ISG to create ultra-low carbon sustainability hub out of 1930s Cambridge telephone exchange

Visualisation of the ground floor workspace at the Entopia Building (image courtesy of Architype)

ISG is to retro-fit a 1930s telephone exchange to create an ultra-low carbon headquarters for the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

The Entopia building aims to set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources by achieving multiple sustainable building certifications, including BREEAM (Outstanding), the Passivhaus ‘Enerphit’ standard, and Well (Gold) certification, according to ISG.

The £12.8m exemplar project will attempt to demonstrate how an existing office building can be made highly energy efficient in its redevelopment and use, while supporting the wellbeing of staff and visitors. The building will also provide a base for the Institute’s digital learning programmes, which reach more than 4,000 executives each year. Video conferencing facilities and digital platforms will enable its network of 16,000 alumni, fellows and associates to collaborate and engage with its work remotely.

The Entopia Building will become the new home for The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) (image courtesy of Soren Kristensen)

The building will house CISL’s Cambridge-based staff, currently spread across five buildings, and provide a virtual hub for its offices in Brussels and Cape Town, partner organisations in China, Australia and the UAE, its global corporate partners, alumni, fellows, associates, researchers and visiting academics.

The project brief was developed by CISL professor John French, who previously led the design and build of the Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia, one of the most sustainable office buildings in the UK.

The retrofit has been supported by a £6m donation from green technology company Envision Group and a £3m grant from the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), which is also funding the operation of a sustainability hub and small business and start up accelerator for three years.

Sustainability benchmarks for The Entopia Building
  • The deep green retrofit is projected to result in an 80% saving in whole life carbon emissions (more than 10,000 kg CO2e), compared to a standard office refurbishment.
  • The retrofit will be carried out according to EnerPHit, the Passivhaus standard for refurbishment and one of the most stringent standards for energy retrofits. It will deliver 75% lower heating demand in comparison to an average office building, and airtightness at more than five times that required by building regulations.
  • The project is one of the first to reuse lighting from another building refurbishment, re-testing and re-warrantying more than 350 LED lights that were then reinstalled in The Entopia Building.
  • Leftover furniture in the building has been diverted from landfill avoiding 21,000kg of CO2, with 21,600kg of chairs, tables and storage cabinets donated to local communities. A third of the building’s paint needs have been covered by a donation from Dulux of paint made from 35% recycled paint content.

In 2019 the University of Cambridge became the first university in the world to adopt a 1.5 degrees Science Based Target for carbon reduction, committing itself to reduce its energy-related carbon emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with an ambition to achieve this by 2038.

Paul Cossell, CEO at ISG, said: “The significance of this project cannot be underestimated in the wider context of the UK achieving its 2050 net zero emissions target. With the built environment contributing around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, this ground-breaking project is a pioneering case study on the smart transformation of an existing building, prioritising sustainability criteria as core drivers for every single element of the retrofit.

“We confidently expect the new design modelling, material and methodology innovations at the new CISL headquarters to provide the springboard for greater collaboration at an industry and client level to fast-track the reduction of carbon emissions from our built assets.”

Dame Polly Courtice, founder director of CISL, said: “CISL’s new HQ at The Entopia Building will exemplify and enable our mission to support and inspire the leadership and innovation we need to transition to sustainable economy. Our aim is to create a highly collaborative and sustainable workspace to bring together Cambridge’s academic and innovation communities with our network of companies and sustainability leaders to accelerate solutions to global sustainability challenges.”

The Entopia Building aims to open to staff by the end of 2021.

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