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Retrofit empty homes and bring them into use, says new RetroFirst backer

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The boss of turnkey development specialist Project Etopia has said hundreds of thousands of empty properties in England could help tackle the housing and climate crises, as Arup and Stanton Williams also voice support for the AJ campaign

Joseph Daniels, founder and chief executive of Project Etopia, said the government would be eager to stimulate the property market as soon as possible following lockdown.

He suggested this could be combined with tackling both the housing and climate crises by retrofitting empty homes and making them available to key workers.

Project Etopia, a tech firm specialising in low-carbon construction and backed by property investors such as the Reuben brothers, is one of several new RetroFirst signatories including Stirling Prize-winner Stanton Williams, Studio Egret West, Fletcher Priest and Arup.

Recently released figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) showed that the number of long-term vacant properties in England rose 4.5 per cent to 225,845 in the 12 months to October 2019, equating to £57 billion-worth of vacant stock.

Daniels told the AJ: ‘The government could approach individuals who have these homes and put a time limit on how long they can be empty.’

He added that ultimately such properties should be made available to key workers with rent set ‘by what the market can afford in terms of salaries’.

Project Etopia, which is chaired by hedge fund manager and Conservative peer Stanley Fink, has built dozens of modular low-energy homes in Corby and is seeking to expand rapidly and emulate major tech firms such as Tesla.

Daniels suggested that emerging renewables technology could slash a home’s emissions and could be paid off over the long term by being attached to mortgages.

‘If someone buys a home they should get Stamp Duty relief to allow them to retrofit it,’ he added.

‘It’s sensible not to knock down structurally sound buildings and, if the tech is there to repurpose them, why not do it?’

Arup – which has done extensive research on the circular economy and is working with British Land on the £200 million 1 Triton Square redevelopment – said it was endorsing the RetroFirst campaign as this could help spark ‘change on a dramatic scale’.

Arup Architecture director Nick Jackson said: ‘The government and the built environment industry need to collectively support the reuse of existing buildings wherever possible.

‘With industry-wide collaboration and a radically different mindset, the opportunities to re-design and re-engineer great buildings that drive down embodied carbon and embrace circular economy principles, are limitless.’

Stanton Williams – which won the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize for its Sanisbury Laboratory at Cambridge University – said it firmly supported RetroFirst, having been a founding signatory of the Architects Declare manifesto last May.

Principal director Patrick Richard said: ‘Calling for pressing reforms in tax, policy and procurement in order to encourage the responsible reuse and reimagining of existing fabric is an important step in fostering regenerative practices and imaginative thinking in order to mitigate the climate crisis.

‘As a practice we are known for our work with existing buildings, the most sustainable way to create new spaces.

‘Reusing and rethinking space for us is the basis of a wider philosophy – it is about considering future users and scenarios, building in flexibility and adaptability – both spatial and social, and responsibly using the resources and opportunities we are presented with as architects.’

How you can get involved

Follow the progress of RetroFirst using #retrofirst on social media
Contact us at retrofirst@emap.com to back the campaign

RetroFirst campaign supporters

Built environment companies and organisations

  • 44 Consult
  • Anthropocene Architecture School
  • Architects’ Climate Action Network (ACAN)
  • Arup
  • Bath School of Design, Bath Spa University
  • British Land
  • Canary Wharf Group
  • Capital + Centric
  • Chapmanbdsp
  • Crosstree
  • Cundall
  • Edinburgh World Heritage
  • First Base
  • FORE
  • Hearth Historic Buildings Trust
  • Historic Environment Scotland
  • Hoare Lea
  • Jensen Hunt Design
  • London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB)
  • Mann Williams
  • Max Fordham
  • MultiLateral Structural Design 
  • New York University, London
  • Paradigm Land
  • Pavehall PLC
  • Price & Myers
  • Priestley Construction
  • Project Etopia
  • RIBA
  • RICS
  • SAVE Britain’s Heritage
  • Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)
  • Spenbeck
  • Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA)
  • Trilogy Real Estate
  • The Twentieth Century Society
  • The Victorian Society
  • U+I
  • UK Green Building Council
  • Urban Splash
  • Useful Simple Trust
  • WSP

Architecture practices

  • 3D Reid
  • 5th Studio
  • 50.8 Architecture & Interiors
  • AAB Architects
  • aad architects
  • ADP Architecture
  • Alison Brooks Architects
  • alma-nac
  • Amos Goldreich Architecture
  • Andris Berzins + Associates
  • Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM)
  • Allies and Morrison
  • Architectural Emporium
  • Architectural Thread
  • Architecture for London
  • Architecture Initiative
  • Architype
  • Aros Architects
  • Assael Architecture
  • Assorted Skills + Talents*
  • Atelier; Helen Brooks Architects
  • AWW
  • Barr Gazetas
  • BBM Sustainable Design
  • Belsize Architects
  • Ben Adams Architects
  • Benjamin Tindall Architects
  • Bennetts Associates
  • Boano Prišmontas
  • Brimelow McSweeney Architects
  • Bryden Wood
  • BuckleyGrayYeoman
  • Buttress
  • Caruso St John Architects
  • Child Graddon Lewis
  • Chris Dyson Architects
  • Circle Architecture
  • Clare Nash Architecture
  • CMA
  • Colman Architects
  • Connolly Wellingham Architects
  • Cousins and Cousins
  • Curl La Tourelle Head Architecture
  • Daria Wong Architects
  • Darling Associates
  • DarntonB3 Architecture
  • David Chipperfield Architects
  • Dennis Hellyar Architects
  • Devlin Architects
  • DLG Architects
  • DNA Architecture
  • Donald Insall Associates
  • Dow Jones Architects
  • Downs Merrifield Architects
  • Dress for the Weather
  • dRMM 
  • Earle Architects
  • ECD Architects
  • ECE Architecture
  • e-gg
  • EPR Architects
  • Fearn Macpherson Chartered Architects
  • Featherstone Young
  • Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
  • Feix&Merlin
  • Fletcher Priest
  • Foster + Partners
  • Freehaus
  • Gardner Stewart Architects
  • Gensler
  • Glenn Howells Architects
  • GLM
  • Goode Architecture
  • Gort Scott
  • gpad london
  • Gray Macpherson Architects
  • Grimshaw
  • Group Ginger
  • Halliday Clark Architects
  • Hawkins\Brown
  • Haworth Tompkins
  • Heatherwick Studio
  • Henley Halebrown
  • Heritage Architecture
  • Hills & Co
  • Hopkins
  • HPA Architecture
  • HÛT
  • Hutchinson & Partners
  • Ian Ritchie Architects
  • Jestico + Whiles
  • John Gilbert Architects
  • John Robertson Architects
  • Jonathan Tuckey Design
  • JTP
  • Kendall Kingscott
  • Knott Architects
  • KR.eativ: Architects 
  • Living Space Architects
  • LTS Architects
  • LYN Atelier
  • MAP Architecture
  • Märraum 
  • MawsonKerr Architects
  • MAX Architects
  • McGinlay Bell
  • McMullan Studio
  • MICA Architects
  • Mike Daubney Architects
  • Mikhail Riches
  • Morris + Company
  • Morrow + Lorraine Architects
  • Moxon Architects
  • Morse Webb Architects
  • MTBA Associates, Ottawa, Canada
  • Murphy Associates
  • Napier Clarke
  • Neu Architects
  • New Practice
  • Nicola de Quincey architecture + conservation
  • Norman-Prahm Architects
  • O’Donnell + Tuomey
  • Outpost
  • Owen Ellis Architects
  • Page\Park Architects
  • Parkes Poole Architects
  • Paul Testa Architecture
  • PDP London
  • Peak Architects
  • Penoyre & Prasad
  • Piercy & Company Architects
  • Pollard Thomas Edwards
  • PPIY Architects
  • Procter-Rihl
  • PRP
  • Purcell
  • Resi
  • RGP Architects
  • Robert Dye Architects
  • Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors
  • Robert Rowett Architectural Services
  • Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
  • Ruth Butler Architects
  • Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
  • Scott Brownrigg
  • Selencky Parsons
  • ShedKM
  • Sheppard Robson Architects 
  • Simone de Gale Architects
  • Simpson & Brown
  • Sjölander da Cruz Architects
  • Sow Space
  • Square One Architects
  • Stanton Williams
  • Stephen Taylor Architects
  • Steve Ritchie Partnership
  • Stiff + Trevillion Architects 
  • Studio Basheva
  • Studio Bednarski
  • Studio Ben Allen
  • Studio DuB
  • Studio Egret West
  • Studio Polpo
  • Studio Seilern Architects
  • Studio Van Hoorebeek
  • Syndicate West Architects
  • Tate Hindle
  • Theis and Khan Architects
  • Thomas Robinson Architects
  • Tim Greatrex Architects 
  • Tonic Architecture
  • Triangle Architects
  • Turn Architects
  • Type3 Studio
  • Ullmayer Sylvester Architects
  • Una Kaya Architects
  • Urban Fabric Architects
  • van Heyningen and Haward Architects
  • Whittaker Parsons
  • WilkinsonEyre
  • Wilson Mason
  • Witherford Watson Mann
  • Woodfield Brady Architects
  • Wren Architecture & Design
  • Zaha Hadid Architects


  • Clara Bagenal George, Elementa Consulting
  • Emma Dent Coad, former MP for Kensington
  • Julie Godefroy, sustainability consultant 
  • Loyd Grossman,  chairman of The Royal Parks
  • Kelly Harrison, Heyne Tillett Steele
  • Joe Holyoak, architect and urban designer
  • J Jeffrey Keays, senior lecturer, school of architecture design & built environment, Nottingham Trent University
  • Walter Menteth, architect and procurement reform campaigner
  • Alice Moncaster, senior lecturer at School of Engineering and Innovation at The Open University
  • Lucy Mori, architect and business consultant
  • David Ness, adjunct professor at the School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia
  • Paul O’Neil, Bryden Wood
  • Clare Richards, ft’work
  • Simon Sturgis, Targeting Zero
  • Professor Peter Walker, director of architecture and digital design, University of Salford

RetroFirst Logos 2019 3

RetroFirst Logos 2019 3  


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