Open letter calls for publication of full embodied carbon impact of proposal to flatten seven buildings

Shell Aberdeen hq

The main 1970s building on Shell’s former headquarters campus in Aberdeen

A group of 45 architects and academics have called for Aberdeen council to reject plans to demolish Shell’s former headquarters campus over embodied carbon concerns.

The oil giant has lodged an application to flatten all buildings on the Altens Farm Road site, including a prominent 1970s modernist office block.

Six other buildings built between 1973 and 1992 would be torn down under the plans, including three other linked office blocks, a laboratory, a nursery and a services block.

Matthew Clubb, the owner of local practice mwclubb, urged the council to reject or delay the application until a full assessment of the scheme’s embodied carbon impact is carried out.

The letter, which has been signed by architects including Moxon Architects founding director Ben Addy, also calls for an exercise that was undertaken between Shell and the council on potential reuse options for the site to be made public.

In an environmental impact assessment (EIA) drawn up by Aecom as part of the application, Shell is said to want to demolish the buildings as their age, construction and floor plates “do not lend themselves to an efficient or sustainable future use”.

No replacement scheme has yet been made public, but Shell is understood to be looking at redeveloping the site for a commercial or industrial use.

The word ‘carbon’ in the context of emissions is used only once in the 80-page EIA, although AECOM says Shell and Aberdeen council had “fully explored” the potential to reuse the buildings.

The firm said the outcome of this exercise was that there were “no credible opportunities to reuse the buildings in their current form given their size and it was unlikely that new operators or users could be found for modification or reuse.”

“The most suitable option was to demolish the buildings and thereby create a brownfield opportunity site for the redevelopment of the area,” the EIA says.

It adds that Shell aims to reuse or recycle more than 90% of the site’s building materials, with sustainability and controlling the carbon footprint of the demolition works being the “key principles” of the project.

But Clubb’s letter argues Shell had “failed to measure or consider the carbon emissions relating to demolition in any way”, adding that the emissions involved in recycling and transporting building materials would be “vast” given the quantity of concrete in the buildings.

Aberdeen council declared a climate and nature emergency in March this year in a statement committing the local authority to “playing a full role” in tackling the crises.

Council co-leader Ian Yuill described the move as a “symbolic act”, adding: “The worldwide effects of climate change are having a real impact now and it’s important that we take responsibility as a city for our own impact.”

Clubb argued that any declaration, even if billed as symbolic, must lead to changes in decision making given the “urgency of the climate crisis and society’s failure to reduce global emissions.”

Other signatories of the letter include Aberdeen Society of Architects president Richard Slater, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment associate dean David Wilson, Aberdeen University senior history lecturer Frederik Pederson and Northumbria University professor of urban collaboration Richard Laing.

In response, Shell’s senior UK vice president Simon Roddy said: “For decades Tullos was a fantastic home for Shell in Aberdeen. After completing our move to the Silver Fin Building on Union Street we are evaluating options for the future use of the Tullos site. 

“Removal of the buildings will help unlock the potential of the site to make a positive contribution to the city.”

Clubb’s letter also mentions Michael Gove’s decision to reject Marks & Spencer’s proposals to replace its flagship Oxford Street store partly due to the scheme’s embodied carbon impact.

The communities secretary shot down the Pilbrow & Partners-designed plans following a public inquiry and against the advice of the planning inspector in a move expected to be highly influential for future demolish and rebuild projects.

Aberdeen council has been contacted for comment.