• GreenInfrastructureWeek
Building better saves carbon now and in the future

Building better saves carbon now and in the future

Chris Coonick is an Innovation Lead at Innovate UK, part of UKRI, and believes…Moving towards net-zero will mean step-changes in the way we construct, maintain and power our buildings. To this end, the UKRI’s Transforming Construction Challenge has been supporting industry to accelerate the shift away from a system that delivers the cheapest outcome to one with maximum value to society at lowest carbon cost.  Landsec, is one such company looking to do things differently. They are showcasing the latest innovations in design and automated construction technology in the delivery of the world’s first Platform Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA) enabled net-zero office development.

Why is change needed?

Construction is the last major industry where large numbers of people, from a highly fragmented supply chain, do manual work in unproductive conditions. Reducing carbon emissions from commercial buildings over the next decade will be critical to limit the impacts of climate change. For UK commercial buildings, a compliance driven approach to energy efficiency has not secured the levels of improvement needed, leaving a significant ‘performance gap’ in actual operational energy use.
It has been estimated that by 2050, 50% of the entire carbon footprint of a building will be due to upfront carbon (i.e. the initial carbon investment made in materials production and construction phases before buildings are used). We all want to live and work in beautiful buildings that have low impact on our wallets, environment, and health. So, we must make changes now, focusing on a better world where the whole-life value of buildings is properly considered and not an afterthought.
Funded by UKRI, Landsec is delivering a full-scale net-zero office development which will act as a true market test of a P-DfMA approach by focussing on three areas of innovation; a hybrid structural platform, a ‘kit of parts’ for on-floor services, and automated assembly processes. The repeatability and replicability of this approach means that site workers can quickly become proficient at on-site assembly tasks, saving time, cost and carbon.
This demonstrator project has already made history, with the installation of the world’s first P-DfMA floor in a commercial office building, approximately 16 months after the structural ‘kit of parts’ platform prototype was created at the Construction Platform Research Centre in Ropley funded in the first round of the Transforming Construction Challenge. The initial collaborative R&D project concluded in 2019 with the vision of ‘Office 1.0’, a benchmark delivery approach that maximised efficiencies in materials, programming and construction. For more information on Transforming Construction funded projects, please visit our catalogue.

Forging on!

Nestled behind the Tate Modern in central London, 105 Sumner Street responds to the site’s former industrial character by embracing the industrialisation of construction. The aptly named Forge is set to be an exemplar for office developments of the future, not only because of the innovative approach being taken through design, procurement and construction, but also through the creation of one of the UK’s first embodied net-zero carbon offices.
The Forge will not quite achieve the Office 1.0 ‘perfect’ benchmark, but Landsec are planning to achieve over 80% standardisation in the products used to construct the 140,000 sq ft of high spec office space. A phenomenal achievement for an industry that has 104 specifications just for a toilet!

As a first-of-it’s-kind P-DfMA development, the Forge is also demonstrating how innovation, sustainable design and data driven delivery can help the industry deliver against the aspirational targets of the Construction 2025 strategy (50% faster, 50% less carbon, 50% reduction in trade gap and 33% lower whole-life cost).

Committed from the start

As a business, Landsec has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and were the first property company in the world to set science-based targets back in 2016.  They are now committed to being a net-zero carbon business by 2030.  Delivering new net-zero carbon buildings is fundamental to their strategy and follows on from the great progress made in reducing in-use carbon in their existing assets. 

To make this a successful journey, it is critical that clients, such as Landsec, commit to net-zero from the outset for the right decisions to be made, in the right order, and at the right time.  So often great ambitions fall flat when they have not been baked in at the beginning.

Landsec are taking their journey one step further.  They were not happy just focussing on delivering a net-zero building the way they would normally deliver a commercial building.  No.  They wanted to scrutinise the full design and construction process to maximise on carbon savings.  By taking a holistic view of the construction and operational carbon, Landsec have developed an ambitious net-zero strategy for the Forge. 

Aligned to the UK Green Building Council’s net-zero carbon buildings framework and associated energy performance targets, the Forge aims to be net-zero in both construction and operation.  Landsec are building in a range of environmental control systems and energy efficiency measures helping them to achieve a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating and surpass the London Plan’s 35% carbon reduction target, without the use of carbon offset payments.

Carbon isn’t only an energy-based problem

Reducing waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions whilst creating a healthy, resource-efficient built environment are key in achieving the UK’s commitment to be net-zero by 2050.  The construction industry produces the largest volume of waste out of any industry, approximately 63% in England. 

Reducing carbon is often thought of as an energy-based problem, where you can achieve net-zero by improving the efficiency of the fabric and installing renewable energy tech.  But this only tackles operational carbon.  The reality is that every activity in the construction of a building has a real carbon cost.  By delivering better buildings faster and more cost effectively with whole-life value at the heart will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in carbon expenditure.

Through standardisation of components and the creation of a ‘kit of parts’ assembly line, Landsec will use high emission materials sparingly, procure materials with responsible sourcing certification and exceed current industry benchmarks on waste.  The Forge is set to achieve 22% less embodied carbon compared to a traditional commercial design by optimising the use of steel and concrete. 

Driving change in construction

This first-of-it’s-kind project is not expected to maximise all the potential savings to be had from deployment of the P-DfMA system. However, it will provide clear evidence that the Construction Strategy 2025 targets are achievable and give signposts for further improvements in the future.

Driving efficiencies in construction has been difficult in the past due to the siloed nature of the industry, but Landsec have taken the opportunity with the Forge to focus on innovation and doing things differently.  This demonstrator project is giving them the confidence to take the new designs, processes and approaches forward into new projects, ensuring that future Landsec buildings are also able to achieve net-zero carbon.


Chris Coonick is an Innovation Lead at Innovate UK, part of UKRI, supporting the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Transforming Construction programme.  Working alongside Government departments and the UK construction industry, assisting organisations to deliver projects that accelerate the development of smart assets (such as Active Buildings) and optimising whole-life performance of buildings through digitalisation and modern methods of construction.

See the video supporting this article here


UKRI is a proud partner of Net Zero Week 2021.

During Net Zero Week 2021, UKRI will be hosting a week of webinars, open to all, to highlight the progress being made, discuss the issues being found, and share the experience of these ‘lighthouse’ projects as they show the way forward for others. For ore information and to register see the event website