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The new Living Planet Centre – a building to be proud of

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Richard Bartlett is the sustainability manager for Willmott Dixon, the main contractor building WWF’s new Living Planet Centre (LPC) in Woking.

The start of construction at the LPC siteJuly 2012 – the construction really gets underway at the LPC. © Ash Knotek / WWF-UK

“As WWF’s Living Planet Centre nears completion, one of the things I’ve been contemplating is: ‘Why aren’t more buildings constructed this way?’

To me the LPC stands head and shoulders above most of the rest in terms of its holistic look at sustainability. Not only in its focus on ethical procurement of materials and innovative low-carbon technology (as I discussed in my previous blog), but also – and arguably most importantly – on the health and well-being of the building’s users and visitors.

From the inception of the design brief of the LPC, WWF was determined to not only meet the requirements of developing a high-performing building but also provide the perfect space for the building’s users and visitors.

Inside the LPCInside the LPC during April 2013, it’s starting to look light – just the scaffolding still in the way… ©Ash Knotek / WWF-UK

There are plenty of reports – some of them admittedly subjective – of a direct link between a building’s natural light, space and layout and the effect on engagement, innovation, productivity and attendance of the people using it. But more often than not, buildings are not designed with this in mind. The LPC is different. All these factors have been fundamental.

So why does a lot of the design and construction industry often seem so antiquated and conservative when it comes to these or other environmental issues?

I think one factor is the way people perceive value and success. For a designer it’s too often related to a building’s aesthetics and ‘feel’. The structural engineer will just be happy to see it standing. And the building contractor is relieved when it’s finished on time and within budget. What’s rarely considered is the views of the people who’ll be stuck with the building for decades to come.

There needs to be greater appreciation in the industry that we are not constructing buildings for ourselves, but for the people who’ll be looking at, visiting and using the building on a daily basis. Success should be judged on this, not on our own personal deliverables.

And what about value? All too often in the construction industry (as in many others), the only determining factor is cost. Cost is obviously important – buildings have to be commercially viable. But as construction experts, it’s also our responsibility to work closely with our clients and future users of the building to understand what value means to them.

The LPC from aboveLooking down on the LPC during July this year, you can see the solar panels, the wind vanes and the water collection system. © Ash Knotek / WWF-UK

For a long time WWF has been working out of an office not fit for purpose, and one that has made it practically impossible to reach out to local communities and spread their message more directly. One of the main values of the LPC for WWF is the fact that it will allow them to achieve this, and much more besides. They also saw the LPC project as a great opportunity to identify, highlight and share the possibilities and benefits of sustainable construction.

The collaboration has continued throughout the build. And it’s been a pleasure from a personal point of view to take WWF employees, supporters, donors, local residents, education groups and other visitors around the LPC during its construction, and see their reaction to the building that we at Willmott Dixon are extremely proud to be building for all of them.”

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