University of Cambridge > > Sustainability in the Built Environment (GreenBRIDGE) > Conservation + Sustainability: Can Conservation and Retrofits Work Together?

Conservation + Sustainability: Can Conservation and Retrofits Work Together?

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Complimentary tea coffee and biscuits will be served


Sustainability is related to conservation in a broader ecological sense. It is often said by conservationists that the greenest building is the one that is already built, as this accounts for the massive amount of embodied energy that went into its construction.

The difficulty comes in that modern services applied to listed buildings can cause deterioration of the historic structures, as they may create climatic conditions and variations of temperature and humidity, which fail to maintain the equilibrium in which ambient environment conditions and structural elements or artworks usually are. On the other hand, buildings are responsible for 40% – 50% of the national primary energy consumption in UK, most of which is used to satisfy needs for lighting, heating and cooling. When considering roadmaps to 2050 reduction emissions targets, it is critical to note that most of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 are standing today which prioritises retrofit issues over new construction. Buildings with specific aesthetical, social and historical value should be preserved and reconditioned in order to be more environmental friendly and adapt to modern world’s demand for limiting future climate change, but how can this be done without jeopardising the very qualities that make them special?

This seminar intends to encourage an interesting conversation on the relationships between sustainability, the historic environment, conservation and emission reductions. It seeks to investigate the impact of installing sustainable retrofits to old listed buildings on the conservation of historic elements and other values.

  • Nicholas Ray Architect, Nicholas Ray & Plastik Architects
  • Oliver Caroe Architect & Conservationist, Caroe Architecture Ltd & Associate of Cambridge Architectural Research
  • Magdalini Makrodimitri PhD student, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge
  • Kayla Friedman PhD student, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

Speakers’ Abstracts

Nicholas Ray: “Comfort and Sustainability”

Human behaviour will have more effect on energy efficiencies and carbon emissions than any amount of building up-grading. If we take energy issues seriously we should therefore re-examine our attitudes to comfort.

Architects need to be more self-conscious of their philosophical stance: architectural design and production is inevitably conditioned by the positions designers hold. Architects struggle to reconcile the demands of their “art” with the criteria of a world of calculation.

Neither an apparently objective position, nor an exclusively artistic attitude is helpful. The problem of balancing a respect for architectural context, and answering the understandable needs of people for enhanced comfort, while at the same time achieving measurable environmental efficiencies is endemic to contemporary practice, and this will be illustrated in a Cambridge case study.

Oliver Caroe: “Historic Environment & Climate Change issues”

Abstract TBC

Magdalini Makrodimitri: “Sustainability and Heritage Conservation: Thermal Comfort vs conservation in Historic buildings. The case of English churches”

Conservation is believed to be very closely connected to sustainable development and regeneration of urban environment. Conservation and sustainability are also related in a broader ecological sense. Conservation thus should be combined with regeneration work to improve people’s lives in several ways including the quality of local environment. This presentation looks at the issues surrounding the environmental management of listed public buildings. Historic churches are used as pilot studies to reach wider conclusions on thermal conditions and their potential improvement not only in historic churches but also in other similar historic buildings such as large hall structures.

Historic buildings’ adaptation to the modern thermal comfort requirements often raises conservation issues, due to changes in the balance of conditions occurring in the ambient internal environment, internal fabric and artefacts’ elements. This presentation aims at encouraging a discussion about the possibility of improving the thermal comfort levels in historic buildings, while reducing energy consumption.

Kayla Friedman: “The importance of existing urban buildings towards addressing climate change”

In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in towns and cities. By 2030 this number is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Indicative data suggests that in 2006, about two-thirds of the world’s energy was consumed in cities, accounting for over 70% of global GHG emissions, though only around half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. However, energy use per capita of city residents is slightly lower than the national average in the United States, the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand. By contrast, urban residents in China use almost twice as much energy per capita as the national average due to higher average incomes and better access to modern energy services. City residents consume more coal, gas, and electricity than the global average, but significantly less oil.

New York City released a study of 2005 total greenhouse gas emissions and found that 79 percent were caused by the consumption of energy by buildings in the city, in contrast to the national average of 34 percent. However, as New York has the lowest car to resident ratio of anyplace in America, it simply highlights the necessity of understanding and addressing the existing urban building stock in addressing climate change. This presentation looks at the data available regarding building energy use and cities and makes the case for the need for urgent, sensitive, and radical action in addressing the existing building stock of cities.

This talk is part of the Sustainability in the Built Environment (GreenBRIDGE) series.

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