Proposal For London’s First Carbon Neutral Workspace

Great news in the fight for carbon neutrality in the United Kingdom, London has had proposals for its first carbon neutral workspace.

London’s first carbon neutral workspace could arrive in the next few years, based at Colechurch House, London Bridge Walk, Southwark, London. Colechurch house currently exists as a Brutalist block, erected towards the end of the 60s. The new project is proposed to include three buildings with a 22 storey signature building proposed to have a rooftop garden and other green features.

Solar panels, water recycling and natural ventilation will be used to help the building meet its targets.

Colechurch House Development

Let’s get some numbers behind the Colevhurch House development. The entire site is 0.69 acres and will feature three buildings, park space and a rooftop garden.

CIT are the owners and developers, with Foster + Partners as architects. Their ambition is to “redefine sustainability, with a strategy that brings embodied and operational carbon emissions to below the threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change (limiting temperature increase to less than 1.5°C).”

Sounds good and the plan looks good too. Foster + Partners have good sustainable design credentials that can be seen with their track record of delivering highly sustainable buildings.

Colechurch House viewed from Tooley Street

The Old London Bridge Park is planned to be the southern gateway to the city of London and the centrepiece of the new Colechurch house. We think that would be fabulous for lunch time meetings and returning home on balmy summer evenings. The park is the main part of three areas – Bridge Gate square, Old London Bridge park and St Olaf Square – which together accentuate the features of those areas. The thing about the park which is both exciting and potentially problematic, is that the park will actually be beneath a building. While it’s a great idea, there are potential drawbacks with such an idea.

Carbon Neutral Development of the entire space means including green energy generation on-site in the form of solar panels, a façade that helps reduce energy consumption by allowing air to move efficiently around the building. We really like the proposed use of vacuum drainage in toilets to conserve water. SWECO are working as sustainability consultants for the project.

A Japanese-style cycle stacker will also be included in the project, delivering 797 secure bicycle parking spaces below ground. Check out the video below to see how these parking spaces work.

The new buildings will all be serviced through a loading bay in the basement, accessed via Tooley Street at the north-eastern corner of the site. In the interest of sustainability, CIT are also looking at things such as consolidating the number of vehicles that come to and from the site.

Objections To The Development

There are clearly a lot of positives behind the idea of the development which we are behind. However, there are legitimate concerns that have been raised in the public consultation that we’d like to look at as they may help us understand why there aren’t yet any carbon neutral workspaces in London.

Questions surrounding Coalchurch House’s green credentials and viability have been questioned. Let’s think about some objections that have been raised with Coalchurch House and could be raised for other developments, carbon neutral or not.

For some people, the notion of a park with trees and other planting under the building “is seductive, but unrealistic. Trees will not grow well there and may struggle to survive. They will grow towards the light and become misshapen if they do survive. I am unaware of any precedent for successful planting  beneath a large building.”

There is an idea of struggling and dying trees, without any examples of successful applications of such an idea, and this worries us. What we would hope is that there can be a plan to make such an idea come to life and become the first successful example. Unfortunately, examples where a building has open space below it can be seen as an architectural technique to appear to open up space to the public but is often not built or operated in a way that delivers it in reality. We believe that green spaces shouldn’t be for rooftops alone. Having green space at ground level for the general public to enjoy without giving up valuable real estate in the sky is something that should be pursued more often in developments.

Other people might call in to question the height of the building, especially as it has elements right next to St Olaf’s House, which many see as being of high architectural merit in its own right because it marks the end of the old London bridge and of St Olaf’s church. As with all developments that include high-rise buildings, there is concern around its overall height because of its potential impact in terms of wind, light and views of existing buildings.

Notable objections:

“[S]everal thousand per day who will be put in conflict with traffic at the Junction of London Bridge and Duke Hill St. As a considerable number of trains from the area we represent still terminate at the Southern platforms. This bridge provides a useful and important traffic free access to London Bridge.”

Why Isn’t London Workspace Carbon Neutral?

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to establishing a large number of carbon neutral workspaces in London is the age of the city. There are many buildings of architectural value in the capital, and of course, there are restrictions placed on what can be built where in order to protect its beautiful views.

Building Age

The age of existing buildings and restrictions on modifying them also creates challenges that are difficult to overcome. Carbon trust help to deliver low carbon work spaces, retrofitting older buidings with new, efficient technology to help reduce their carbon emissions. Their self-named Carbon Neutral Real Estate (CNRE) fund, “raises money from institutional investors and buys buildings with the potential to become modern, efficient offices with low energy costs and improved well-being and productivity for occupants.” The CNRE fund also has a commitment to being carbon neutral, by reducing its lifecycle emissions by sourcing all their energy from renewables and offsetting residual emissions through certified greenhouse gas removals. Find out more about greenhouse gas removal here.

Stuck in the Past

One comment on Coalchurch house said the “building design is obtrusive and is not in keeping with the area it looks bulky and like something out of Star Wars”, but we can only take full advantage of new technologies by updating building design concepts.

Instead of being stuck in the past, we need to embrace the future and design is a big part of that.

Carbon Neutral Offices Outside London

There are actually carbon neutral offices outside London, demonstrating there is space for another major city in the UK to brand itself as  a net-zero city.

From January 2020, pbctoday reported that buildings in Manchester and Glasgow became the carbon neutral office spaces in the UK. The buildings were masterminded by developers Peel L&P.

The Venus, TraffordCity
The Vic, MediaCityUK
The Alex, MediaCityUK
Quay West, MediaCityUK
Digital World Centre, MediaCityUK
16 Robertson Street, Glasgow

The rest of the country is playing their part, so if being carbon neutral is really a priority, the financial powerhouse that is London will get it done.

Forward To Carbon Neutrality

Although London is lagging behind the rest of the UK, there is still a lot of work for the entire country to meet its ambitious carbon emissions target. Net-zero carbon buildings need to become the norm.

We look forward to seeing more proposals come forward, showcasing creative solutions to our carbon emission problems.