Sustainability… The climate emergency …Build Back Better… The green economy… Net Zero… Carbon neutral. Public awareness around these terms has been increasing exponentially over the last few years and there is a growing realisation that business as usual will not put us on the path we need to be on. Many of us have come to the conclusion that we have a duty to make a difference and find a better way. And that includes us as architects and designers for hospitality.

The question we started with was “What if we could design spaces that were actually able to ‘give’ more than they ‘take’?” Ones that not only minimise their negative impact on the planet but maybe even do some good. And importantly, not just on a one-off basis but find a framework that we could apply to all our design projects. It seems like a tall order based on where the world is today, but we have dedicated ourselves to finding out how to get there.

In our research and work so far, we have come across a number of trailblazing companies, individuals and ideas, which together have inspired us to develop our very own Restorative Design Framework.  It is certainly a work in progress but marks an important milestone along the way to being able to create these types of spaces.

Circular economy

Our approach is based on the principles of a circular economy, which we believe offers the best path to achieve truly sustainable hospitality design. As a quick primer, a circular economy is based on 3 key principles:

  1. Designing out waste and pollution
  2. Keeping products and materials in use
  3. Regenerating natural systems.

Essentially it is the opposite of a linear economy, where we take material from the ground, turn it into a product and then send it to landfill when we are finished with it. To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, in 2019, 100bn tonnes of virgin resources were brought into the world’s economic system, but only 8.6% of those resources were circular in nature i.e. they were able to be recycled through the system and remain as a high value resource.

For more in depth information on this, you can check out the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website which is a brilliant resource packed with explanations and relevant case studies. (

The 3 principles listed above can seem pretty big and intangible on first reading, so the Restorative Design Framework looks at how we can apply them to the actual design process for the types of interior architecture projects that we work on. From a big picture perspective the first realisation is that we need to approach the design process with an adjusted set of priorities than is typically the case. To highlight this, our approach breaks down in to 3 distinct stages:

Stage 1 – Demolition and strip out

Stage 2 – Low impact design

Stage 3 – End of life

1 Demolition and strip out

The first principle is to make maximum use of what we find at a site before starting any design work. The design needs to work with whatever gifts the site offers, which starts with a detailed site audit and report.

If you are taking on an empty space, then this may be focussed on retaining and celebrating the character of what is already there.

If you are taking over the site that was previously fitted out, then this process needs to be more involved as there will be more elements to review and assess. The default position is that as much as possible of the previous fitout should be retained.

There is a really important caveat to this position; you must not compromise your new concept’s chances of succeeding through the retention of what you have inherited. Your brand values, look and feel, offer have to shine through so that your staff and customers get the best version of what you do. Because if your concept fails, then all of the energy and resources that have gone into making it happen will have been wasted.

For everything that you do not wish to keep, we need to make sure that the resources involved in making them are kept in use at a high level in the value chain. There is a hierarchy to this and right now it definitely takes a bit more time and organisation to achieve, although we are developing a network of partners to ensure this can be done as more of a default.

2 Low impact design

This is the core of the project and involves many overlapping areas, all of which are united in the goal to minimise the negative environmental impact of a new fitout.

Assessment methods – The first thing we look at is what method are we going to use to hold the project to account and ensure there is rigour in the decisions being made. There are a number of different ways to assess sustainability including BREEAM, SKA and carbon footprint analysis. At the outset of the project we establish with the client which one/s will be right for their project.

For our part, we believe that SKA offers the most flexible and holistic system for assessing new interior architecture projects and use this as a default position on new projects. If you’d like to know more about this, then please let us know.

Operational Carbon – This is a measure of how efficiently you use energy. We work with specialist consultants on projects where there is a big emphasis on achieving a low level of operational carbon. It can impact everything from the exact equipment that you specify to the level of insulation installed in the building. Whilst not technically related, it is also important to look at the related issue of water efficiency through the specification of low flow taps and low flush toilets.

Embodied Carbon – This is the carbon footprint of materials and fixtures in your fitout. It considers how many greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released throughout the supply chain (extracting the natural resources required, processing them, manufacturing the item and transporting it). We can work with specialist consultants to measure the carbon footprint of a project or work to key principles for reducing this e.g. sourcing local, reclaimed materials, second hand furniture etc.

Flexibility – Spaces need to be designed with enough future proofing that they can be changed without huge amounts of energy or creating a lot of waste. Wherever possible, this idea needs to be considered in the provision of services as well.

Layout design – A careful balance is needed in the layout of a new space to maximise the potential use of sustainable initiatives. For example, building in an entrance lobby to allow a thermal ‘airlock’ between inside and outside or positioning spaces to maximise the use of natural daylight.

3 End of life

This is really the part of the design process that has been mostly missing in interior architecture projects. As designers, we need to ensure that the new elements that we source and design can be reused at the end of their life. In order to achieve this, everything has to have a defined method for this to happen. This could be:

Design for disassembly – Items need to be designed in such a way as they can be easily broken down into ‘technical’ materials (man made) and ‘biological’ materials (natural, which biodegrade). This means they can be kept in use at their highest level and used again or recycled. There is no use specifying an 80% recycled material and gluing it to a sheet of plywood so that it cannot be used again.

Certified manufacturer take back scheme – We actively identify and work with suppliers that will commit to taking back materials/ furniture when they are no longer needed for the project.

Lease hire arrangement with documented take back – The move to a subscription economy offers a tantalising opportunity to both lower a client’s upfront capex cost plus incentivise manufacturers to build durable, long life items such as furniture. This is not hugely prevalent in the market right now, but we expect it to grow.

An identified market for resale and reuse – We are building a network of partners and suppliers that can buy/ sell second hand items e.g. refurbished kitchen equipment.


A project specific approach

One core idea of the Restorative Design Framework is the acknowledgement that approach will need to flex for different types of project. After all, no two projects have the same requirements, so the briefing stage of any new project involves identifying what aspects of the sustainability strategy will be most relevant. For example, a design going in to a new build shell will have much less emphasis on the Audit/ Strip out aspects, but might have a much larger emphasis on the Operational Carbon and Flexibility of design.

The eventual aim is to be able to remove the idea of ‘waste’ entirely from new fitouts and ensure that designs are created where all elements can be re-used again at the end of their life. This will involve systemic change to our industry as well as new suppliers and partners to be found that can deliver on the potential of a circular economy.

There is a long way to go before we get to the top of the mountain, but we firmly believe that this framework gives us a map of how to get there. We hope you will join us on the journey.

This post was written by David Chenery


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