Your support will strengthen our campaign demands in tax, policy and procurement when we present them to government, says Emily Booth
RetroFirst Logos 2019 3
‘The greenest building is the one that already exists.’ So said Carl Elefante, former president of the American Institute of Architects – and what a fitting quote to put on the cover of this special issue of the AJ.
If there’s one substantial thing architects can do to help mitigate the climate crisis, it is to put retrofit first. To work, where possible, with what’s already in our built world.
Architects have such an important role to play here. In Rob Wilson’s insightful interview with Maarten Gielen, one of the co-founders of Rotor, a Brussels-based design practice which champions the reuse of construction materials, Gielen enthuses: ‘Architects are already key figures in the material economy. They make decisions on how vast sums of money are being transformed into huge volumes of materials.
‘They have a big influence on mining, extraction and forestry, even though they are not directly involved in it. It is just part of the architectural practice that is under-theorised and under-recognised.’
Even choosing a different colour of tile – which can seem so inconsequential, like buying this coat rather than that one – might mean significant differences in environmental impact. To add something to a building means to subtract material from somewhere else. To demolish a building and then to rebuild in its place is to subtract and subtract again, often unnecessarily. So it’s right to explore more light-touch alternatives.
The clothes analogy is an interesting one. Just like fashion (where the problems of fast production are well documented) each one of these decisions in approach and specification has consequences.
Historic England, which has joined our call for VAT on retrofit and revamp work to be slashed, is keen to end the ‘fast fashion for buildings’ and has published new research into the embodied carbon of the nation’s built heritage – encouraging retrofitting of existing stock instead.
If the government really wants to ‘level up’ the country, it could start here
It argues, for instance, that underused or abandoned textile mills in West Yorkshire alone could be overhauled and converted into more than 11,000 new homes. If the government really wants to ‘level up’ the country, it could start here.
Just over five months ago the AJ launched its RetroFirst campaign, and what a response we’ve had so far. On top of fulsome support from myriad brilliant architecture practices, we’re delighted to have received the backing of individuals such as George Clarke, clients such as British Land and engineers such as Hoare Lea. (It’s a growing list, so please do visit our website for the latest updates.) Our thanks to you all.
In this week’s print edition of the AJ you’ll find a poster like the one on the AJ cover which you can cut out and keep – and perhaps post in your office window or on your office wall. Please do tweet about it using #RetroFirst. Your support will strengthen our campaign demands in tax, policy and procurement when we present them to government. We’ll keep you posted.
Retrofirst cover landscape
Source: Ben Blossom
Great quote by Carl Elefante, former president of the American Institute of Architects. Our #retrofirst poster takes pride of place! Thanks @architects journal #historicengland #retrofirst ##peakarchitects #sheffield #riba #residentialarchitecture #commercialarchitecture #sheffieldarchitecture #peakpark #planning #listedbuildings #southyorkshire #sustainablearchitecture #derbyshire #eastmidlands #cheshire #cheshirearchitects #ribacharteredpractice