The Building Conservation Directory 2023

53 C AT H E D R A L C O M M U N I C AT I O N S T H E B U I L D I N G C O N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C T O R Y 2 0 2 3 | C E L E B R AT I N G 3 0 Y E A R S B U I L D I N G C O N T R A C T O R S 2 TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR OLD BUILDINGS RICHARD GRIFFITHS C ONSERVATION ARCHITECTURE, or architecture for old buildings, has long been seen as the poor relation of architecture for new buildings. This is unfortunate because the challenge of working with old buildings is just as great as that of working with new buildings, or even greater, as it involves issues of memory, history and the texture of age that are absent in new buildings. It is doubly unfortunate because our legacy of old buildings is central to our sense of identity and continuity in a rapidly changing world, and the challenge of adapting them for a sustainable future is of vital importance. Sustainability was defined in the UN Brundtland report of 1987 as ‘ meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. This definition embraces the idea of heritage, those things of value and significance that we pass on to our children, our cultural heritage, our natural heritage, and our heritage of old buildings. The three pillars of sustainable development – social progress, economic well-being and environmental protection – are reflected in England’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and now form the basis of its national development policy. Old buildings can contribute to all three pillars, as the focal points for community life, for viable economic life and for the protection and enhancement of the environment. Environmental threats are now extreme owing to global warming and climate change, particularly to the natural environment, but also to the historic environment, owing to increasingly serious storms and floods. Old buildings must play their part in responding to this challenge. EMBODIED CARBON IN OLD BUILDINGS Discussion about the carbon footprint of buildings has been bedevilled by the emphasis on carbon in use, the revenue side of the carbon equation. This implies that existing buildings, which cannot perform as efficiently as building designed to the latest Building Regulations, or beyond that to Passiv Haus and carbon neutral standards, can be replaced unless they are protected as heritage assets. Yet the demolition of any building implies throwing away the embodied carbon contained in its fabric, in its materials and in its construction. Historic England research has found that the embodied carbon in commercial buildings can equate to a third of its lifetime production of greenhouse gases, and as much as a half in the case of many modern houses. The emphasis on revenue carbon cost reaches extraordinary heights in the case of the Bloomberg building in the City of London, which has impeccable credentials for its revenue carbon generation, albeit at the expense of the most extravagant capital costs both financially and in terms of the embodied Memory, history and the texture of age are priceless components of old buildings and historic places. (Photo: Jonathan Taylor)