Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen, Head of Transformation at Henning Larsen

March 14, 2024

Prague Central Station Transformation
In the real estate sector, a new priority is emerging: re-imagining existing structures. This paradigm shift recognises that revitalising buildings is not just a trend, but a crucial step towards a future that is less carbon- and resource intensive. As awareness grows, it is becoming clear that the path of transformation has considerable benefits.
Legislation is tightening its grip on demolition, waste management, and sprawling greenfield developments, nudging the sector towards a more responsible approach. Simultaneously, tenants are demanding eco-conscious living spaces, amplifying the call for building renovation and transformation to take center stage.
Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen, Head of Transformation at Henning Larsen, explores the wide-ranging benefits of transformation. However, it is not all smooth sailing as investors and developers often encounter obstacles along the way. Armed with the right knowledge and strategies, these hurdles can be overcome. Jørgensen shares insights into navigating these challenges and outlines the steps needed to make building transformation the default choice over new construction.
1. What are the main drivers behind the growth in demand for renovation and transformation?
Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen: “The primary drivers for building transformation are undoubtedly the massive CO2 and resource savings that can be achieved compared to new builds coupled with our clients’ increasing dedication to acting responsibly.

Given the huge amount of upfront carbon and virgin materials that go into new builds, it simply doesn’t make sense to demolish a building that has 60 to 100 years of its lifespan remaining and then put up a new efficient “low carbon” building in its place.

Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen
Head of Transformation at Henning Larsen

At the same time, building construction and demolition generate massive amounts of waste. In the EU alone, it is responsible for a third of all waste, and only 11% of this is currently recycled.
On the back of this, we are seeing huge growth in the number of transformation projects. Just from our own experience, we expected to double the size of our transformation business in the last year, but it has in fact tripled – and this is a trend that is reflected across the industry.”
2. What are the main benefits of transformation vs new build – in terms of cost, climate impact, or other factors?
“Transformation taps into the DNA of buildings and urban areas. It informs the architectural approach and serves to preserve and enhance the heritage and cultural fabric that define a building and surrounding communities. In this way, transformation makes an important contribution to social sustainability.
A study by Realdania, a Danish philanthropic association focused on advancing innovation and sustainability in the built environment, also identified a strong link between preserving cultural heritage and property prices. Homes in areas where more than 15% of buildings are listed, were found to command a 13% premium.
In relation to commercial buildings, we see a clear trend towards organisations undertaking deep renovations of their existing offices. This is a win-win where they retain the benefit of the office being in an accessible and appealing location, whilst also optimising interior spaces, increasing energy efficiency, and creating a modern inspiring work environment. This in turn helps organisations attract and retain talent and typically reduces carbon emissions by 50% to 80% compared to new build.”
3. What are the biggest challenges and risks associated with transformation and how can they be overcome?
“It is essential that investors and developers identify and manage risks from the very earliest stages of a transformation project before making major investments. This way they can ensure their business case stacks up and mitigate unexpected costs and delays.
Building plans from older buildings may be missing or incomplete, which creates uncertainty around the composition of the building. The condition, toxicity, and flammability of building materials may also be unknown and vary significantly depending on the type of building and when it was constructed.

Conducting thorough early-stage architectural and engineering assessments including laboratory tests and condition surveys helps identify and minimise these risks.

Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen
Head of Transformation at Henning Larsen

A key challenge with transformation projects is that we want to preserve as much of the load bearing structure as possible since this is where the carbon savings are greatest. However, this may place constraints on how the space can be reconfigured. Feasibility studies and creative thinking are needed to identify the options that can maximise the full potential of a transformation project and minimise the risk of it becoming a stranded asset. We are also actively looking into how AI can play a role in this.
Digital tools can play an important role in informing early phase decision-making and here we have developed applications that generate thousands of iterations of the possible MEP and façade configurations to identify the most cost-effective and optimal option.”
4. What projects are you most proud of working on and why?
“I’m particularly proud of the transformation project that we undertook at Prague’s Central Train Station. The original station was designed around car use and dominated by a large adjacent highway and a parking deck on the station roof. The transformation centred around lifting the roof 13 meters above the terminal floor to create a light, inviting, and inclusive space.
We also sought to integrate the surrounding park more seamlessly with the station to create a more coherent and attractive area for residents and tourists. The client was very open to new ideas, which meant that we were able to come up with a creative architectural solution that also complemented and preserved the station and park’s historical identity.”
See the image carousel below for images of the project before and after redevelopment.

Prague Station: before & after

Before redevelopment 1

Image credits: Henning Larsen

Before redevelopment 2

Image credits: Henning Larsen

After redevelopment 1

Image credits: Henning Larsen

After redevelopment 2

Image credits: Henning Larsen

After redevelopment 3

Image credits: Henning Larsen

5. What do we need to spur faster uptake of transformation rather than new build?
“When we know that the carbon savings from transformation initiatives are so large, as a minimum, we as advisors need to introduce a code of conduct that insists that we steer clients towards transformation. This means that we need to get better at recognising the economic, environmental, and social value in the assets they already have.
In my opinion, rapid large-scale decarbonisation calls for a complete stop on demolition and new common regulations to support this. We already see protections in place for cultural buildings, but this needs to be extended to all buildings and especially those that contain large amounts of embodied carbon."

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  • Katrine Daugaard Jørgensen

    Head of Transformation at Henning Larsen

    +45 31 60 81 01

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