The future of renovation in the building industry

June 17, 2020

Managing Director, Parik Chopra, shares his views on renovation, its role in the COVID-19 recovery and the opportunity it can bring for our wellbeing.

hotel building facade

Europejski Hotel Warsaw

Renovation is going to be an important part of the construction industry over the coming years. To find out more about this exciting trend, Parik Chopra, the Managing Director of Rockfon EMEA, shared some insight on what role he thinks renovation will have in Europe, why it is important for the indoor climate and its role in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the role of renovation in Europe?

When I first moved to Europe more than 10 years ago, I was simply awestruck with the beautiful architecture that was all around me. In fact, I’m still fascinated with the charm and rich history of European buildings. They all tell a story, whether they are historical sites or a simple café next door. 

Buildings alone consume 40% of the energy we produce and contribute to 1/3rd of greenhouse emissions in Europe. Furthermore, a large part of our lives is spent indoors and in outdated interiors, with poor insulation and ventilation, which negatively impacts our wellbeing. The right renovation strategy can bring energy savings between 50 to 70 Billion EUR annually. If properly implemented, the positive impact of a renovation should focus, not only on emissions but also on human wellbeing and job creation.

One thing that I would like to highlight is that an important aspect of renovation is its charm! Many times, we prioritize hard numbers over the creative process that tells a story about the building. Therefore, the challenge is how to preserve the rich history while also rapidly upgrading the building. This is a bigger challenge in Europe, as more than 80% of the buildings are anywhere from the renaissance period to fifty years old. Therefore, I believe, this is a unique space for Europe to differentiate itself on the global map by being at the forefront of “innovation in renovation”.

How do renovation and indoor climate complement each other?

Many times building owners or tenants acknowledge, but overlook the harmful impact of high noise levels, poor air quality and light conditions on building users. We shouldn’t forget that the main cost or revenues of the building are driven by its users and not the utility bills. Improved working and living conditions can improve productivity and reduce the impact on the healthcare system, which can have an approximate cost of 2% of the GDP for the EU.

The good news is that there is growing awareness and know-how for how to address this issue. The WELL standard, Leesman Index, Acoustic regulations, VOC (volatile organic compounds) certification and HPDs (health product declarations) are just a few substantiations of the great amount of effort being put into upgrading the indoor comfort and putting building users at the heart of the design process.

Renovation offers a great platform to upgrade building conditions to serve user needs and wellbeing. A renovation project can bring a true focus on the users as you have a lot of rich information to start with when redesigning and remodelling.

Recently, I spoke to an executive from a reputable agency that has indexed about four thousand office building based on how satisfied the employees are in ninety countries. Some data points he shared surprised me. In a nutshell, after employees have the necessities to perform their daily task, then the next frontier to drive engagement is the management of noise. Unfortunately, current employee satisfaction with noise levels is ranked the lowest (24 out of 25 parameters). If we were to stretch this idea to other places we live and spend our time in, it shouldn’t surprise us that noise issues are even more severe in restaurants, schools, and old residential buildings. So, there is a huge gap to fill in the larger society! A renovation project to upgrade acoustics can be a way to address this health hazard and accomplish it with rather low investment and in a relatively short time.

What role will renovation play in the midst of Covid-19?

In my view, every crisis has two sides to it, one positive and another negative. For now, there is a lot of focus on the bad news, which is entirely understandable, as we are still not out of the pandemic. However, allow me to focus on three critical positive outcomes as I see them.

Firstly, we have observed an unprecedented economic response from governments and central banks to mitigate the risk of illiquidity and severe unemployment. After the bailout phase is over, a substantial part of the stimulus packages should be channelled into creating new jobs and creating a more sustainable future. Building renovations are a perfect place to start as we are behind on our renovation rates, and we need to accelerate three times more to achieve 100% net-zero buildings by 2050.

The second aspect, I see strongly emerging, is a focus on wellbeing and overall hygiene. This goes beyond trying to figure out how to factor in two meters of physical distancing. To me, it is about redefining the purpose of a space and carefully selecting what materials and tech we are constantly exposed to. Unfortunately, we needed a serious shock to deeply experience the impact of clean air, noise levels and hygiene on our wellbeing. Building owners and tenants should look seriously into user wellbeing from a holistic standpoint to reduce noise levels, increase day-light, and chose materials that are positively contributing towards good air quality and hygiene.

Lastly, I see a 'revival' as a strong theme emerging after our survival mode comes to an end. There is a lot of pent up human energy that has been created because of the lockdown. You can see in Europe that restaurants, one of the worst affected sector, are reopening with renewed creativity and purpose. A good example is Noma in Copenhagen. They reopened as an outdoor wine and burger bar that is open to the entire public. Similarly, I expect office spaces to start turning into places that foster teamwork and human connection, while individual tasks are performed from home.

The revival of the economy will embody our renewed purpose and creativity, and a great place to express it is in the spaces we work, stay, and socialize. Let's "renovate" with this renewed awareness.


Wellbeing Webinar

Don't miss out on the great insights from the Rockfon webinar on “How to design inspiring buildings focusing on human health and well-being” as presented by Olga Turner, a WELL Building Standard™ Accredited Professional, a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the director & co-founder of Ekkist. 

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