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LESSONS OF THE PAST Only by mastering the methods used to construct our historic buildings, can we hope to equip them for use by future generations

Photography Mary Beth Koeth and Sam Christmas Words Simon Creasey

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othing could have prepared residents of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for what greeted them on the morning of 27 July 2008. For inching slowly through the streets was a 92-year-old, two-bed cottage. Annie Beck House was being towed four miles across town to a new plot of land in a city park, in a desperate attempt to preserve the property. The eight-hour journey it required is an extreme example of the lengths to which people go to ensure old buildings survive, but it is by no means an isolated one. As available land in the world’s most desirable cities becomes ever more scarce, developers are under greater pressure to think of new ways of breathing new life into old buildings, while ensuring they meet today’s strict environmental standards. But this, as John Edwards FRICS explains, is easier said than done. “People just don’t know enough about traditional buildings to make them more energy efficient and sustainable.” Edwards is a director at Cardiff-based Edwards Hart Consultants, and runs a training course on how to retrofit older properties.“We’ve been treating old buildings for many decades as if they were modern

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structures,”he says.“People need to properly understand traditional buildings in the first place and understand their pathology.” This general lack of understanding means that many old buildings have been interfered with to their detriment, Edwards adds.“You have things like concrete floors being put in where there used to be timber. You have ground levels outside that have risen up the height of the internal floors, which is too high and you’ve got cement rendering on the outside. These are all the sorts of things that promote internal dampness.” His concerns are shared by members of the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), a coalition of UK landlords who are working together to improve the sustainability of existing commercial properties. Christopher Botten, programme manager at BBP, says members are aware that some of the retrofits that have taken place over the last few years have not delivered the kind of energy savings expected. “We have modern ways of constructing buildings, but we have a lot of historic buildings that are completely different in terms of how they were designed, the type of materials used and how they actually perform as buildings. Our level of understanding and skills has disappeared as we’ve developed more modern methods of construction,” he says. In an effort to reverse this trend, the BBP intends to hold a workshop, during which members will explore ideas and techniques that will help to close the energy performance gap between historic and modern buildings. “It’s all about how can we re-skill the industry in how to best adapt this historic set of buildings,” says Botten, “without fundamentally damaging them, and ensuring that they’re actually fit for purpose in the coming years.” The problems the BBP has identified are all too familiar to Lynda Jubb FRICS, director of Jubb & Jubb and Chair of the RICS Building Conservation Forum. Jubb’s firm is one of the few in the UK whose sole focus is on how to deal with historic buildings. She advises that, when tackling projects of this nature, it is vitally important that developers who have no knowledge of traditional building techniques and materials appoint specialist advisers, because sometimes enhancing the performance of older stock requires the use of non-standard approaches. »

RICS Modus, Global edition — June 2016  

#RICSModus, June 2016 — the CASH issue. In order to keep global warming to below two degrees, the built environment sector needs to reduce i...

RICS Modus, Global edition — June 2016  

#RICSModus, June 2016 — the CASH issue. In order to keep global warming to below two degrees, the built environment sector needs to reduce i...