Implementing a retentionist strategy with Liz Brown

In this episode of Building sustainably: the road to net zero we welcome our Senior Project Manager, Liz Brown to talk with Chris Lavery about the sympathetic redevelopment and retrofit of Béton House, Park Hill, in Sheffield. 

In this episode: adopting a retentionist strategy for Béton House, Park Hill, Sheffield

Béton House, Park Hill is now one of the most unique student developments in Europe. Located in Sheffield, the Grade II* listed site is widely regarded as an architectural icon. 

But this wasn’t always the case. Park Hill was a post-war housing estate that was eventually abandoned in the early 2000s after the decline of the steel industry in the early 1970s had a direct impact on the community.

Fast forward two decades and the development is thriving once again. In this episode we talk to Liz Brown, Senior Project Manager at RPS, to hear how she supported Alumno Group in the re-development of this iconic site. Liz explains how a retentionist strategy, and a test and experiment approach, helped save roughly 1.2k tonnes of embodied carbon on this exciting development project. 

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“Going on to phase three, we, as RPS, provided project and cost management, and the goal was to turn the original flats into a character student development that preserved the asset for the future generation and enabled architectural features to be celebrated and embraced.” Liz Brown, Senior Project Manager at RPS

Meet Liz Brown

Liz has been a Senior Project Manager with RPS for the last five years, delivering property developments of varying sizes and across multiple sectors in and around the north of England. She's APM Project Management qualified and is working towards her APM project professional qualification. She also holds a RIBA Principal Designer qualification.

With significant experience across a wide range of public sector projects in the Residential, Education, and Leisure sectors, Liz has been a qualified Architect for 12 years.

In addition to being a board member at WISH NW, Liz is a member of Women in Property, an organisation focusing on the promotion of the construction industry as an equal platform and seeking to enable opportunities for all.


Key highlights

  • 1:04 - 3:03 - Retrofitting Heritage Buildings - Alumno Group, a construction company specialising in creating high-quality and modern accommodations for students, enabled a retentionist strategy for Park Hill. The development consists of over five phases. RPS is working on phase three, which involves the Béton House project, and intends to turn the original flats into a characterful student development that preserves the asset for future generations and enables the existing architectural features to be celebrated.
  • 5:14 - 6:56 - The Project's Vision - Whittam Cox, a local Sheffield-based architect, led the team with Matthew Borland, feeling a duty to do right by Park Hill and Sheffield City. They adopted a retentionist strategy which involves preserving historic buildings while doing the best for sustainability, budget, and historic building preservation. The main challenges faced in this project were preserving historic features while saving carbon emissions. Robust project management and cost management techniques were used to manage complexity and cost.
  • 6:56 - 9:33 - The Retentionist Strategy - The retentionist strategy is where you want to preserve a historic building. Rather than demolishing a building and putting that material into recycling, you use what you have without creating a surplus of material. On the Béton House project, a massive amount of the carbon savings has come from not demolishing that building. There were several aspects that Liz and her team targeted to save, like the historic mosaics along the ground floor, the brick panels, and the balustrades.
  • 9:33 - 11:13 - Overcoming Challenges - For a complex project like Park Hill, you have to understand the need for retention, the cost of the budget you need to meet, and the sustainability and heritage standards. So the main challenge is getting the right team around you.
  • 18:43 - 21:17 - Biggest Savings - Through the retentionist strategy, Liz and her team helped to save around 1.2 tons of CO2-embodied carbon. The biggest savings come from preserving the frame, the mosaics, the brick panels, and the balustrades. By keeping the building in place, you save a great part of carbon because you don't have to demolish everything, recycle that existing material, and then put in a new set of processes.

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