In the realm of sustainable and environmental issues, future-proof is used to describe the ability of a design to resist the impact of potential climate change due to global warming, based on research by faculty at University of Bristol and the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka. Two characteristics describe this impact. First, dependency on fossil fuels will be more or less completely eliminated and replaced by renewable energy sources. Second, society, infrastructure, and the economy will be well adapted to the residual impacts of climate change (Godfrey, Agarwal, and Dias 2010, 180). In the design of high-performance dwellings, “buildings of the future should be sustainable, low-energy and able to accommodate social, technological, economic and regulatory changes, thus maximizing life cycle value.” Georgiadou, Hacking, and Guthrie (2013, 9) believe that the goal is to reduce the likelihood of a prematurely obsolete building design.
The concept of future-proofing also comes up in some literature with specific regards to sustainable preservation strategies. Initial studies on climate change and historic structures were carried out by English Heritage in 2004, and scientific research such as Engineering Historic Futures and the European Union’s Noah’s Ark Project have been completed (Cassar 2009). Cassar, for example, suggests interest in sustainable rating systems if durability is incorporated as a metric for evaluating buildings. Cassar also argues that historic buildings must fully engage in the process of “adaptation to climate change,” lest they become redundant and succumb to “environmental obsolescence” (Cassar 2009, 7). Cassar also recommends a “‘long life, loose fit’ strategy to managing historic buildings” (Cassar 2009, 8), meaning that sustainable design protocols must be able to be adapted to the particular circumstances of each building rather than applied to the entire built environment with broad brush strokes. Most important, Cassar highlights one of the underlying values of future-proofing– the “historic built environment is a finite and non-renewable resource”–and concludes that “heritage must adapt to changes, physical and intellectual, within its environment” (Cassar 2009, 10). Because embodied energy comprises a significant percentage of energy consumed over a building’s service life, the preservation and adaptation of buildings plays a “central role in conserving the past and the future” (Holland 2012, 5).
The hygrothermal performance of the original building materials at the Hudson Bay Department Store in Victoria, British Columbia, was carefully analyzed to ensure that improvements would not reduce the “building’s time-proven durability” (Dam 2011, 47). In reference to the Marquette Railroad Depot in Bay City, Michigan, Tyler and Dilcher note that “the use of durable, long-lasting materials was cost effective 100 years ago, and restoring those materials today extends their service into the next century” (Tyler and Dilcher 2010, 24). All of these articles on sustainable preservation strategies discuss various concepts of future-proofing, including durability, doing no harm, extension of service life, adaptability, and avoiding obsolescence.