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Are New Buildings Cancelled?

Are New Buildings Cancelled?

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 311).

The basic business model for private sector property development is:

  1. Buy a property or parcel of land, at or below market value.
  2. Knock down whatever is there and rebuild something new, bigger and better.
  3. Sell for a profit or lease out over 10 to 25 years (rentier capitalism?).
  4. Rinse and repeat.

However, it looks like social proof and mob pressure has arrived in property development. Depending on your world view this is either:

  • tyranny of the crowd i.e. mob rule or;
  • wisdom of the crowd i.e. younger generations pressuring “boomers” to stop their consumer culture.

My anecdotal evidence for this cultural change consists of 3 recent examples.

1 – Canary Wharf Tower. London UK

An article by Will Hurst, in UK Architects Journal notes, “Banking giant Citigroup has chosen not to demolish its 42-storey skyscraper at Canary Wharf, opting instead for a WilkinsonEyre-designed revamp, which it says will save 100,000 tonnes of embodied carbon” (Source: )

Long story short, ESG factors were a high priority in the decision making process.

If you believe, as I do, that the most sustainable building is the one you do not demolish, then this is a good decision and marks IMHO, a market shift in attitudes towards adaptive reuse instead of new construction.

2 – Marks & Spencer Store Marble Arch London UK

Although unsuccessful, there was a heroic effort to prevent the demolition of this historic property on the basis of its cultural heritage and the embodied carbon associated with demolition and rebuild.

An article by Will Ing, in UK Architects Journal notes, Jacob Loftus, chief executive of developer General Projects, asked on Twitter ‘how can this be justified in the context of a climate emergency?  (Source:

Would this campaign to prevent demolition been successful if national news channels had jump on this band wagon? Maybe. However, the efforts to prevent demolition are telling.

3 – CBC News Canada – “Save a building, fight climate change”

This article arrived on my news feed ( To quote Sarah Sheehan, “No matter how humble, Canada’s architecture is a renewable resource that can help us meet sustainability goals”.

CBC is an influential, national news outlet. The fact that Sarah’s article was published by CBC is a sign of the changing times.

What to make of all this?

I think we are witnessing a shift in culture and a recognition of the inefficiencies, waste and pollution associated with new buildings. This does not mean new buildings are unnecessary, they most certainly are necessary. However, they are not always necessary.

I like the idea of property development appraisals, as a first principal, analyzing and answering the question, “what can we reuse or adapt to minimize loss of embedded carbon?”

Property developers and property portfolios will be facing a choice going forwards, either get in front of this issue or be publicly shamed and pressured by the digital mob.

From a business opportunity perspective, it looks like a great time to be a low carbon consultant #AESG and a fit out / refurbishment contractor #Overbury #CannryWharf #ISG.

BTW: Check out UK’s Architects Journals “RetroFirst” campaign to prioritize retrofit over demolition and rebuild. More than 200 architecture practices, organisations and individuals have declared their support for this campaign. To get involved, use #RetroFirst on social media or get in touch here (

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