Retrofit: verb., the addition of new technology or features to older systems.
Reimagine: verb., the reinterpret; imaginatively; creatively; resourcefully.
Colleagues will know how frequently I mention John Christopher’s Zero Carbon House, located in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. A stunning juxtaposition of new and old that sees an architecturally designed extension reach upwards and outwards in the otherwise Victorian street scene. Inside is more modest to allow shape and light to form the spaces, its beautiful, calming and zero carbon.
Zero Carbon House is the UK’s first zero carbon retrofit and the only existing house to have been upgraded to achieve Level 6 of the original UK Code for Sustainable Homes. That this retrofit was almost 15 years ago proves how long the technology and know-how has existed so why are we only seeing a trickle rather than a tidal wave of retrofits?
On 16th July, ethical partnership attended Day 3 of Retrofit Reimagined in Birmingham to explore existing and emerging retrofit practice. Co-created by Civic Square, Dark Matter Labs, Centric Lab, Architects Climate Action Network and Zero Carbon House the event over four days bought together voices to exchange and share ideas and experiences of retrofit framed within an emerging paradigm:
What if our national retrofit strategy was developed from the ground-up: as a creative, collective, and courageous model rooted in deep reskilling, emergent hyper-local roles, and the civic infrastructure to enable this?
Chris Carus (Loco Home Retrofit) Sal Wilson and David Powis (HEAL) and Jonathan Atkinson (People Powered Retrofit) provided tales from the kitchen table, of the continued struggle to transition together and scale retrofit, of resilience, of shaking away pragmatism and honest contextualising of the challenges faced.
This was followed by a presentation by Scott McAuley (Anthropocene Architecture School) that was both despairing and encouraging at the same time. Scott is a small pebble making ripples in a big pond, he talked about his work to address the fundamental lack of climate literacy in education both in terms of awareness and practical response.
Alexa Waud (Demsoc) shared her experience of structural inequality and the resultant serious systemic failures in housing, energy and climate citing the Grenfell Tower disaster. Kamran Shezad (Bahu Trust) joined as a guest speaker to talk about reaching out across the societal spectrum and the role that faith groups can play in providing a civic infrastructure.
Nidhi Shah (RAFT) provided some examples of retrofit in practice in the context of schools, their approach to education and engagement of a new generation, and how they are able to quantify and understand the metric of change.
The afternoon closed with a community-based discussion, with comments from Salma Yacoob. Framed in the context of innercity Birmingham they shared the lived experience of starting a dialogue with neighbours about retrofit. Link Road, Birmingham, is home to a diverse and multicultural community with housing in different ownerships and conditions. I was reminded of Jonathan Atkinson’s earlier remarks about the importance of time to reflect. The message was to listen, to understand, to learn, to protect core characteristics and values, to respect each other and to take a place-based approach to climate action. As one member of the audience summarised to ‘Catch the dream (retrofit) and move with it (reimagine)’.
The RTPI similarly recognises that plans to make homes, schools and hospitals ‘greener, warmers and more energy efficient,’ have been largely unaddressed to date and is a major challenge requiring a stronger regulatory frameworks, with powers for resources for local authorities.
At ethical partnership, we are proud to support schemes that support proactive retrofit. Currently, we are working on an ever-increasing number of projects that utilise retrofitting linked to renewable energy and are excited to see the sector moving in the right direction.
With such as vast range of experience and skills, no planning consultancy is better suited to tackle the issues surrounding climate change and moving towards net zero as we are. We are happy to work with local authorities, developers and private clients to ensure that all elements of the planning process make the essential impact to meet our net zero targets.