Changing the way we work

Atkins has completed a major, environmentally sustainable refurbishment of the headquarter premises of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – the government department which is itself responsible for sustainable development in the UK.

The design team at Atkins was briefed to provide a modern and efficient working environment for at least 750 staff at Nobel House in Westminster, London. Atkins’ response had to embrace best practice in sustainability and energy efficiency, as well as safety, design and customer care.

“The challenge was to meet a demanding brief within a nine-storey building originally built in the late 1920s and early 1930s,” says Garry Batt, Senior Architect, Atkins. “The exterior of the building and a wing of period rooms are now listed, and we needed to meet 21st Century needs within this framework to achieve an excellent BREEAM rating for the building – which has now been confirmed.”

Atkins’ work – which was phased to ensure minimal disruption to Defra’s staff – included the following elements to maximise sustainability:

• The previous ‘honeycomb’ layout was converted to open plan office space both to assist natural ventilation and provide a more productive and comfortable working environment. The square-ring-shaped building is cooled with internal cross-flow ventilation from retaining opening windows on all sides of the external elevations and internal light-well elevations where possible. Natural ventilation has been enhanced by the introduction of a lightweight Texlon roof over the main lightwell. With automatic side opening vents the enclosed atrium space naturally encourages a stack effect so assisting air flow and creating a key focus within the building. Use of mechanical ventilation and cooling is minimised.

• The energy supply to the building has been made more efficient with the use of a gas turbine Combined Heat and Power unit, which captures the waste heat by-product generated and uses it to, for example, warm a boiler or drive a cooler.

• All materials used in the refurbishment were judged against a strict set of criteria. Carpets, paints, insulation and others were cross-referenced before being specified to take into account the energy used in the production process, the distance they would need to travel from the manufacturer, their ease of disposal, and their recyclability and recycled content.

• Sensorflow taps have been installed which use light sensors to sense when hands are underneath taps, turning taps on and off after a fixed amount of time. This removes the risk of taps being left on and running, using up water unnecessarily.

• Around 60 percent of the waste produced by the refurbishment was recycled; more than double the typical amount.

Defra Minister Lord Bach said: “Buildings contribute almost half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. Energy and water consumption are some of the largest and fastest growing pressures on the global environment. Changing the way we work is essential.

“We were determined to aim for a building that is efficient in every sense, in its energy-use and cost, but also in the materials that it uses. We wanted materials – and the refurbishment process itself – to have the minimum possible environmental impact.

“I am delighted that we have achieved all this. Our work with Atkins shows that it is possible to produce a low-carbon refurbishment which is not just energy efficient but also cost efficient.”

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