Building Better from all Directions


Written by:

John Jackson

Built Environment Industry Editor

Business News Wales


There’s never a shortage of news stories from around the world featuring new developments, and the ones that make the headlines inevitably highlight new ways of building, working and living.

For example, in Singapore, Avenue South Residences is a development of two fifty six story towers that are set to become the world’s tallest prefabricated and prefinished structure. Designed by ADDP Architects this residential development will include a series of planted sky terraces at various levels to help strengthen the connection between the two skyscrapers and the surrounding nature. Up to 80% of each module will be completed off site, and then transported to the site where  they will be stacked and joined. Meanwhile in France the Government has announced plans to introduce a sustainability law that by 2022 will ensure all new public buildings are constructed using a minimum of 50 per cent timber or other natural materials.

Even though we have no skyscrapers and our cities are small, there is a value in comparing these stories with the built environment here in Wales. Firstly, they help to show what’s happening elsewhere and this provides an opportunity to assess if and/or how we should adopt these new developments in our own country. Whilst there may be little appetite for 56 story apartment blocks to be built here, the Singapore example does show there is a role for prefabricated construction methods to be deployed when building at height. It also raises the question of whether we should be building vertically in our cities and towns.

The case of apartment dwellers struggling through lockdown due to a lack of internal and external space could be used as an argument to hold back from building upwards. Conversely, spacious apartments with practical facilities such as ground floor cycle storage, and sizable balconies that were made available with a share of freehold and resident management would allow a more environmentally friendly lifestyle based around car free city centre living to be achieved.

As there is a pressing need to ensure the sustainability of our towns and cities, building truly liveable apartments would allow new communities of residents to emerge in our urban centres. This would create ongoing demand for shops, bars and restaurants etc. Even then it's right to question if there is demand for more innovative apartment developments, however the experience of developer Urban Splash suggests there is. They have been successful in the regeneration of Sheffield’s Park Hill. Due to its Brutalist architecture and innovative design this former council estate is now Europe’s largest listed building, and following decades of decay the sympathetic regeneration is proving popular with buyers and is helping to transform this part of the city. At the same time the developer is heavily involved in modular construction and has a series of developments across England that reflect their drive to embrace new ideas. Urban Splash achieve this on a commercial basis, so hopefully their experience can offer developers in Wales the opportunity to explore the full potential of modular construction and regeneration projects that take a retro first approach.

The French example shows how the State can take the lead and set the pace. By legislating that all public buildings need to be constructed from at least 50 percent timber shows a commitment to building a sustainable future. This of course will ensure that the construction industry in France is energised to adopt new ways of building, and no doubt there is a hope this will be reflected in private developments too. Over time we can expect to see other countries across the world also passing legislation to support their commitment to creating a sustainable future. Here in Wales we have declared a climate emergency and adopting new measures to ensure we build in the most sustainable way possible will have a key role to play in meeting our environmental targets. Monitoring international legislative changes allows us to see how other countries are thinking and acting. Their initiatives can be monitored and assessed to then establish their suitability for adoption in Wales.

It’s important to remember that the future for the built environment isn’t just about large scale headline grabbing developments, and sometimes you don’t need to look far to see inspiring examples of highly considered new buildings. In Cardiff the Grange Pavilion Project is just such an example, it shows just what can be achieved when residents come together and work in partnership to create a new community facility that is well designed and ready to offer years of service to its community.

Thankfully there is no limit or cost involved in taking inspiration from around the world or around the corner. However, whether we build upwards or outwards, on a large or small scale there is a real value to be gained by ensuring we build better in our built environment to create a sustainable future for everyone in Wales.