BTR News spoke to Lindel Reid, Managing Principal at DeSimone Consulting Engineering to discuss the engineering complexities that himself and the company face when developing Build to Rent schemes, where sustainability and environmentalism fit into their work, and the learnings that he has taken from the US and UAE Build to Rent markets – and how the UK market can adapt to keep up with the ever-changing demand for alternative housing solutions.
What role do engineers play in making Build to Rent developments sustainable?
It is no secret that the Build to Rent market is only predicted to grow as more and more people look towards the rental market either because of necessity or preference – in fact, I live in a Build to Rent development myself, in Canary Wharf.
Engineers can play a key role in making Build to Rent developments sustainable but when we talk about an engineer’s role, we often talk about the role of a building services engineer role (HVAC systems, solar energy, electric car charging ports, etc) not necessarily the role of a structural engineer.
As a structural engineer, we play an important role in making buildings sustainable, which is not necessarily limited to Build to Rent developments. We now do not only design for serviceability and strength requirements, we now design for sustainability which I have coined the three Ss: Serviceability Strength and Sustainability. Our design encapsulate carbon embodiment calculations, recyclable steel where possible and other indigenous materials. As embodied carbon within the built environment remains a key barrier to reaching our net-zero target, structural engineers will have even more of an important role to play as the Build to Rent industry continues to grow.
DeSimone Consulting Engineering have a lot of experience in Build to Rent in the US, where the industry is much more established. What can the UK learn from a mature market like the US?
Whilst the majority of my experience has been in the Middle East, DeSimone Consulting Engineering as a company, has an immense amount of experience in the US Build to Rent market – in cities like New York City and Miami. New York City especially has a very mature Build to Rent market due to its strong rental culture and low home ownership rate when compared to the rest of the US. According to the 2021 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey published in May this year, the homeownership rate in NYC is around 31% which is around half the national rate. This means Build to Rent is a crucial model within the housing eco-system. As more and more people in the UK struggle to get on the housing ladder (especially in London), Build to Rent will start to become more necessary like it is in these other major US cities.
However, what I would say is that there is a mountain of state-by-state regulations and legislation that goes alongside the development of these buildings in the US, especially in Florida and these regulations tend to focus around building and material quality rather than sustainability.
I would also say that there is more legislation in the UK towards sustainability compared to the US. The rules and bureaucracy in the US have had a detrimental effect on our clients cost and programme on certain building projects. DeSimone Consulting Engineering have undertaken Performance Base Designs (PBD) on certain projects and have realised that the original building costs are reduced significantly.
What we mean by PBD is controlling the behaviour of buildings in respect to buildings occupancy and the building’s owner requirements – such as the desirable movement or deformation of the building’s fabric in a wind or seismic event. Once knowing/predicting the buildings behaviour, the relative stiffness of the building structural components can be determined. From examples of PBD it has been shown that the associated building stiffnesses are less than for conventional design consequently reducing the carbon embodiment.
Therefore it can be said that PBD tend to produce a more efficient and economical building in respect to the building behaviour, which will offset the increase cost to developers produced by the red tape of local state departments. Subsequently resulting in a more sustainable building due to the reduction of reinforcement quantity for structural elements, lower cement content for concrete, lighter weight structural steel elements etc.
Can you please tell us any differences, learnings, insight from the Build to Rent market in the UAE?
The Build to Rent market in Dubai and throughout the UAE is also a relatively new concept – even more so than the UK. Co-living developments in Dubai are increasing in popularity as they cater towards a new generation of young expats moving to the city. For a market like Dubai, amenities are king as tenants want access to pools, gyms, co-working spaces and other communal offerings. Whereas in a market like the UK, I would say access to affordable and safe rental housing is more important than extra amenities.
What experience can you offer Build to Rent developers and operators in the UK?
DeSimone Consulting Engineering have some brilliant engineers and I believe our experience with performance base design will be of great benefit to Build to Rent developers in the UK, as the industry grows and the pressure builds for more sustainable buildings that provide a long-term solution for the rental market.