Towards economic sustainability through adaptable buildings

The existing building stock in most countries does not meet the parameters of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Physical, functional, technological, economical, social and legal obsolescence are the principal factors driving the decommissioning, refurbishment, alteration and/or adaptation of a building. In the UK the Government promotes optimum use of the existing building stock through mixed use in urban centers and encourages conversion of redundant office and retail space into leisure, service and/or residential uses rather than demolition and renewal. There is therefore a growing need to design new buildings that are adaptable and flexible over their life span whilst at the same time improving user satisfaction. A constraint to the implementation of a policy of life span adaptability is the difficulty of understanding the economic considerations over long time scales. This paper investigates the issues surrounding the economics of the life span of adaptable buildings, and establishes a conceptual framework for their economic sustainability. The investigation is based on a case study of how the uses and function of the built environment and its supporting infrastructure have changed over a period of 100 years undertaken within a semi-rural Borough in England, UK. This case study includes a trend analysis identifying the life spans (of buildings), the evolving planning policies and associated social and cultural issues. A conceptual framework is developed and the economic impacts of the changes are evaluated through Whole Life Analysis. The validity and reliability of proposed framework is yet to be tested.