Designing for a Changing Climate:  Re-purposing and sustainable placemaking by Neal Hemingway, Threesixty Architecture

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Re-purposing and sustainable placemaking: In this blog Neal Hemingway, of Threesixty Architecture, writes about the tools available to apply circular economy and responding to the low carbon challenge when designing and re-purposing our places.

In a world with finite resources, an escalating climate crisis and corresponding legislative pressure, the construction industry must redefine the notion of ‘value’ within our built environment. Re-using materials, repurposing existing buildings and reducing the carbon cost of construction could allow the industry to develop a circular economy. It must combine these three factors to reduce /eliminate waste and set a new precedent for ‘whole life value’, over capital expenditure. 

As part of a joint initiative between Scottish Enterprise, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, Zero Waste Scotland and a number of other partners, Threesixty Architecture and collaborators developed PORTAL – a new methodology to specifically address the Circular Economy & Low Carbon challenge in construction  It’s aimed at setting new standards in whole life value and design flexibility within construction with a focus on efficiency, adaptability and resilience.  

The Material Bank 

A key element to the PORTAL study was the principle that buildings should be viewed as ‘material banksWith raw materials becoming increasingly more expensive, reuse will provide a cost-effective alternativeBuilding materials which are designed to be reused several times, will retain value rather than depreciate. The value of the building throughout its whole lifespan will become a more important measure rather than the initial capital expenditure. Buildings would be both the construction industry’s ‘material banks’ and an increased asset to the building owner.   

Designing for Reuse 

Materials, specification and assembly should be targeted choices directed at ‘whole life’ value. By integrating these choices into design, the industry can move towards re-use with a fundamental emphasis on repurposing for future lifecycles. In order to re-use materials effectively, ease of future disassembly must be made a priority to best retain the value of materials. Design must have built in flexibility to reflect changes in market demands, for recycling materials and structures.  

Our urban fabric is rapidly changing. It is financially unsustainable to go forward in design with buildings that only cater for a single iteration. PORTAL is a new methodology aimed at setting new standards in whole life value and design flexibility within construction.   

Re-purposing Existing Assets 

The changing patterns of retail have given us an excellent opportunity to rebalance retail dominance by reintroducing uses that meet the community’s needs and a low carbon future. 

Repurposing a large single use asset such as a shopping centre or department store can be the catalytic move to transform a whole High Street or town centre.   The re-use of part, or all of, these single ownership properties permits the introduction of new uses that better serve the community, encourage sustainable transport and repopulate our town centres. 

Threesixty Architecture are currently working with a number of local authorities and private equity landlords in projects that seek to rebalance town centres through repurposing such assets. Through this a number of key typologies are being brought right back into the heart of the town including health centres, libraries, council headquarters and attractors such as cinemas and foodhalls. Most notable is the ‘Vision for Paisley Town Centre 2030’  A Scottish Government pilot project in collaboration with Renfrewshire Council, Scotland’s Towns Partnerships and RevoThis has subsequently led to the publishing of “A Vision of High Street Regeneration” a lessons learned methodology adopted as national guidance.  

Social Economic Benefits

The re-purposing of existing assets has a wider impact on the social economic rebalancing of a town centre. Providing much needed services within the heart of communities increases community connectivity that will lead, in turn, to improved health and wellbeing.  Reducing the need for out of town travel and providing improved sustainable transport links and a better pedestrian experience will help lower car use and associated carbon cost.  

The re-use of existing structure and centrality clearly responds to climate emergency and when we can combine the renaissance of town centres with a low carbon and circular economy approach to construction, we will really start making a difference  

Perhaps just as important is that through re-purposing and sustainable placemaking, we can reinvigorate our town centres, creating a place to gather, a place to connect, a place to visit, a place to belong; true social and economic sustainability.    

Relevant Downloads  

You can download the PORTAL document here: 

You can download the “Paisley is Open – A Vision for Paisley Town Centre 2030” here: 


Neal Hemingway, Threesixty Architecture 

(Image by Threesixty Architecture)

Post updated April 2020


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