Bringing new life to 1960s tower blocks

Published:  07 May, 2007

tower
Services in Glastonbury House in London not having been updated for nearly 40 years provided the key challenges for refurbishment.

When people have lived in a tower block for a long time, they do not want to move out — so refurbishment issues have to be faced head on. ALISON NICHOLLS shares experiences with a project in London.

As with many buildings dating from the 1960s it is now time to ask the question whether it is more sustainable to knock down the tower block and start again or to refurbish the existing block? That was the question facing CityWest with Glastonbury House — a 22-storey 1960s tower block comprising 162 flats in Pimlico, London, and owned and managed by CityWest Homes.

In 2001 CityWest Homes invited INTEGER to examine how intelligent and green interventions could be used to make tower blocks more sustainable. In 2002/2003 i&i Ltd led an extensive programme of research, communications and consultation, which formed the basis of the refurbishment of Glastonbury House. The research programme looked for the best available solutions, many of which were implemented on the project.

Glastonbury House is home to around 200 people and provides supported accommodation for people aged over 55. Many residents were vulnerable, frail and elderly and did not want to move out of their homes; some of them had been living in the block since it opened in the mid-1960s.

The block was structurally sound. However the building services had never been upgraded. Structural interventions, such as cladding the block, were deemed not to be cost-effective — so the building services provided the key to making the block more sustainable.

Heating services

Before the refurbishment, residents were unable to control and had no incentive to control their energy usage. Temperature was controlled by opening and closing windows. All radiators are now controlled by thermostatic radiator valves which are simple to use. The installation of in-flat building-management systems was rejected on cost grounds.

Although Glastonbury House had a connection to the Pimlico District Heating Undertaking, heating was provided by two boilers on the 22nd floor. By fully connecting to the Pimlico District Heating Undertaking INTEGER was able to free up the 22nd floor and provide more efficient and environmentally friendly heating. The 22nd floor now houses two two-bedroom maisonettes and a residents’ sky-lounge, which provides stunning views across London.

Pigeons were a major concern for residents and made many the balconies unusable. The balconies were enclosed by fully retractable single glazing. This work reduced the building's heating load by 5 to 10% and made the balconies a much more pleasant place for residents to spend time; it also made a significant contribution to getting rid of the pigeon nuisance and provides shelter from the wind.

Minimising disruption

The residents decided that they did not wish to leave the block while work was taking place. A process of decanting to hotel flats was put in place, while contractor Wates Group refurbished each flat on a 20-day programme.

Since the block was still occupied, existing services had to be in operation whilst the new services were installed, so a new services riser was erected at the back of the block. Once the new services were installed, the existing services were terminated but not removed, as this would have beeen a noisy and disruptive operation.

Extensive skirting, trunking and cabling provides for full services distribution throughout the flats so that appliances, IT equipment, telephones and special-needs equipment may be plugged in where most convenient for the residents with minimum disruption. Moreover, cable routes are accessible for ease of maintenance and upgrade should additional special needs emerge.

A number of simple features were installed, which have proved to be very popular with the residents They include an all-off switch which allows residents to switch all lights off from one point in the hallway. This saves anxiety for elderly residents and energy. A courtesy light is also installed in the hallway of each of the flats which switches on when the front door is opened.

Water usage

Glastonbury House was not considered suitable for a communal grey-water recycling system, so demand-side interventions were used to encourage water efficiency.

Dual low-flush toilets use 2.5 or 4.0 l, compared with 6.0 or 9.0 litres of traditional toilets, were installed along with 6 l/min flow restrictors on bathroom taps and 10 l/minute flow restrictors on shower heads. Initial indications show that average water consumption per resident has been halved from 223 l per person per day to 112 l per person per day.

Lifts

Poor lift services cause more complaints than any other factor in Glastonbury House. Detailed analysis of lift provision was carried out, with the provision a third lift being discussed. However, upgrading the two existing lifts to provide more reliable, smoother and rapid services made installing a third lift unnecessary. The second lift car was increased in size from 8 to 13 people will provide space for furniture, stretchers and coffins. To provide an immediate benefit of the refurbishment work, the lifts were refitted very early in the programme.

Intelligent systems

Television reception is a major issue on tower blocks and other multi-occupancy buildings, especially as the switchover to digital services approaches. In Glastonbury House, the communal aerial system was not working effectively, meaning residents had to resort to a variety of booster aerials and satellite television solutions. i&i specified a communal aerial system to meet the needs of the residents and provide access to satellite television and digital signals.

The existing door-entry system at the ground-floor main entrance, and which is essential, had become unreliable, and no spares were available. It was replaced using a system based on a modular commercial PABX distributed up the tower block. This system also has the capacity to provide free telephone calls between flats, leading to increased informal support for the residents. The structured cabling provision enabled the door-entry telephone within the flats to be located wherever most convenient for each resident — rather than being by the entrance door to the flat.

The Glastonbury House project has provided inspiration for the refurbishment of many other tower-block. The ideas generated are being implemented by the INTEGER team in Cruddas Park in Newcastle upon Tyne, an estate of 11 tower blocks providing a thousand homes.

Alison Nicholl is a business analyst with i&i Ltd, which provided the research programme management and intelligent systems strategies for Glastonbury House.



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