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Not all projects are like this… but they should be

Lucy Townsend explains how the sustainable design of The Entopia Building in Cambridge sets the built environment industry on a new path.

Adaptive reuse is a term that many in the architecture industry have become achingly familiar with. The essence of regenerative design and adaptive reuse is about providing a building with a new purpose whilst enhancing its social and physical value and giving it relevance in today’s society.

By adapting our existing assets, we have the opportunity to mitigate the environmental impact of construction and help prevent further urban sprawl of our cities and towns. And we can also preserve our history and the sense of place our older buildings hold within their communities.

The Entopia Building in Cambridge is such a building. It is an agenda setting refurbishment project providing a new home for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). It is a world first for a retrofitted sustainable office, setting new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources as well as user experience and wellbeing measured against multiple benchmarks.

Opened by King Charles, it grapples seriously and quietly with the impact of climate change by reworking a GPO telephone exchange to become the new home for a ground-breaking and inspiring institute in the heart of Cambridge.

The design uses science-based targets to achieve measurable and certifiable objectives via a building physics-led approach. BREEAM Outstanding, EnerPHit (the Passivhaus standard for retrofit) and WELL Gold standard have all been applied and synthesised to dovetail their requirements and contradictions. It’s an impressive and serious team effort led by Architype and collaborators including our engineers and sustainability team.

Finishes and furniture have been selected to embody circular economy principles, such as the rescuing of light fittings discarded from office fit-outs. On top of this the planners’ desire to make minimal alterations to what has to be said, is a rather ordinary and fortress-like edifice, stifled the transformation of the defensive nature of the building into something more engaging.

At the opening of the building, my discussions with King Charles were heartening as it is still clear that he is passionate about environmental issues and the beauty of the built environment. Adopting circular principles and measurable carbon impact outcomes is essential if we are serious about addressing our industry’s impact. This also means unlearning traditional concepts of beauty, towards a new sensibility that not only reduces carbon impact but is a delight for the user too.

Not all projects are like this…but they should be. It’s a truly meaningful step forward for our entire industry.