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The afterlife clause; towards a strategy for improved adaptation in retail property

Rosi Fieldson (Simons Group Ltd, Lincoln, UK)

International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation

ISSN: 2398-4708

Article publication date: 14 August 2017

Issue publication date: 14 August 2017




The retail sector is one of the largest property concerns in the UK at 154million m2 and worth almost £300billion in capital value (IPF, 2015). Whilst it continues to be a growth sector, many retail developments and supermarkets which have been constructed in the UK since a major boom in the 1980s have seen interventions to replace envelope fabric, update their appearance and be re-configured to suit changing tenant requirements. Others will be demolished to make way for new developments. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


If the cost of adaptations to meet the required outcome is too great, or other drivers are stronger, adaptation becomes conversion or renewal. This process may be more damaging to the environment in terms of energy use, emissions and material wastage but may enable better quality and performing buildings to replace older stock. These decisions will be managed by cost benefit analysis and return on investment (feasibility, viability, risk and market appetite). This paper seeks to understand if it is possible to extend retail building life by anticipating future needs in the retail sector by forecasting what happens after the building is no longer required by the initial user.


This research has attempted to capture the knowledge and experience of those responsible for advising the stakeholders that make the significant decisions in retail development. Whist the methods may have been less satisfactory in extracting data, it has shown that predicting adaptability is quite difficult for many reasons. A direction towards increasing long-term adaptability the development is summarised in a list of key deliverables.

Research limitations/implications

This study has demonstrated a clear need to increase the consideration of defining design life as part of the performance information of a building or development, particularly in terms of whole life cost and asset value beyond the viable term of the end user and the value of the asset in terms of materials and resources (such as embodied CO2 emissions or sequestrated timber). Assessment of the design and evaluation process adopted when existing buildings are in the process of refurbishment is necessary to demonstrate this benefit.

Practical implications

There remains a major contradiction in the design approach for retail development; the choice between bespoke design which extends the design life and flexible design which maximises the interchangeability of end user. Buildings or parts of buildings may function better for longer if they are purpose built for key operators, anchor retail tenant or leisure use such as a cinema. However, these spaces are more likely to be changed most radically during an intervention to meet alternative functions in the future.

Social implications

For adaptability to be possible and demonstrable it needs to be clearly communicated at all project stages by definition of design life phases in the brief, specification, construction contract and facilities management documentation. Adaptability can be monitored in the longer term by land registration mapping, planning and building control functions in the local authority as these extend above and beyond the scope of each owner or user, however it would be advisable for facilities managers to adopt clear documentation regarding the performance parameters expected at first occupation and how modifications and interventions can be applied for flexibility and adaptability to changing requirements.


This review of current practice in UK retail development has demonstrated that although design teams are thinking about the future of developments, they are also driven to meet current requirement because the immediate future is more important than the extended future for generating retail turnover. They are not expected to document any evidence of adaptability considerations. Retailers are equally unable to speculate far enough into the future and depend on immediate annual sales results to remain economically sustainable. This impasse will ultimately prevent any change in the status quo, and legislative intervention may be necessary if society prefers to see buildings within the urban fabric last longer than the terms of a 15-year lease.



Fieldson, R. (2017), "The afterlife clause; towards a strategy for improved adaptation in retail property", International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 364-379.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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