Building on the Past

Building on the Past was an interdisciplinary project funded by the Durham Energy Institute during 2013. It addressed the intersection of built heritage conservation and energy conservation through a focus on retrofit technologies, energy efficient systems and materials. The project set out to understand the social, structural and institutional contexts that determine how ideas about authenticity and historic significance frame and constrain the kinds of environmental modifications that occur. The key research questions were:

  • What are the factors that promote or curtail the use of energy efficient systems and materials within buildings?
  • How, why and for whom are low carbon transitions being undertaken?
  • How are buildings modified through different forms of expertise and knowledge?
  • How can researchers combine perspectives from the social and physical sciences to better understand how energy change in buildings comes about?

As a Research Assistant on this project, I undertook multi-sited ethnographic work and interviews, tracing how the various actors and institutional contexts involved in processes of renovation and retrofitting. In our analyses so far, we have sought to contribute to critical debate with respect to the social relations and practices through which old buildings are modified. We explore  the energy implications of understandings embodied in practices and different forms of knowledge and expertise.

Anthropologist Tom Yarrow (PI) worked in collaboration with Charlotte Adams (Engineering), Adrian Green (History) and Quentin Lewis (Archaeology) Our advisory group included Professor Simon Marvin, Professor Harriet Bulkeley, Professor Robin Coningham, and Professor Catherine Alexander.

The project team members held an invited workshop in March 2013 to discuss research findings, and laid the foundations for the interdisciplinary publication Building with History.

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