Reconciling heritage and climate emergency in listed buildings

With this episode, Climate Champions is launching a mini-series on how to make heritage buildings more climate friendly.

We talk to Oliver Smith from 5e Studio on the radical renovation of the New Court cabinet at Trinity College, Cambridge. Completed in 2016, New Court remains a pioneering project, as it launched an ambitious sustainability program in a Grade I listed building using a nuanced approach that balanced heritage concerns with improved thermal and energy performance and interior comfort . The conservation methodology developed at New Court was subsequently adopted by Cambridge City Council.

Oliver explains how to intervene in heritage buildings in a way that respects their character and also responds 21stcentury’s expectations of comfort, convenience and durability. It challenges conventional wisdom about cold bridges at cornices and party walls, promoting the concept of “cool” bridges. He advocates making a building “as good as possible” without aiming for any particular environmental certification, which can lead to more insulation (and therefore more cost) than necessary.

In this episode, Oliver discusses how much to model and how much to monitor on any given project and why it’s best done during the winter. He sees the surveillance at New Court as a proof of concept that later buildings can emulate.

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About Olivier Smith

Oliver Smith is founding director of 5e Studio, a 25-person firm with offices in Cambridge, London and Oxford. 5e The studio works at a range of scales from master planning (assembling pedestrian networks across the Lea Valley even before London’s Olympic bid) to BLOQS, a 32,000 square foot ‘maker’ space at Meridian Water , Enfield, shortlisted for this year’s AJ Architecture Awards. The agency was also a pioneer in an ambitious process of upgrading the historic fabric of listed buildings.

Before co-founding 5e Studio in 1997, Oliver spent eight years working for Richard MacCormac and six years at Stirling Wilford. He taught for over a decade at the Cambridge School of Architecture. He is a member of the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel, the Edge think tank and an affiliate member of the Construction Industry Council.

Projects and resources mentioned in this episode

New Court, Trinity College, Cambridge, (William Wilkins, 1825; Renovation, 5th Studio, 2016)
Elevation of the courtyard with a new color of vapour-permeable lime plaster to match the fragments of the original ocher plaster

Source: Timothée Soar

Joseph Little, breaking the mold

Towers of the Thames

WUFI modeling

Paul Baker, Center for Indoor Climate and Health Research, Glasgow Caledonian University




Bill Bordass, Usable Buildings Trust

JLL Report, From Value Creation to Value Preservation – Real Estate Investors Rethinking the “Value of Green” (January 2022)

Salix Public Sector Decarbonization Scheme

Edge Debate: Legacy and Net Zero: A Sticky Issue?

Chris Jofeh, Chair, Decarbonising Existing Homes at Welsh Government

New Court, Trinity College, Cambridge 2016. Refurbished student bedroom with internal wall insulation stopped before the cornice and new joinery providing a concealed flush for services

Source: Timothée Soar

In association with

Climate Champions is produced in association with ACAN, the Architects Climate Action Network
Podcast produced and edited by Simon Aldous
Music: Edmilson do Pífano, Forró de Dois Amigos. Interpretation: Felipe Tanaka and banda Balaio de Baião

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