Any architect would probably identify with the sentence attributed to Walter Gropius: “Designing means: dancing in shackles.” When it comes to renovations, the constraints are usually even tighter than when a new building is being designed; the technical requirements are more complex and there are more players involved who insist on having their say. Frequently, there is also less public recognition than for new buildings. Nevertheless, the future of building lies in renovations, which accounted for around three quarters of all investments in German housing construction in 2012. This is reason enough to dedicate an issue of DETAIL Green to the subject of conversion and renovation. In the future we are also planning to dedicate considerably more space in the magazine to this important green topic.
The examples of buildings in this issue of DETAIL Green show that energy-saving measures for buildings require far more than mere thermal insulation. The challenge often begins with the task of maintaining the usability of an old building for additional decades, thus preventing its demolition. To this end, the structural design, the floor plans, the access routes, fire protection measures, as well as many other aspects usually have to be up-dated.
It is also true however, that without any form of thermal insulation and other energy-saving measures, renovations are often wasted opportunities. During a time when the alleged disadvantages of thermal insulation are hotly debated in the German public, a statement like this may contradict mainstream opinion. Nevertheless challenges such as climate change and finite resources are not merely fantasies of politicians and ‘insulation lobbyists’. Moreover, a well-renovated old building usually consumes less than half as much energy as a building that remains unrenovated.
There is no question that energy-efficient renovation is a balancing act. All the more alarming is the way in which many people (still) define the term ‘building culture’ today. In the latest survey carried out by the German Building Culture Foundation (Bundesstiftung Baukultur), for example, more than 90% of the surveyed experts associated building culture with aesthetic questions and with the preservation of old buildings. But only 50% of them considered resource conservation, or the awareness for social concerns to be aspects of building culture. The situation is mirrored in a survey of non-professionals. In the long run, this divide between building culture on one side, and ecology and social issues on the other has to be detrimental. Only if we consider all three aspects in tandem will the improved standard of renovations and new buildings be possible. And who would be more suited to achieving this synthesis than architects? (Jakob Schoof)