Why Airspace Development is the Ethical Option

Why Airspace Development is the Ethical Option Why Airspace Development is the Ethical Option

Ethical housing refers to the practice of developing, designing and managing residential spaces in a way that prioritises social cohesion, environmental sustainability, and the well-being of communities.

It’s something that goes well beyond the traditional considerations of construction and architecture by integrating ethical thinking into various stages of the housing process. This holistic approach aims to create housing that is environmentally conscious and meets the needs of the wider community well into the future.

Airspace development is a relative newcomer to the property industry in the UK, and it checks many of the boxes for ethical housing solutions.

If you’re unfamiliar with airspace development, or perhaps have read stories in the media and want to find out more, this article looks at the many ways that airspace development provides a fresh take on easing the housing shortage, with many far-reaching advantages.

Solving the inner-city housing crisis

London is one of the world’s top cities and the demand for new housing in the capital never stops. Like many big cities, London is a major driver of innovation and prosperity for the rest of the country.

The problem of course is that urban sprawl can’t and shouldn’t stretch forever in the quest for more urban homes, which puts pressure on finding new inner-city spaces for building.

Airspace property is a solution that seems to conjure up extra living space out of thin air. The answer to the scarcity of building plots in the capital could be right in front of our eyes if we only look up.

It’s estimated that there is space for 41,000 new dwellings in London’s Zone 1 alone if we build on top of suitable buildings and that airspace development could create as many as 180,000 new homes across London. ​​And the good news is that recent changes to planning laws make building up, rather than out, more simple than it’s been before.

If you are a property owner and your building meets certain criteria, you do not need planning permission to add up to two additional floors on the roof of your building. Even if your property doesn’t meet the criteria, this isn’t to say it’s not suitable for airspace development – it just means you’ll need to go down the formal planning route.

Protecting green spaces

Green spaces within a city like London are essential for quality of life and well-being. Airspace development helps preserve green space within the city by building on what’s called greyfield sites (a relatively new term, added to the more familiar ‘greenfield’ or ‘brownfield’ sites).

In the UK, the term ‘greyfield’ applies specifically to buildings and land in towns and cities that are underused and could be intensified by the addition of rooftop developments (in the case of an existing building) or ‘airspace’ developments (above an existing car park, for example).

It’s easy to understand the appeal of making the most of underused real estate as an alternative to reducing green space within or on the outskirts of London. But as well as preserving the green lungs in and around the city, building on top of existing buildings has other environmental and sustainable advantages. Let’s look at a few.

Extending the life of buildings

Airspace development can extend the life of old buildings that are worn out and behind the times. With airspace development, buildings can be given a new lease of life through these improvements:

  • A new facade
  • Improved communal areas
  • Better safety, lighting and accessibility
  • Increased energy efficiency
  • A new roof with a 20-year guarantee.

All these changes can update a building, add value to the properties already there, and prevent buildings from falling further into disrepair. Buildings need TLC just like humans do, and an airspace development can provide the injection of money that’s required to undertake structural changes and other upgrades.

Unused and under-used buildings aren’t good for neighbourhoods. If things go too far the building can be at risk of being pulled down, but this has a knock-on effect on the environment.

Demolition isn’t the answer

Demolishing buildings is bad for the environment, a group of leading architects claims. And MPs have said that knocking down old buildings and rebuilding them adds to climate change.

Demolishing and rebuilding creates double emissions by necessitating the manufacture of two lots of construction materials. Airspace construction breaks this cycle by rejuvenating buildings and providing space for new homes at the same time.

Reusing buildings can significantly reduce the environmental impact associated with construction. Demolition and rebuilding typically require substantial amounts of raw materials, energy, and water, contributing to pollution and carbon emissions.

Preventing demolition isn’t the only way that airspace construction gets green points. Rooftop homes can come with a lower carbon footprint because of the methods used in construction.

Sustainable construction methods

Construction can take its toll on the environment. The UK Green Building Council says the construction sector uses more than 400 million tons of material a year. According to some studies, construction is responsible for up to 40% of worldwide energy usage. It also impacts landfills and air, water, and noise pollution.

Ethical home building aims to minimise the ecological impact of construction by using renewable energy sources, sustainable building materials and energy-efficient tools and methods. Airspace development uses off-site construction, which reduces the carbon footprint of the building when compared with traditional construction methods.

These are some of the materials used in off-site construction of the homes Upspace builds, which provide energy-saving advantages.

  • Structural insulated panels (SIPs) — SIPs consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, such as an oriented strand board (OSB). SIPs can be used for almost any building design, providing a strong, energy-efficient and cost-effective building solution.
  • Cross laminated timber (CLT) – CLT is one of the leading renewable, low-carbon building materials, providing a cost-effective, sustainable and strong alternative to steel or concrete beams.
  • Light gauge steel frame construction — Used for a wide range of constructions, including hybrid builds using timber or other materials.
  • Pre-cast concrete – A good solution for quick installation, and can vastly reduce the amount of onsite waste.

In addition, off-site construction is done in factory conditions and can make use of recycling and renewable energy sources more readily. It speeds up the time spent on construction too, reducing noise and dust pollution and cutting carbon emissions.

Reduced construction time

There are significant time savings to be made with an offsite build in comparison to traditional onsite construction methods – typically 30% to 50%. At Upspace our build time for rooftop construction projects is normally between 6 to 8 months, though this can vary depending on the project.

As an example of the difference that off-site construction can make to construction times, the Stack Apartments in Manhattan, New York’s first building made entirely of modular units, was erected in just 19 days following the modules’ shipment to the site after their construction in Pennsylvania.

Inclusive buildings

Airspace housing can prioritise accessibility and adaptability, using design solutions to create inclusive housing that is supportive of a range of residents.

Community engagement can also be an important aspect of rooftop housing projects too, inviting input from existing residents during the planning and development stages. This participatory approach means communities can have a say in the development.


One aspect of ethical housing where airspace can still fall short is affordability. This is because of the challenges of the construction site itself – on the rooftops – which calls for specialist equipment and techniques. Off-site construction may be speedy but as of yet it is not a cheap building solution.

But by opening up unused space in London for new homes, airspace construction brings so many ethical solutions to the capital’s housing shortage, that perhaps it’s not surprising that it doesn’t tick every box. Cutting corners to save money on airspace construction isn’t an option for responsible and professional airspace developers like Upspace.

We are one of the founding members of the industry body ARAD, the Association of Rooftop and Airspace Development, aimed at establishing and upholding standards within this relatively new area of property development.

Work with us

Upspace are award-winning developers in London with a portfolio of high-quality airspace projects. We work with property owners to develop the space above their buildings and retain the new units for the private rental market. This gives us a long-term stake in the project and it means that quality, safety and longevity are as important to us as it is to you and the residents.

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more about partnering with us or selling an airspace lease. We are ready to lead you into this exciting new phase of residential property development.

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