Retrofit design in the built environment

Exploring decision making processes common in construction and building management, to evaluate potential opportunities for retrofitting in the built environment


Retrofitting new interventions to existing buildings, rather than rebuilding from scratch, can help reduce disruption to local communities and help offset the 'embodied energy’ of a building – i.e. the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with its production. However, such new innovations may not fit current energy audit criteria, requiring changes in behavioural norms and modelling approaches. This project is exploring decision-making processes common in construction and building management, in order to evaluate the potential opportunities for retrofit innovations and solutions in the built environment.

Explaining the science

The UK housing stock is of some of the poorest quality in the whole of Western Europe. This is due to a series of historical and policy reasons, including the aging housing associated with the extensive building programmes of the industrial revolution and post-World War periods, as well as one of Europe’s highest density populations. 

Poor levels of insulation and air tightness have contributed to soaring domestic energy bills. However, airtight houses suffer a number of issues with air quality unless measures are taken to ventilate the house. Bacteria, mould, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and humidity can build up to unhealthy levels if internal air is not kept fresh through ventilation. 

Careful consideration and implementation of decision making and design is necessary in order to manage the multi-factor requirements of the technical, aesthetic, psychological, economic, and societal functions of our buildings and environment. This project will explore the interplay between function using problem structuring methods such as morphological analysis; a schema that explores cross consistency of factors along with likelihood or criteria based preference. 

Project aims

A particular issue to be addressed in this research is interrelationships between implementations of specific retrofitting measures and overall building performance. 

This will be done by:

  • Establishing protocols for retrofitting with consideration of technical, economic, aesthetic, social, psychological, and latent functions.
  • Reviewing the reasons for the under-realisation of retrofit potential across a series of building archetypes.
  • Using a series of design investigations to explore a set of retrofit interventions, to illustrate the retrofit opportunity and potential for a series of building archetypes.

This project is part of the Data-centric engineering programme's Grand Challenge of 'Data-driven engineering design under uncertainty'.


This research will be of potential interest and benefit to the construction industry, registered social landlords, building managers, and homeowners, as well as political decision makers.