Last edited 07 Aug 2017

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

A world perspective on retrofit

This article originally appeared in IHBC's Context 149, published in May 2017. It was written by Peter Cox, president of ISCES+CC, ICOMOS International.


The ICOMOS international scientific committee on climate change feels that the wholesale retrofitting of the existing building stock is a major threat to historic buildings.

ICOMOS (International Scientific Council for Monuments and Sites) has 29 international scientific committees (ISC), tackling such issues as underwater archaeology and the theory of conservation. The ISCES+CC is the International Scientific Committee on Energy, Sustainability and Climate Change. It was first mooted at the ICOMOS meeting in Dublin in 2010, presented to the General Assembly in Paris in 2011 and ratified as a full ISC at the meeting in Beijing in 2012.

At present the committee has 56 international members from 29 countries spread well around the world. It has three very active mirror national scientific committees (NSC) in Ireland, Australia and Canada. These are working to set up new NSCs in Belgium, the UK and France.

While ISCES+CC has a wide remit, it has concentrated on the energy efficiency of traditional buildings, as the committee feels that the wholesale retrofitting of our existing building stock is a major threat to traditional and historic buildings. With most governments signing up to the Paris Agreement, there is a drive to reduce primary energy and carbon dioxide emissions, and much of the so-called low-hanging fruit is deemed to be our housing stock.

The research carried out by the committee is showing that there are several flaws in the way in which most countries are going about this. The committee believes that these flaws will lead to serious mistakes being made that will have a detrimental effect on the traditional and historic building stock, while failing to meet the energy efficient target it wished for.

The committee is working with a range of institutions across Europe on research in the area of energy performance of traditional and historic buildings. It is working with governments and state agencies to influence policy and implementation of the retrofit programmes, and with manufacturers to encourage them to look at existing products that are being used but are totally incompatible with breathable buildings. One of the great challenges is to educate and inform owners, authorities and specifiers about the need to fully understand the existing performance of such types, and the flexibility and sensibilities required to successfully retrofit a traditional or historic structure.

The Irish NSCES+CC ran a pilot colloquium earlier this year (2017) at which it invited a high-level audience from state, legislative and other authorities to encourage them to consider this dilemma. That model can be rolled out through ICOMOS national committees and the international scientific committee.

Seventy million dwellings in the 28 countries of Europe were constructed before 1960. This represents 34 per cent of our built environment. Only eight per cent of these dwellings have statutory protection, which leaves 65 million traditional and historic buildings at risk of damaging retrofitting in the name of sustainability.

With the major aim of the committee being to correlate all research in this area, the website will host a depository for all international research and discussion papers.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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