Ellis Woodman- Executive Editor
Those who argue that good design comes a poor second to sustainability are missing a key argument
I once heard Max Fordham argue that if the UK was serious about retrofitting its building stock it would need to employ the kind of legislation that had led to every window in the country being fitted with blackout blinds in the course of two weeks at the beginning of the second world war.
Such was the scale of the emergency, he claimed, that we couldn’t waste time arguing over the architectural consequences — the grade I listed facades of London’s Bedford Square should be encased in insulated render immediately.
Fordham no doubt meant his choice of example as a provocation, but his sense that architectural values should be of peripheral importance to the sustainability agenda is actually widely shared. An undertaking like the Green Deal is, for example, is being discussed almost exclusively as an exercise in energy saving and carbon reduction.
Isn’t it also, we might ask, an opportunity to improve the architectural qualities of the buildings it will address?
There is a seminar taking place at Ecobuild this Wednesday entitled A Stirling Prize for Retrofit?, which will seek to identify ways we might reclaim retrofit as an architectural operation.
Among the speakers is Simon Allford, whose practice’s Angel Building would certainly have been a front-runner had any such prize been in existence last year. AHMM’s remodelling left developer Derwent with a building not just considerably greener than the one it had bought; it also allowed it to charge a significantly higher per square metre rate.
In fact it was only by improving the building’s architectural qualities that AHMM achieved the uplift in values that made the retrofitting economically viable in the first place.
That circular logic is equally germane to the retrofitting of our housing stock. In London’s Docklands Sunand Prasad — another speaker — has led the team that retrofitted a 20-year-old terraced house as part of the Retrofit for the Future project. It was only by increasing the market value of the property that the building works proved a justifiable investment.
Sustainability is not just an environmental consideration but an economic one too. As long as architectural values are excluded from discussions around retrofit it is always going to prove difficult to give both of them the attention they demand.
For full details of A Stirling Prize for Retrofit? visit: http://www.ecobuild.co.uk/conference/programme/18/wednesday-21-march.html
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