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Reworking the past into the future

“As an architect you design for the present with an awareness of the past for a future which is essentially unknown.” – Norman Foster

19 Apr 2018

EOS Architects' Director Campbell Lammie gives his insight on what can be done to preserve the heritage of a building, when the building itself can not be saved.  


While technology advances at a rate and the way that we deliver our work is ever changing, an architect of today has a great responsibility for looking back into the past and finding ways of intelligently and sensitively bringing buildings forward into the future. But what happens when it is not viable to do this? Should the past simply be erased and a new chapter started?


Demolition of a historical building is never taken lightly and usually comes after detailed consultation with stakeholders, communities and other third parties. Ultimately we have to take a development value judgement and take a view of what is a reasonable response. It will then be for the planning department to make any decisions about what is permissible.

It is at this point that the skills of an Architect can be employed to respect heritage and that solutions will come through consultation, whatever the outcome for the original building. 


We recently completed the redevelopment of a former Old Hospital in Builth Wells, that was needed for residential units by a housing association. 


When approaching schemes like this, we have to be mindful of the heritage value of any existing features on or within influencing distance of the site.  This includes built features, potential archaeology on or under the land and landscape. Indeed we also need to consider the loss of any heritage if we propose demolition.


We took great consideration of the retention of significant features but unfortunately the existing buildings were poorly situated on the site and did not lend themselves to retention or conversion. It was also not possible to retain the most important element, such as a single facade due to cost. 


At Builth, the housing association elected to invest in the more expensive elevation treatment before making the planning application, ie they listened to the consulted and were proactive in suggesting a design that would respect the former existence of a building of merit that would be demolished.

We then took a holistic approach where possible in the design of the new building. We reflected existing building elements in a traditional way and valued the retention of important trees and ensured that the design accommodated their protection.


We often also consider the distant views of a site from a nearby historic monument or indeed the location of a site to the grounds of a listed building can influence design and have a serious impact in the consideration of consents to develop. Heritage is an important design consideration which is not always driven by the impact of a formal listing category as tended to be the case in the past. We now know that the qualities of the past have a relevant, and indeed important role in the future of our buildings and landscape as a whole. 


Sometimes a significantly important building may have to be retained at all cost, resulting sometimes in dereliction (perhaps where suitable new use cannot fund the conservation work... As would have been the case at Builth) but in other cases, clients can sometimes find other uses for buildings that can enable retention.  


A fine balance has to be assessed by owners and the regulatory authorities which in some instances (where the balance has been miscalculated) results in the irreconcilable loss of buildings through neglect.


In other cases, where enlightened clients are prepared to encourage a more holistic approach by the design team, solutions may be found that respects heritage in a number of ways including full retention and refurbishment, the copying or retention of previously existing features (or a design theme) or indeed the reflection and translation of context into a completely new design ethos. 


When there are qualities to be found in the past, a forward thinking client and a good architect will always strive to find ways of bringing them forward into a more vibrant, purposeful future. 





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