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CoreNet takes a new look at sustainability

29 September 2010

The second day of the Corenet Global Summit began with three community meetings, focusing on strategy and portfolio planning, workplace and the smallest meeting of the three - sustainability.

The sustainability community group, which officially launched in the EMEA region at the conference, has only been in existence since last Autumn, but has more than doubled its membership in that time - from 230 original members to 530.

The meeting centred around a case study presented by architect Jan Pesman from cepezed architects.

He discussed the transformation of The Westraven building in Utrecht, which houses the Dutch department of public works.

From a drab, low-ceilinged 70s department block, the building was transformed with the addition of a low-rise building which doubled the floor space to 53,000 sq m. Two thousand people work in the building, but a new flexible design mean that 3,800 people can comfortably work there at any one time.

Ceilings were raised by 40cm and voids were cut out on each floor - taking 25 sq m from each 1,000 sq m floor, but providing staff and visitors with 10 m vertical views from each floor, maximising light and making the most of views.

Outside, a 'wind-less' garden protected staff having their lunch outside from gusts from the river with a glass mesh ceiling, which lets in air and rain, and lets smoke out if there was a fire. A vast ETFE atrium was developed from an original brief to provide a 50 sq m lobby. Bike sheds were built at the front of the building, so people could access them quickly.

Pesman said that the original purpose of the redevelopment was to attract young people to the organisation which employed an increasingly-ageing workforce. It's success is clearly demonstrated by the sheer volume of people who choose to work there. From a drab high rise to a space filled with conservatories, atria and inner gardens, the building has won many awards.

He admitted that architects tend to prefer to start from scratch, and not renovate buildings. "But sometimes we have to put aside our egos," he said. With 15 per cent of Dutch office space, or 7million sq m standing empty, there is a strong sustainability argument for more projects like Westraven.

With legislation such as the CRC driving the need for a greater focus on sustainability, the meeting will no doubt have grown by the next time it meets.

"The other groups are heavily populated," said Karl Pedder, head CRES west at Standard Chartered Bank, pointing to the two rooms next door. "That's where we want to be in a year's time".

Later, a panel that included Colin King, global head of corporate real estate at Nokia and former senior British diplomat and chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party Andrew Fulton, discussed the opportunities, threats and risks of working in emerging markets.

The greatest risks in hostile parts of the world weren't murder or kidnapping, but road accidents and illness, said Simon Venn, CEO of Source8, a business consultancy specialising in emerging markets. Sometimes the best advice you can give is "do your seatbelt up" he said.

Venn made the point that organisations needed to understand new markets before 'lifting' real estate solutions and placing them in a new environment - he cited a Seattle-based cancer charity which built a new hospital and cancer research centre in Uganda. The organisation wanted the 'very best' - in other words, a carbon copy of what it had in Seattle, but Ugandan culture dictated the design of the hospital instead. For instance, the wards needed to include space for families to sleep alongside patients, as they tend to be responsible for feeding and caring for a relative when they are in hospital.

King described Nokia as the largest manufacturer in the world, with 124,000 people working in 160 countries. "The risks of working in emerging markets are immense," he said. "But there are huge rewards for those who manage the risks well."

Venn added that it was important that Western-based companies learnt and brought back knowledge from newer markets. "The advantage that developing markets have over more established ones is that they can innovate faster. They are intent on leapfrogging over older markets and they have the capabilities to do that".

The afternoon, and conference, concluded with a talk by entrepreneur Sahar Hashemi, who told delegates how they could overcome their fears and "take a chance on innovation".