Major Opportunities in Façade and Building Envelope Retrofits

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Monday, October 12th, 2015
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Around Australia, a critical area of opportunity for commercial property landlords to add value to their building is emerging through the retrofitting of commercial building facades or building envelopes.

Certainly, a number of developments are pointing toward opportunities within this space. On the materials side, products such as ETFE, carbon figure, ultra-high performance concrete, solid surface and corten steel are growing in potential in terms of their use in façades.

A growing push toward sustainability on the part of large corporate and public sector tenants is driving efforts on the part of landlords to improve the environmental ratings and performance associated with their existing building stock.

In some cases, trouble with existing cladding materials may necessitate repair or retrofit action: an audit by the Victoria Building Authority following the LaCross building fire last year has thus far uncovered a number of buildings which contain cladding which does not comply with the Building Code of Australia, while in Queensland, Strata Community Australia is warning of an ‘epidemic’ of concrete spalling (where concrete breaks up, flakes or becomes pitted) which could spread to other parts of the country.

Moreover, many landlords are simply looking at upgrades in order to add value to the existing assets. Stuart Marsland, a principal at Melbourne-based multi-disciplinary architecture practice ROTHELOWMAN says many of them are looking to use retrofitting not just as a way of boosting the appearance or sustainability of assets within their holdings but also as a means of increasing net lettable area, either through adding additional floors and/or expanding the façade outward. In a commercial retrofit his firm is currently undertaking on Glenferrie Road in Melbourne’s south-east, for example, the ground and first floor facades are being pushed out five metres in order to accommodate more retail space, while the second floor is also being expanded outward.

Marsland says cities like Melbourne, where many of the buildings were constructed a long time ago and built according to earlier design codes, offer significant potential in this area.

“There are plenty of opportunities to reclad a building with a new finish,” he said. “We tend to find when people want to do that, it’s usually associated with also trying to increase the potential and yield as well as the attractiveness.

“When you look around Melbourne particularly, quite a number of buildings which were constructed a long while ago which were built to different design codes with different expectations in mind. The opportunity is not just to re-clothe the building but to enlarge the building. Where it works most successfully is where the new façade is paid for by the addition of new lettable space that you create within the building.”

Marsland says preferences are shifting away from concrete and toward high performance glass as well as lighter weight steel roofs and metal claddings, which are often better performing and are easier to handle on site. Having made considerable strides in terms of its engineering and qualities such as thermal performance, glass in particular has become a lot more popular.

Still there are barriers. Expansion of the size of buildings often requires an expansion of car parking space requirements, which can be difficult given that most parking areas are contained within the basement. Moreover, the ability to add extra floors and new materials is constrained by the need to work within the existing building structure and what this can handle and tolerate.

Marsland says it is important to talk to engineers about what the structure can tolerate and what needs to be done from an electrical point of view. As for the parking issue, he says a change in attitudes and focus in this area over the past decade may mean it is possible in some instances to expand the size of buildings designed according to older planning codes without actually breaching requirements of today’s less stringent codes.

Around much of the country, landlords in Australia are looking to building upgrades in order to increase lettable area, increase the attractiveness of their stock to tenants and maximise the value of stock within their portfolio.

For many, retrofitting using different cladding, facades and building envelope could represent a significant area of opportunity.

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