Outstanding BREEAM result for Edinburgh

Historic result for Edinburgh University as 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 is a sustainability exemplar which addressed several challenges in achieving its high aspirations. 

The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is housed in the historic former Royal High School completed in 1777 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. In targeting an exceptionally low energy demand for a refurbishment of a fully listed building, BREEAM would be invaluable during the project for assessing the varied environmental strategies within the brief.  

Since its construction the building has had several uses, including a surgical hospital and different university departments, and the physical changes it has undergone had left some issues. Refurbishing the building for use as a knowledge hub with an emphasis on communication and interaction meant that a reorganisation of the layout was needed to give greater clarity and connectedness.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lastly, to meet the client’s aspiration that the building itself should be a learning resource offering transparent data on its long-term performance, 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.

Electric cars at ECCI

Calum Duncan, Senior Architect, Malcolm Fraser Architects, commented: 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.”

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