Retrofit 24 – the reuse agenda 

Hazel Davis discovers a new exhibition from The Building Centre – Retrofit 24 – which aims to expand on the imperative to retrofit commercial, cultural and civic buildings.

Sustainability and environmental consciousness are at the forefront of global discussions – and retrofitting existing buildings is a key strategy for achieving net-zero carbon emissions. 

Retrofit 24 aims to expand on the imperative to retrofit commercial, cultural and civic buildings to meet the ambitious climate goals. Leading thinkers and practitioners from across the built environment sector are coming together for a series of events taking place until 30 August. 

The fact is that the commercial buildings category encompasses a huge range of needs and uses. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Arts and culture spaces need to be accessible to a wide range of users as well as the workforce using them. Moreover, they’re often in culturally significant buildings, which brings with it a whole host of challenges. Likewise, schools bring their own challenges in terms of timing, budget and occupational needs. 

The talks programme covers topics such as the role of product and design innovation in retrofitting at scale, collaboration between landlords, developers and occupiers, how data can help to identify solutions and the role of public sector retrofitting in enhancing civic pride and cultural heritage. Retrofit Meets: Schools, the first in the series of events, was a multi- perspective discussion on the opportunities and challenges of retrofitting primary and secondary schools.

Retrofit 24 builds upon the success of its predecessor, Retrofit 23, which focused on residential retrofitting. With an estimated 28m homes in need of retrofitting to achieve net-zero emissions, the urgency is clear. John Bonning, commercial director of the Building Centre and the Built Environment Trust, explains, “Last year looked at residential retrofitting, and the need to retrofit the estimated 28 million houses out there in order to get to net-zero.” He adds, “it’s such a big subject area and such an important area to address.”

The exhibition showcases a diverse array of case studies, ranging from commercial office fit-outs to the conversion of heritage buildings into multifunctional spaces. One notable example is the Fleetwood Community Hub, a Victorian building repurposed into a dynamic community space. “We really wanted to tell the story of how you go about retrofitting these types of buildings and the considerations that you have to give,” Bonning says.

Building transformation

From light retrofits, such as LED lighting installations, to deep retrofits involving comprehensive structural and energy system upgrades, Retrofit 24 covers the spectrum of interventions necessary for sustainable building transformation. Bonning says, “So a light retrofit could be anything from just changing the lighting into LEDs, right through to a deep retrofit, where you’d be looking at everything from the heat sources, through to the insulation through to the lighting, building management performance and much more.”

Collaboration has emerged as a key theme of this year’s exhibition. “It’s the way forward,” Bonning says, “Some groups are better than others at collaborating and working together, but I think the sharing of information is particularly important when you’re looking at a subject such as retrofitting.” And a retrofit is about much more than sustainability: “It’s also about making spaces that people want to live and work in.”

Retrofit 24 is also offering a platform for knowledge exchange and celebration of innovation, serving to address scepticism or reluctance around retrofitting efforts and building confidence among stakeholders. Says Bonning: “We want to celebrate some of the success stories out there and really show others what can be achieved.”

The challenges of retrofitting extend beyond technical complexities. Of course, there are financial considerations, workforce shortages and community engagement to contend with and these are some of the issues discussed in the exhibition’s events. There is a real need for innovative financing mechanisms and workforce development initiatives. “Finance is a huge issue, especially when you’re talking about residential retrofitting,” Bonning says, “and there’s not enough trained workforce to carry out the work either.” 

Bonning hopes that Retrofit 24 is part of a broader vision from the centre and from the industry for sustained engagement and action. “More and more people are talking about it, which is great, because that’s what we need to achieve,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to mobilise collective efforts towards a more sustainable built environment – sustainability is not just a buzzword; it’s a pressing reality we must confront.”

Find out more about retrofit solutions at InstallerSHOW 2024, running 25 to 27 June at the NEC. It is free to attend, including parking. Register for FREE tickets here: