Retrofitting for Cultural Infrastructure

Cultural and creative industries are essential to the UK's success and the foundation for civic life. Retrofitting, as an approach, framework and strategy for cultural infrastructure can support sustainable development and promotion of the sector's value against multiple environmental, cultural, social and economic pressures.

While new-build technologies are addressing embodied and operational carbon of buildings to meet the Paris Agreement target of becoming zero-carbon by 2050, there are few resources to support the adaptation of the estimated 80% of building stock that will have already been built and occupied by then.

This report helps articulate the three values of retrofit - environmental, cultural and social - operating within the parameters of economic considerations, which should be considered for the future-proofing of our cultural infrastructure. It aims to bring greater clarity to the retrofit process for cultural organisations as well as recommendations for policy-makers and researchers.

The report is available to download at the end of this page.
Against the backdrop of the climate emergency, Covid-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and numerous strikes due to the Cost-of-Living crisis, there is a demand on the UK's cultural infrastructure to provide equitable spaces which are sustainable, heritage-sensitive, accessible and reflect the diverse needs of both their local community and an international population.

To meet the UK's 2050 net zero emissions goal, buildings will need to be decarbonised through energy efficiency improvements, the phasing out of fossil fuel-based heating systems and the integration of smart technologies. Whilst HM Government has declared to support the decarbonisation of the public sector with £1.425bn in grant funding for low-carbon heat and energy efficient retrofits between 2022-25, a holistic approach to retrofit is essential to ensure the future-proofing of the nation's cultural heritage assets and prioritisation of making our cultural infrastructure open and accessible to all.

'Retrofitting for Cultural Infrastructure' has been developed through agile engagement with built environment specialists and representatives from HM Government to address both past and emerging challenges associated with retrofit strategies for cultural use. These issues range from broader challenges, such as addressing funding inaccessibility and VAT incentivisation, to more specific intersectional issues, such as establishing regulations on embodied carbon emissions and investing in promoting and disseminating a holistic approach at a local level.

The 'Strategies for Retrofit' framework and value checklist sets out a vision and practical toolkit for retrofit which exceeds existing environmental, cultural and social value minimum standards and guidance, setting the foundation for location-based and context specific strategies for cultural organisations considering a retrofit approach. There is an opportunity for DCMS to learn from the framework, toolkit and resources to help inform future policy and guidance-writing which will support the resilience of the cultural sector.


This report is commissioned, funded and coordinated by Future Observatory at the Design Museum, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC); supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) via UK Research and Innovation. This research was developed and produced according to UKRI’s initial hypotheses and output requests. Any primary research, subsequent findings or recommendations do not represent DCMS views or policy and are produced according to academic ethics, quality assurance and independence.

Contributors: cc-be, Donald Insall Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Historic England, RAWE Project, Dis/ Collective and the London School of Architecture
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