements of Passivhaus as well as a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating.

A three-year post-occupancy and building performance evaluation programme has been implemented with contributions from all team members to assist the occupiers to operate their building optimally and ensure the building performs as designed.

Soft Landings is not a prescriptive approach – instead it’s a cultural shift that ensures all aspects of asset performance are considered throughout the design and build process; creating a collaborative, holistic model that delivers an unbeatable experience for building users. This shift in outlook is creating a positive ripple effect that signals the start of a revolution in how we look at sustainability and I look forward to seeing the industry continuing to adapt and evolve.

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