Historic BREEAM result for Edinburgh

Edinburgh University, a listed former high school, is first BREEAM Outstanding in its class

As the UK’s first refurbishment of a historic listed building to receive BREEAM Outstanding accreditation, Edinburgh University’s Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is a sustainability exemplar which addressed several challenges in achieving its high aspirations.

The ECCI is housed in the historic former Royal High School in the heart of the city. The University of Edinburgh wanted to create a hub for collaborative working between community, academic and business leaders to support workable low carbon solutions, and the building needed to be a sustainability exemplar. However due to its historic, B-listed neo-classical structure and subsequent additions, this would not be easy. The university aims for BREEAM Excellent as a minimum on all new schemes. Due to the nature of the ECCI building, they not only wanted to maintain this goal but also act as an exemplar for others when looking at the refurbishment of buildings.

The ECCI includes lecture and teaching spaces, a café, breakout spaces and flexible areas which can be used for exhibitions and conferences. In addition, an innovation centre for small business and a Masters Hub facilitating quiet study have been created. The knowledge sharing spaces are all connected by a central atrium.

Inside the ECCI

Benefits of the BREEAM process

The building scored 87.50%, gaining it an Outstanding rating and outstripping its target by a considerable margin. High scoring areas were Management (95%) and energy at 75.7% of the achievable credits. The BREEAM assessment process added value to the project team’s process by identifying benchmarks which needed to be targeted and either met or exceeded across a wide range of different parameters.

Sustainable solutions for ECCI

A number of environmental successes contributed to the building’s Outstanding score. Reusing and upgrading existing building stock was taken into account including a city centre location with good public transport links, and a limited car policy. In addition to careful repair of existing stone, new stone has been used benefitting local sourcing and workforce. Upper areas are clad in bronze whose 80% copper content increases the possibility of recycled material. Steel beams removed during the project have been reused as supports where possible.

There is significant use of sustainable FSC timber, particularly cross-laminated timber-framed structures within existing and new areas which locks in four and a half times more CO2 than it takes to produce, as well as composite timber stud walls. Flexible woodfibre batt insulation and rigid fibreboard with an OSB airtight internal layer completes a breathable wall construction allowing moisture to escape from the building. Existing walls have been insulated to a 0.25 W/m2K U-value and the new walls 0.13 W/m2K. The University’s District Combined Heat and Power cuts the project’s CO2 emissions by 38% and solar PVs are strategically placed on south facing sides of the building to deliver the highest solar gain. Lighting is low energy throughout, including some LED installations. All sanitary appliances are low water usage and 60 new covered cycle spaces have been provided. Timber finishes cover many internal surfaces and carpets are environmentally rated carpets; all internal products have low VOCs. Paints used have high breathability to assist the vapour-open external wall construction. Although some chilled beams have been used for rooms with high occupant density, the building is in the main ventilated by passive natural means.

Electric cars at ECCI

Lastly, all energy supplies are separately sub-metered. Specialist software presents the information for analysis, including the post-occupancy evaluation which is planned to be carried out.

Calum Duncan, Senior Architect at Malcolm Fraser Architects, comments: “Given the nature of the building, the BREEAM rating achieved makes an enormous statement about how we achieve a low carbon build environment within the context of our historic environment.  The BREEAM process challenged the design team’s consideration of how the old High School should be best altered and helped structure that in relation to the many design aspects considered within the assessment method.”

The sensitive and intelligent refurbishment of existing and historic buildings is an intrinsically sustainable act in itself, and the BREEAM assessment method has helped to demonstrate how this can be successfully done at the ECCI. Many UK buildings could look to emulate its achievement in sustaining such an important building for a useful and significant future.

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