New buildings are increasingly designed to mitigate the effects of climate change but historic buildings require and deserve just as much attention, says Adrian Attwood
In the aftermath of COP26, minds are focused more than ever on ways in which we, as a nation (and as a world), can drive down our carbon footprint.
Much attention has been given to how we reduce emissions to tackle the monumental task of reversing climate change. Less immediately obvious, but equally important, is how we adapt to climate change.
If we assume that global warming is inevitably set to increase, at least in the short term, with hotter summers, cooler winters and freak weather events becoming more frequent, we need to work out how we evolve as a society to live within these new, less hospitable climatic conditions.
Of course, as part of the universal aspiration to live as comfortably as possible, we must inevitably look at our built environment, its composition, how we undertake new construction, restoration and retrofit.
It can be tempting to think of this whole thing in terms of new build. Thanks to manufacturing innovation, a good deal of positive work has been done to achieve a fabric-first approach to new stock.
Adverse weather events can significantly damage the fabric of these historic structures, from the foundations upwards
However, we must not overlook the large amount of heritage property that exists across the UK, from period housing to public buildings, landmarks and places of worship.
Many of these structures, built using traditional materials and methods many centuries ago, will need particular attention to help reduce the impact of meteorological disasters such as flooding and drought. Such adverse weather events can significantly damage the fabric of these historic structures, from the foundations upwards.
Inevitably, this requires extensive, and often costly, remediation and restoration work. In the worst cases there will be irreparable damage or collapse.
Doing the work now to prepare our national treasures will pay dividends in the future
So we need to be equipping our historic buildings now as much as future builds to withstand the elements and protect them as weather conditions change.
The good news is that the expertise for this already exists within the construction industry, and doing the work now to prepare our national treasures will pay dividends in the future. It is certainly something we at DBR recommend as part of any project we undertake.
In most cases it is relatively simple to prepare these buildings for unusual weather patterns, from increasing drainage capacity to sensitively upgrading poorly fitting windows and doors.
Importantly, we need to communicate that the way we approach climate change, particularly in construction, is a holistic one, and as much about the old as the new. Our heritage assets, from the smallest cottage to the largest palace, are vital threads in our rich architectural fabric. They need to be futureproofed as much as the shiny new, glass-clad skyscraper or the zero-carbon eco home.
Ultimately, generations to come will thank us for making the investment now to conserve our rich and diverse architectural tapestry – something which I believe we all want our descendants to enjoy to the full.
Adrian Attwood is executive director at DBR Ltd, a specialist conservation company dealing with the cleaning and repair of historic fabric and the regeneration of historic buildings