Retrofitting and the epistemological problem of urban sustainability

Alejandro de Castro Mazarro, Adelaida Albir, José Lemaître


The growing use of green building certificates within the construction industry reflects a societal shift towards environmentally sensitive practices. However, role of technology in providing sustainable commodities can be considered contradictory: while green building certificates neither incentivize, nor disincentivize new construction building in favor of refurbishing, they pose an implicit claim that new construction buildings can be, at the least, as sustainable as retrofitting ones. This paper adds to the rhetorical analysis of sustainability’s discourse by analyzing the gap existing among knowledge and discourse, in public policy arguments made regarding to the choice between building refurbishing and demolition. In the light of the analysis of main indicators of the “three pillars of sustainability” and follows a current policy debate at Bajos de Mena (Chile) where the discussion between opting for refurbishing and new building construction of social housing takes place. In doing so, the paper addresses the quantitative-bias leveraging a developmentalist approach towards urbanization, and highlights the underlying epistemological conflict eroding the notion of sustainability.


Building retrofitting; Environmental justice; Ecomodernism; Sustainability; Green certificates

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