Retrofit: what is it and what is this intervention for?

Popular in Europe, the retrofit improves the quality of existing buildings and can even change their type of use. Know more!


Have you seen those sidings that cover an entire building and, when they disappear, reveal the same facade with touches of modernity? Or did you notice lighting interventions outside historic buildings? These are just two examples of retrofit, a type of civil construction intervention that is increasingly popular around the world.


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The definition of the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards for this concept is precise: remodeling or updating of the building or systems, through the incorporation of new technologies and concepts, usually aiming at the valorization of the property, change of use, increase in the useful life and operational efficiency and energetic.

For those who wonder if Loft does this type of intervention in its apartments for sale, acquired in buildings that are already standing in the most upscale neighborhoods of São Paulo, the conceptual answer is: no. These are profound reforms, ranging from the skeleton to the finishes, which maintain the way of residential use - and change, for the better, the quality of life. 


A word that combines terms in Latin and English, retrofit means, etymologically and respectively, to move back and adjust. In Portuguese, this concept can be thought of as "reconversion" or "modernization" of a building, either through its adaptation, updating, customization or requalification. 

This type of intervention is done in buildings to integrate improvements and changes in use that can be of very varied natures - from the complete transformation of the facade to a new lighting project, consumption optimization, protection against extreme weather events or updating of the air system. Conditioning.

And it doesn't have to be a building. In 2012, the century-old Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic spots in London, underwent this type of intervention to install an LED lighting system that reduced its energy consumption by 40%. The professionals spent six months carefully walking on granite parapets and holding on to steel straps to install 5,000 meters of cabling in time for the Queen's Jubilee.

The iconic Tower Bridge shines for the Queen's Jubilee: the lights were installed recently, via the retrofit process, without changing their appearance


First popularized in the USA and Europe, this type of intervention is closely associated with the protection of historical heritage, which often does not allow changes to listed structures. And, while the restoration consists of restoring a good state of conservation, the well-executed retrofit not only preserves the original structure of the building (if necessary), but adds modernity in terms of raw materials or equipment

“Europe is not like Brazil, which has a lot of room to grow. One of the solutions that urban planners and architects understood was to reuse and readjust existing buildings to make better use of spaces according to the contemporary way of living”, explains Aline Balazina, architect at Loft .

She explains that, in the case of old buildings, this takes into account not only new infrastructure, but also attention to basic points of current projects, such as including accessibility and escape routes. "It is necessary to add issues that, many times, were not addressed at the time."

And even the Empire State in New York, one of the most famous buildings in the world, has already undergone this type of intervention. Made just over a decade ago, it proves the big difference in today's civil construction thanks to technological and material development. In this case, the new windows are 400 times more efficient - and the previous ones were only from the 1990s!

In this TEDx video, one of those responsible for the Empire State retrofit talks about the retrofit process and savings of up to 40% in energy resources (more than US $ 4 million per year)

The option for retrofit may also have financial incentives. In addition to protecting architecture, the retrofit has the capacity to meet housing demand in areas where there is no more space to build new buildings, but there is no shortage of potential customers waiting for a good housing opportunity. In short, a good location and a property compatible with modern housing.

In the video above, understand the internal process of the Martinelli Building, built in the 1930s, which underwent retrofit: architecture is among the most iconic in São Paulo


There are several possible types of facade retrofit, ranging from flawless restorations on the outside and modernizers on the inside to radical transformations. 

In 2016, the Franco-Brazilian studio Triptyque concludes a work in Rio de Janeiro in the RB12 building, on Avenida Rio Branco. Built in the 1970s, it gained a bioclimatic facade with windows arranged like diamonds and that play with the refraction of light. Photovoltaic panels were installed on its side and a hanging garden on the terraces and balconies allows natural shade and optimization of thermal control - a very useful option in such a hot city.

Above, the new RB12, after facade retrofit with a focus on energy efficiency

Retrofit is not always about aesthetics. In countries where seismic events are common, such as in Japan, it is possible to adapt old buildings with the concept of facade intervention and inside the building.

Japanese earthquake-proof housing development: note the beams diagonally


First of all, explains Aline Balazina, it is necessary to know which of the three lines of thought the retrofit project - a very dynamic area of ​​architecture - will fit into. “There is no right or wrong, it depends on who is designing the project”, he says.

  1. Little intervention and maintenance of what already exists, without adding new elements
  2. Restoration with the addition of new and contemporary elements, highlighting what is new or old
  3. Restoration with added new elements, adjusted and disguised to look old

Either way, to create a retrofit project, you need to look at all your plants and create comprehensive solutions for construction. Architects who are involved in the revitalization of iconic buildings go further and seek to study their creators in depth to understand their point of view and thus maintain the spirit of the project.

“The biggest concern when deciding to carry out a retrofit is to be able to perceive the identity of the building, contextualizing it historically and guaranteeing its own personality, which makes it a reference. And, through artifices such as creativity, the construction is recreated and renewed, connecting it with the surrounding services and businesses, ensuring its timeliness in the future”, write the architects Anna Paula Barbugli Sortino and João Carlos de Oliveira César.

Not that it is easy: the limitations of a pre-existing structure can be large and costly. When a common condominium retrofits its electrical part, for example, it can choose to raise the floor to install the cables. This is not necessarily possible in an overturned structure. You need to think outside the box efficiently.

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