Guest editorial

Structural Survey

ISSN: 0263-080X

Article publication date: 6 July 2012


Wilkinson, S.J. (2012), "Guest editorial", Structural Survey, Vol. 30 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Structural Survey, Volume 30, Issue 3.

About the Guest Editor Sara J. Wilkinson is a Fellow of RICS qualifying as a Chartered Building Surveyor, with more than 27 years professional practice, academic and research experience. Her specific research interest has focused on building adaptation since 1997. She has worked on a number of funded research projects with UK and international academics and practitioners and her personal research interests revolve around sustainability and existing buildings. She has a strong commitment to real-world research with practical outcomes communicated to practitioners as well as publication within academic spheres. Sara is on the editorial boards of three international refereed journals. She is one of the series editors for the Wiley-Blackwells RICS Research Innovation in the Built Environment book series. Sara is the Vice-Chair of the FIG Commission 10 on Construction Management and Construction Economics. Sara is an active member of the RICS Oceania Sustainability Working Group which organises CPD and dissemination of cutting edge research into sustainability and the built environment. She is a member of the RICS NSW committee and the RICS Oceania Education Standards Board. Sara is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

This special issue of Structural Survey highlights the issues surrounding the relationship between sustainability and building adaptation.

Why is building adaptation of overriding importance? It is said that we already have 40 per cent of the buildings that will be around in 2050 and this is the inheritance we will pass onto the generations to come. It is not a particularly good inheritance in some respects; that is unless we adapt this stock to reduce the overall environmental footprint. The overwhelming majority of this stock was designed and built without any consideration of sustainability. However, what does “sustainability” mean? As a rule, our reference point is rooted in the definition of sustainable development set out in Our Common Future (WCED, 1987) which implies that the present needs of society are to be met without irreversible damage to the environment, thereby compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A sustainable approach recognises the inextricable relationship between the environment, society and the economy; however, getting the balance right represents one of humankind's most significant challenges.

In the context of the built environment, the philosophical line of reasoning is that unless our building stock connects with the wider environment, and engages with economic and social issues, it cannot be successful in the context of sustainability. Thus the notion of sustainability is accepted as being of great consequence to building adaptation, and equally, building adaptation to sustainability, but how can this be translated in a more meaningful way? How can we fully understand and translate the requirements of building adaptation to realising sustainability? Some tentative ways of moving towards this achievement is the quintessence of the papers in this special issue.

In their paper “Adapting from glorious past to uncertain future”, Brian Wood and Max Muncaster evaluate existing building stock with respect to its contribution to a changing and uncertain future, especially in relation to energy performance. The focus is UK housing and the literature related to existing buildings, climate change and future environmental needs are critiqued to illustrate the inadequacies and scope for improvements. The conclusions, that existing UK policies and programmes are inadequate to the scope and scale of the task; and that a step change in thought and practice is needed, highlights the need for a more radical change. An extensive adaptation programme is called for if existing buildings are to be adapted to meet identified environmental standards to “save the planet”; and a far-reaching rethink of building adaptation is warranted.

Nico Nieboer, Robert Kroese and Ad Straub examine several ways in which Dutch social landlords incorporate energy saving policies in their “regular” housing management, such as planned preventive maintenance, renovations and other physical improvements in their paper, “Embedding energy saving policies in Dutch social housing”. Using a case study approach several housing associations having energy saving policy were selected. Interviews were held with asset and maintenance managers and with policy staff. The extent to which the policy ambitions, at the portfolio and at the project level were carried out, and in which way these ambitions were embedded in the organisations’ regular working processes were investigated. The findings showed that implementing energy saving policies in annual improvement and maintenance plans is largely not a problem, but that the significant problems can arise during the realisation of the policies in the preparation of specific investment projects.

At a micro level Joanne Hopper et al. demonstrate the methodology and results of using thermography for pre-retrofit and post-retrofit surveys undertaken to qualitatively assess retrofitted external wall insulation on pre-1919 existing dwellings with solid exterior walls in Swansea, Wales. A case study methodology is adopted. Two case studies provide evidence of potential thermal bridges created as the result of an incomplete covering of external wall insulation. Whilst overall heat loss appeared lower, further evidence is needed to establish to what extent thermal bridges reduce overall thermal performance. Further research is required to assess the long-term implications of thermal bridges on the condition of the dwelling and the health of occupants. This paper demonstrates a visual method for illustrating problems in retrofitting external wall insulation and highlights improvements in thermal performance, which can be used by stakeholders involved in the maintenance and improvement of existing dwellings.

Staying with the retrofit on housing, but this time north of the Scottish border; Phil Banfill, Sophie Simpson, Victoria Haines and Becky Mallaband examine “Energy-led retrofitting of solid wall dwellings – technical and user perspectives on airtightness”. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery is being promoted in the UK as a way to reduce dwelling-related CO2 emissions. However, the airtightness of a dwelling is crucial to the achievement of CO2 reductions, and this research aimed to understand the technical implications of airtightness levels in adwelling, purpose built to 1930s standards, at the same time as gaining the users’ perspectives on airtightness and ventilation in their homes. The team found that air permeability must be reduced below 5 m3/m2 h for mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to make an overall energy and CO2 saving. However, to achieve this required a level of disruption that would be unlikely to be tolerated by homeowners. The paper is the first to combine results from a user-centred approach to exploring the existing practices of householders with a simulation of the energy and CO2 performance at different levels of airtightness of an experimental house in which mechanical ventilation with heat recovery has been installed. This paper was presented with an award by Structural Survey at the 2011 RICS COBRA Conference held at the University of Salford, UK.

The final paper, “Restoration of Town Hall in Kolkata for adaptive reuse: a case study”, by Shivashish Bose examines practical conservation issues faced in the adaptation of heritage buildings in Kolkata, India. Heritage stock has high levels of embodied energy and is often inherently sustainable as natural and local materials are often specified. They also embody high levels of social and cultural value for the community. In this case study it was necessary to undertake structural strengthening and physical restoration, and reinstall all the services. After which the building was reopened for public use. The project was a pilot for the state administration and people of Kolkata. After this project, the conservation of historic buildings became an issue on the agendas of government and civil society. The lessons learned here were applied to the restoration of other similar buildings in Kolkata and demonstrate a way in which sustainability can be integrated within heritage buildings.

Building adaptation is an essential and integral component of sustainability. Our global building stock exists in all manner of shapes, sizes, locations, physical conditions. The papers in this issue show that in many cases some progress is being made but that there is still a long road for us to travel to our goal of sustainability. We should be inspired to make the journey and must remember that even the longest journey starts with a single step.

Sara J. WilkinsonGuest Editor


WCED (1987), Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford