The Aesthetics of Energy Efficient Retrofit: Post-War Social Residential Towers in Britain
The Balfron Tower
Copyright: Will Faichney Photography
According to the UK’s Carbon Plan, greenhouse gas emissions in Britain must be reduced by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This measure is having a great impact on the design of present and future buildings, but is particularly critical as a catalyst for the regeneration of existing buildings, since refurbishing rather than building anew saves more carbon. High-rise concrete tower-blocks offer some of the best candidates for an energy efficient upgrade. They presented a structural vulnerability to cold, draughts and damp, becoming unaffordable to heat, unattractive to view and undesirable to occupy. Social housing towers play a key role in British post-war architectural heritage – a role that should be recognised and preserved. However, in the present circumstances, many of them are socially stigmatised and in a critically poor technical condition, leading to abandonment or demolition.
It is estimated that there are 3,500 residential tower-blocks in the UK that are taller than ten storeys. As there is usually one freeholder - a local authority or a social landlord - then interventions can be done as part of a comprehensive programme, providing economies of scale that are harder to achieve in owner occupied properties. An ecological retrofit appears to be a valid strategy to update their energy and technical performance, increase their attractiveness, and provide a positive sense of wellbeing and safety for tenants and landlords.
In that spectrum, there is an increasing number of governmental programmes all over Britain, where social housing associations, city councils, architects, building contractors and manufacturers taking initiatives towards ecological upgrades. However, most of these initiatives adopt environmental strategies that lack an understanding of the architectural heritage of the towers. They appear as a collection of individual attempts, often disregarding an integral approach in terms of aesthetics and design concept, thereby proving to be an unsustainable methodology. Since the process of ecological upgrade has already started, it is a key moment to re-inform it so as to prevent post-war social high-rise housing from massive identity and integrity loss. The key objective of this study is to compile, analyse and categorise the intervention data for a paradigmatic selection of retrofitted social high-rise housing in England.
Asterios Agkathidis studied architecture in the AU Thessalonica and the RWTH Aachen, completing his postgraduate studies in Advanced Architectural Design at the Staedelschule Architecture Class (Frankfurt). He became partner at b&k+ (Cologne), then worked for VMX Architects (Amsterdam). He later founded the architecture and research laboratory a3lab Frankfurt-Thessaloniki and has been planning and realizing projects around the world since then. His work has been published, awarded and exhibited widely. His teaching and lecturing experiences include AdbK Nuremberg, TU Darmstadt, AU Thessalonica, University of Thessaly, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia, Columbia University and the Staedelschule Architecture Class. He was visiting assistant professor at the Lebanese American University and senior lecturer at Raffles Design Institute Shanghai. Today he holds a Lectureship in Digital Architecture at the University of Liverpool. He recently published his 5th book "Computational Architecture" distributed globally by BIS publishers (Amsterdam) and Page One.
web site: www.a3lab.org
Dr. Rosa Urbano has been working on sustainable architectural design through the exploration of emergent materials and technologies for the past ten years. Her work has been funded by institutions like Fulbright, Fondation Le Corbusier or Harvard Real Colegio Complutense, and industrial partners like Guardian Glass or the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association. Rosa studied and researched in the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is presently Lecturer in Architecture and Head of the Emergent Ceramics Laboratory at the Liverpool School of Architecture. Her book Elements of Sustainable Architecture will be published by Laurence King Publishing in 2015.
web site can be found here