TFT CPD sessions: Holbein Gardens: reducing embodied carbon from design to delivery


On November 29th at RSA House in London, TFT hosted its ‘Decarbonisation: the future for tomorrow’s buildings’ session, inviting over 100 clients and industry partners to learn and share their views on one of our industry’s biggest challenges.  

You can find the write up of our first session of the morning, on gathering and using sustainability data in the course of property transactions.

Session two was a case study discussion about Holbein Gardens, a landmark refurbishment for our client Grosvenor.  

Mat Lown, Chief Knowledge & ESG Officer at TFT, and Pradumn Pamidighantam, Senior Architect at Barr Gazetas led us through the key features, challenges and learnings from the project, with a focus on how this project reduced embodied carbon from design to delivery, and ultimately created a desirable building ready for the modern occupier market (and net-zero carbon operation). 

Holbein Gardens was transformed from being a tired 1980s office building into a sustainable asset and a pioneering case study for low embodied carbon (even exceeding LETI’s pioneer standards). The sustainable development brief which TFT co-created with Grosvenor set the stage for this work, encompassing themes such as climate resilience, social benefit, connectivity, green spaces, resource use and more. 

But how was this brief taken forward into the design?

Pradumn outlined specific interventions at Holbein Gardens, emphasizing a holistic approach for the building, from a blue roof for sustainable drainage, to openable windows connected to air quality sensors, the use of lime plaster with low VOCs, and the reuse of raised access floors and materials with high recycled content. 

The discussion then delved into circularity, with a focus on the reuse of structural steel. Mat and Pradumn highlighted the importance of a hierarchical approach at the outset of these works, focussing first on retaining existing materials, reusing onsite or offsite, and recycling the remaining materials.  

For Holbein Gardens, another Grosvenor site in Bermondsey was identified as a potential location to extract steel from. HTS visited the site, identified the steels that could reused and tagged them. These got dismantled and sent up to Cleveland Steel to be tested, cut and made ready for Holbein Gardens.   

In turn, there was also some steel in the former roof of Holbein Gardens which went through a similar process, and some of that found a new lease of life forming new risers in the building.  

And Holbein Gardens steel ended up on yet another project, forming the new roof works at Fivefields (a recent project Barr Gazetas completed for Grosvenor).   

One of the greatest challenges facing re-use is storage. For portfolio owners like Grosvenor, the ambition to reuse significant amounts of steel was made possible by having other sites to provide it. For those who don’t have that availability, they need to engage with providers like Cleveland Steel (part of the Holbein Gardens project team) to determine what is available or might soon become available.  

From re-use of old materials, to embracing newer materials. Mat and Pradumn explored the use of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) on Holbein Gardens, emphasizing Grosvenor’s openness to an explorative approach. The commitment to CLT at an early project stage set the ambition for the scheme, while the reduced scale of CLT within building and supplementary measures like sprinkler systems helped insurance appetite for the building.  

Mat underscored the need for scaling up the use of CLT in the industry, acknowledging challenges such as fire safety concerns. Despite the challenges, both panellists were optimistic that industry initiatives, exemplar projects like Holbein Gardens, and wider industry understanding would contribute to wider CLT adoption. 

The session concluded with lessons learned from Holbein Gardens, emphasizing the importance of awareness, openness to re-use aesthetics, proper due diligence on available materials, and the potential for a network to facilitate developers in embracing re-use practices.  

Every step forwards on these matters will help more buildings find a new lease of life and drive down our industry’s huge embodied carbon load. 

Are you interested in taking new approaches to refurbishment and retrofit projects? Our team is here to help you use more sustainable materials and construction techniques to create better buildings. Get in touch here.

Read more about ‘Decarbonisation: the future for today’s buildings’

Session one kicked off our event with discussion on gathering and using sustainability data in the course of property transactions.

Session three discussed how to create a culture of continual improvement and knowledge-sharing across project teams and organisations.