Natural Stone and Retrofit – A Natural Fit

As specifiers become increasingly aware that a ‘business as usual’ approach to the carbon impacts of architecture and construction is no longer an option, there is a fresh drive to consider the alternatives.

In September of 2019 Architects’ Journal launched the RetroFirst campaign aimed at prioritising the retrofitting of existing buildings over demolition and rebuild.

The campaign sits alongside several other initiatives all seeking to encourage architects to try and work with the existing structure as a more sustainable approach to architecture and construction.

Retrofitting, or adding something new to something existing is not a new approach in construction.  Through good maintenance and conservation schemes, hundreds, if not thousands of natural stone structures have stood for centuries.  Many of Great Britain’s major cities have been architecturally defined by natural stone buildings that have stood the test of time, while buildings made from other materials have aged poorly and required demolition. 

Natural stone is one of the most durable of all construction materials giving maintenance teams the option to redress, clean and replace damaged elements without the need to flatten the building and start again.

The Repair & Restoration category at the Natural Stone Awards is full of fantastic examples of buildings that have been retrofitted, structures that, had they been constructed in concrete or other less durable materials, would have been demolished.

One of the key factors is the decision by the original architects to choose natural stone.  Unfortunately, the last few decades have seen the construction sector steer further and further away from durable building solutions and erred more on the side of quick, cheap but relatively temporary material choices.  It is encouraging to see a shift away from this specification model as the architectural industry is challenging itself to change its habits and techniques to deliver a more sustainable solution.

The Architects’ Journal campaign references a study by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that found that of the 200 million tonnes of waste generated in Britain annually, 63% is construction debris.

It is for this reason, among others that, proper maintenance is essential and if this is carried out periodically with suitable skill and understanding, the greater will be the environmental and practical advantages in the preservation of the structure.

It is essential that cleaning should be carried out by fully trained operatives in order to avoid any damage being caused by an inappropriate cleaning method or an incompetent operative. It should be remembered that decay can often take place around an open joint or cracked stone which cannot be seen if they are obscured by dirt or heavy soiling.

To start your search for a natural stone conservation or restoration expert, go to The Stone Heritage Register (