Retrofitting Heritage Buildings: Achieving carbon reduction for student development Béton House

Grade II* listed housing estate and architectural icon, Béton House at Park Hill, Sheffield is a great example of sympathetic redevelopment and retrofitting done well. 

Liz Brown shares how a retentionist strategy and a test and experiment approach helped save roughly 1.2k tonnes of embodied carbon on this exciting development project.

The focus of developer, Alumno Group, supported by the nature of student development, enabled a ‘retentionist strategy’ to be adopted that has celebrated the history of the site. As Project and Cost Managers, RPS have driven this ethos by challenging the design and construction teams to retain existing material (the ‘retentionist strategy’).  This has enabled the preservation of the historic fabric, minimised build cost and achieved carbon reduction in the build process.

Béton House is Phase 3 of Park Hill, Sheffield and forms part of a wider masterplan led by Sheffield City Council and Urban Splash.

The History of Park Hill

Park Hill is a post-war housing estate in Sheffield that was developed in the late 1950s/early 1960s from slum housing into apartments and community spaces including a nursery and four pubs.  The community worked well until the 1970s, with the decline of the steel industry directly impacting on the community and eventually leading to the estate being abandoned in the early 2000s.

The estate is located on a steep slope adjacent to Sheffield Town Centre and was originally designed by architects working for Sheffield City Council. The design was heavily inspired by Unite D’habitation, a modernist residential eutopia located in Marseilles and designed by Le Corbusier, and this was evident in the use of wide outdoor corridors, structured design language and bright colours.

Some key features in the original development were the concrete balustrades, brickwork panels, and brightly coloured mosaics to the communal areas.

Challenges to sympathetic redevelopment and how they were overcome

With 50% of the existing building stock in the UK being built before 1970s, to achieve Net Zero Carbon targets the construction industry will need to embrace the challenge of retrofitting existing building stock, particularly if considered historically important and part of the local character.

Our team were called upon to provide project and cost management for the Béton House development, with the goal to turn the original flats into a characterful student development that preserved the asset for future generations and enabled the existing architectural features to be celebrated.    

Preserving and protecting heritage is important and retrofitting remains the best option to reduce carbon output in the build process.  But conservation and restoration projects can be complex, with unforeseen problems often arising along the way.


Balustrades at Béton House, Park Hill in Sheffield

Jack Hobhouse

Rising to the challenge, and driven on by Alumno’s vision for the project, our team saw beyond the many potential pitfalls and created an inspirational plan to lead the way in sympathetic redevelopment and urban regeneration.

The main challenges of the project were the balance between the ‘want’ to retain the heritage and how to achieve this whilst meeting current design and construction standards.

The benefits were, in achieving the retentionist strategy, this enabled the preservation of the historic fabric, reduced build cost and achieved carbon reduction in the build process.  

Working closely with the design and construction teams, RPS rigorously tested the design solutions proposed to understand how each element could be retained, achieving the budgetary constraints of the project and the material and construction longevity required.

The historic balustrades, which were an original and prolific feature, were due to be replaced. RPS worked with the architect and structural engineer to prove that they could be retained. Bespoke moulds of the balustrade spindles were created so that most of the original balustrades could be retained and those hit hard by weather could be matched and replaced. This approach enabled the team to save most of this element, significantly reducing the carbon output of casting new.

Historic mosaics that echo back to the original Le Corbusier design language were also preserved and remain today to tell the story of what was once there to the new students.

Béton House

Beton House is now one of the most unique student developments in Sheffield and for good reason. With 356 bedrooms, communal lounges, private dining, gym and commercial units, the site is steeped in the history of Park Hill and location adjacent to the town centre, is perfect for students to live, socialise and study.

Thanks to the ‘retentionist strategy’ and through the willingness to test and experiment to find out what worked for the building, roughly 1.2 tonnes of CO2 embodied carbon was saved, making this project a great example of how retrofitting existing buildings can lead to a significant reduction to carbon in construction.

Béton House, Park Hill in Sheffield won Property Week Student Developer of the Year in 2020.


Lessons learnt

Our team applied the same method to preserving the history of this 1950s housing estate than it would to a Grade I listed church and that dedication shines through. History is important, especially in a dynamic city such as Sheffield and any student lucky to live at Beton House will have the history of the modernist Park Hill site at their fingertips.

Key take-aways:

  • Step-up to the challenge of retrofitting existing buildings and historically significant assets.
  • Work with your team, tapping into everyone’s knowledge.
  • Bring all parties along on the journey. By explaining the importance of the historic asset to the parties involved in the construction process, this inspired and drove finding a solution.
  • Retentionist strategy. Saves history, carbon and money. 

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *