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October 2011 – Steel good for everyone

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Earning a creditable BREEAM rating is a fairly routine achievement for a steel framed building, as is proven by the highly sustainable buildings that regularly feature in New Steel Construction. The process is not easy however and there are many hoops to be jumped through by architects, structural and mechanical engineers, main contactors and steelwork contractors before this coveted environmental seal of approval is awarded.

Recently one of the projects previously featured in NSC was the first building in England to be granted the new ‘Outstanding’ status by BREEAM, 7 More London. In this month’s issue you can read about a building that should become the first in Manchester to be rated ‘Outstanding’ (See Page 24). What is perhaps unusual about this project though is the confidence that the client showed even before construction started that this building will achieve BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ status.

The building in question is to be the new headquarters for the Co-operative Group, one of the city’s most venerable institutions, which has been headquartered there since being founded in 1863. The Co-operative Group is one of the most popular organisations in the retail world  (Bob Dylan even allowed his song Blowin’ in the Wind to be used in its advertising campaign, which is virtually unheard of) and is highly conscious of its role in the community.

Designers of the headquarters building were given as a key aim the Cooperative Group’s ambition for it to reflect the high ethical values of the organisation in its design and construction. It had to be a sustainable landmark for Manchester. It also had to be a building that people would like to come to work in, and that local communities would value having as a neighbour.

A good way to ensure all of this was to deliberately aim at BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ from the outset, rather than just add on a lot of ‘sustainability bling’ and hope it all added up correctly, as some projects have been accused of. Steel was chosen as the preferred framing solution for its ability to help the Co-operative Group achieve all of these ambitions.

Ambition is a great thing, but you have to be fairly confident that your ambition can be realised before you announce that you want your yet-to-be-built headquarters to warrant an Outstanding award for sustainability, and this is what the Co-operative did from the start. The 16 storey building has a visually striking design, so it will certainly become a landmark, and will provide a much needed fillip to an area in need of a regeneration boost.

Steel was the natural choice for the building frame, say the designers, as it provided the large column free spans required and allowed other sustainability features to be easily incorporated. All the thermal mass that is needed is easily provided by the exposed soffit. Natural daylight is maximised by the feature central atrium. Built in flexibility to accommodate future changes comes free with steel building frames, another factor which is important to this client.

Good luck to the Co-operative Group in its bid to achieve the sustainability recognition that it clearly wants so much. The Group’s slogan is ‘Good for everyone’ – which is what such a building could be.

Nick Barrett

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Click on the cover to view this month's issue as a digimag.