Repurposing buildings - key takeaways from the forum

21 May 21

More upfront investment is needed to avoid error when repurposing existing buildings, and a new culture in relation to risk is required. These are the main takeaways from GIRI’s recent forum on avoiding error when repurposing buildings.

Watch the event on the GIRI YouTube channel.

This is happening, whether we like it or not

All participants at the forum, ranging from clients, architects, contractors and consultants, said they expect to see a significant increase in the number of projects to repurpose existing buildings over the coming months and years.

The impact of Covid-19 on work and shopping habits is contributing to a surge in repurposing our existing building stock. This is exacerbated by a huge demand for new housing, coupled with falling resource availability, and the drive to reduce new construction for environmental reasons.

Taken together, this means that repurposing existing buildings is about to become the new normal for the UK construction sector and will soon make up a significant proportion of projects in the sector. 

So, what are the major implications of repurposing projects on those involved?

The risk profile for repurposing projects is completely different to new-build projects

The number of unknowns when dealing with an existing structure means repurposing projects should be treated differently from a risk perspective. Participants repeatedly highlighted issues such as a lack of information about the original structure, existing defects, and unknowns even after surveys. Time and cost pressures are also exacerbated, making it more difficult to ensure upfront planning, therefore clients should avoid viewing these projects as ‘fixed price’ from the start. 

Mitigating these risks requires greater investment upfront by the client on in-depth surveys and investigations, the results of which should inform the design before construction starts.

Clients need to accept a new risk profile on their investment/return cycle

The ‘best’ repurposing projects use the least resources, therefore we need to develop a new investment and profit model for repurposing projects.

In order to justify the increased upfront risks, clients will be looking for an overall increase in their return (profitability) on a repurposed project compared with a new build.

While the traditional ‘cascade’ model still applies, the investment programme is different 

Surveys and investigation are a major up-front cost, but these are an intrinsic element of the iterative design process in order to avoid late design changes. However, the nature of repurposing projects means the brief can no longer be set in stone and must be able to flex as the true nature of the building is revealed.

Design and construction must be intimately connected and able to adapt. Greater collaboration is required to mitigate the residual risk of late design changes, even if there has been upfront investment in surveys and design. This collaborative relationship requires culture change at every level.

However, effective repurposing requires the ability to accommodate late design changes as more information is discovered. GIRI research shows that late-stage changes to design are one of the top root causes of error. Effective communication, collaboration, and appropriate cultures are therefore even more important on projects to repurpose existing buildings.

GIRI’s suite of training courses and new project workshops are ideally suited to instil the culture required to help prevent error on projects to repurpose existing buildings.


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