The Retrofit Issue: Revitalizing Communities

Retrofits. There are endless statistics driving home the point that existing buildings are a very large percentage of today’s built environment. And, it’s crystal clear that shrinking the carbon emissions from the built environment is an essential component of any strategy aimed at preserving a habitable environment. Yet somehow, until fairly recently, retrofits have elicited a reaction akin to that of a three-year old facing a plate of Brussels sprouts. A few outliers will tuck into that treat, and most will move briskly on to the ice cream.

[Read the Retrofits 2021 issue of Passive House Accelerator Magazine.]

Today, the retrofit outliers are moving toward center stage. In 2021 the Pritzker Prize, the most well-known architectural honor, went to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, French architects whose practice revolves around reinvigorating existing structures. While Passive House retrofits may not be their signature method, there is a growing push within the architectural, engineering, and construction communities to figure out how to execute Passive House, or deep energy, retrofits using approaches that can be scaled up effectively and economically—simultaneously addressing the twin crises of climate and housing inequities.

Well-executed retrofits reduce operational and embodied carbon emissions—and accomplish so much more. They restore quality housing and can breathe new life into community spaces and other building types.  In some cases—such as the Ken Soble Tower pictured on the cover—the building is a community, a vital resource within an urban fabric (see Ken Soble Tower Modernization, p. 80).

I’m thrilled that within this issue you can read about so many efforts to industrialize retrofits from California to Nova Scotia to Innsbruck, Austria and many points in between. Most of these programs are starting with social, or affordable, housing. There are also numerous case studies in this issue of individual Passive House renovations, some completed all at once while others have been picked away at over a decade or more. We need a plethora of retrofit solutions, and I am inspired by the planning and dedication that has gone into each of them.

As Katie Faulkner says in “Innovation in an Era of Mission,” we are in an all-hands-on-deck situation. We need more innovations, more programmatic efforts, and more inspirational retrofit case studies. So, please go to and submit your project descriptions.

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Author: Mary James
Categories: Retrofit