We may need to rethink our knee-jerk desire to demolish
- Credit: Taran Wilkhu
The greenest building is the one that already exists.
To construct any new building requires energy and resources and as we currently demolish around 50,000 buildings per year, creating over 60 per cent of all UK yearly waste, we may need to rethink our knee-jerk desire to demolish.
Deciding to keep and modify existing buildings instead of demolishing them, would save a lot of energy and help towards meeting our carbon emission reduction goals.
The recent Retrofirst campaign, promoted by the Architects Journal, aims to convince architects, developers and local planning authorities that the decision to demolish an existing building should be their last and not first choice.
The broad aims of the Retrofirst campaign therefore is to promote the imaginative reuse of existing buildings and reclaimed materials, and also push for a wider change to the current planning law, to legally require architects and developers to seriously assess retrofitting buildings first, before demolition.
It takes, however, seven years to train to become an architect and although many choose the profession for wider social reasons, many also choose to take this long and expensive route so as to be able to create new exciting and beautiful new buildings too.
If we decide to keep, upgrade and extend most of our existing buildings, what will be left for architects to do? Apart from adding an extension here or there and choosing the colour of the wallpaper?
A possible solution to this neutered future is to maintain and encourage the verve of the art of architecture, by offering architects and developers an aesthetic free hand, if they propose to keep and reuse an existing building over demolishing it.
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This would have the effect of both lowering carbon emissions, whilst also ensuring that our cities are not preserved in aspic but continue to evolve, by encouraging new forms of architectural expression, whilst also saving the planet.
A local example of the partial demolition and extension of an existing building is Yorkton Workshops off Hackney Road, a recently completed project by Cassion Castle architects in collaboration with their client, the industrial design company Pearson Lloyd.
The design ethos of the project is to keep elements of the original building.
In the words of Tom Lloyd: “The ambition was to express the old and new in as honest a fashion as possible as we wanted to maintain the sense that we are working in workshops, as this was the original function of the buildings.”
Aesthetically the Yorkton Workshop project includes then a quasi-archaeological approach to the former building, as here and there the users will come across a variety of retained elements, from an expressive partially painted and burnt brick wall, remnants of the former steel roof structure and new areas of brick infill inserted into the existing walls, without any pretence to hide new from old.
In contrast, the new parts of the project are designed in a spartan, neo-brutalist, tough geometric manner, that make no attempt to prettify or hide the simple fact this this is a place of work.
Yorkton Workshop is a thought-provoking project, that shows how architects can rise to the challenge of reusing old buildings, without comprising the art of architecture.