We passed the batton from one Neil to another for week for of the Instagram Takeover. Neil McAllister, Award-winning Architect and Associate Director, took the reigns for Week 4.
Many will recognise Neil as one of the longest serving team members at GLM and through his eyes this week we’re going to go on a journey, probably internationally knowing Neil, looking at buildings he’s visited on his travels and projects he’s worked on where either the building or the building materials or both have been reused, bringing new life and a new chapter. Neil, like Jo, often links conservation and sustainability closely and the common threads seen through Charley, Jo and Neil D will no doubt continue this week. Here we go Neil.
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In the current modern discussions about conservation, sustainability and the circular economy, we often think these are new ideas. Instead it is the constant cycle of extract-build-demolish-landfill that is “modern” and would have been unthinkable in previous centuries.
In the past the extraction and transportation of materials was costly. If you could reuse what was already there, then why would you start from scratch.
Here, the Palazzo Orsini in Rome is built off and among the ruins of the Theatre of Marcellus. Built in 13BC, it was abandoned in the 4th century and served many uses before Peruzzi built the palazzo for the Orsini family in the 16th century.
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Next door to the Palazzo Orsini is the unusual church of San Nicola in Carcere.
In this case a row of three Roman temples were turned into a church with the church occupying the space of the central temple and the gaps between, so the columns embedded into the side wall are from the outer temples viewed from what would have been the inside. More of the ruins can be viewed from the crypt and the (private) roof terrace.
The church was probably first built in the 6th century. It was substantially rebuilt in 1599 but still includes the temples and medieval elements.
In this case, there may also have been an intentional symbolic reuse of the old temple ruins as a church.
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Another way that past generations reused redundant buildings was by using the materials and elements in other buildings. The Mosque of Cordoba was probably built on the site of a former church and incorporates 856 columns in a variety of different stones salvaged from Roman ruins. An almost unique double layer of arches allows a high ceiling to be built off the columns available.
And then, after the Reconquista, the mosque was converted to a cathedral. A renaissance cathedral was quite strangely shoehorned into the middle of the mosque. The king, Charles V, on seeing the result is reported to have said “You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace.”
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One natural consequence of the reuse of building materials is the destruction of the previous building.
These strange forms are the remains of a massive Benedictine abbey in Bury St Edmunds. At one time it was one of the largest abbeys in Britain – larger than Durham Cathedral. It was abandoned after the dissolution of the monasteries and it became a quarry for the town beside it. Almost all the facing stone was stripped leaving just the flint and lime core which has eroded into these abstract forms with only occasional details to betray what it once was.
When sourcing reclaimed materials, we need to have some confidence in their provenance. However, normal modern practice would have been to completely demolish everything, including grubbing up the foundations, leaving no evidence for future archaeologists.
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Part of the west front of Bury St Edmunds Abbey did remain and had a row of houses built into it.
To complicate the story further, the adjacent medieval parish church was made into a cathedral in 1914 and much extended with a new choir, transepts and tower which was completed in 2005.
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Not too far to the north east lies Norwich Cathedral. This was almost as large as Bury St Edmunds but managed to survive the dissolution largely intact.
The south and west cloister ranges fell into ruin and 2004-2010, @hopkinsarchitects built a new refectory and visitor facilities. These lightly perch over and between the medieval ruins and blur the boundaries between inside and out. Simple modern detailing in timber, steel and glass complements the heavy masonry.
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Sometimes, when you look at run down existing building, the obvious thing to do is to clear the site and start from scratch. It certainly might be the simplest.
But, however run down they are, existing buildings have value. They have embodied energy – everything that it took to extract the materials and construct them, which would be lost if the building was cleared to landfill. They also have cultural significance. Even the most humble building will have had significance in the lives of the people that used it or just passed it, and a building like this was a landmark in an iconic location and part of the collective memories of generations.
When we first saw it, the old John o’ Groats House Hotel had been abandoned for over 15 years and had clearly had no maintenance for much longer. Water was pouring through the roof. The floors were pretty much held together by the carpets, which squelched as you walked on them.
Surely only an idiot would think there was anything worth salvaging here?!?
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Fortunately, our client decided to employ GLM. The way we look at the world starts by assuming value in what is existing and only considering demolition once all other options have been exhausted.
We could see that at the core of what had become a derelict eyesore was a solidly built building, and even on further investigation much of the roof structure was still sound.
Although it needed completely gutted, we were able to restore the shell and breathe life back into it. A colourful new extension provides additional accommodation and signals to the world that it is open for business again.
The blue sky helps, but the bold colours cheer up even the most dreich days.
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To end my week on takeover, I thought I’d show some of the transformations we have worked on over the years.
All of these buildings would have been easy to condemn. There might be some charm in some, but they were run down, abandoned and redundant. It would have been so easy to just bring in the bulldozers.
Which is why it is important to bring an architect in early, particularly one experienced in conservation, sustainability and the reuse of existing buildings. We can see past the problems and see the potential. With clever insight and design, we can show you how what you thought was a liability can be transformed into an asset.
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All of these buildings have been completely transformed. With some a relatively light touch was required whereas with others it is difficult to see any connection between the before and after image.
With all of them, valuable materials have been saved from landfill, money has been saved and the cultural value of the buildings have been retained.
And they all now have great new lives, as a café bringing life to a rundown sea front, a call centre for the largest employer in a small town, a private library and a new rural pub.
The world has started talking about retrofit and reuse of existing redundant buildings as if it is a new concept. At GLM we have been doing it for years.
What redundant buildings are sitting on your land or in your portfolio? Let us have a look at them before you bring in the wrecking ball and see what magic we can work for you.
Our Instagram Takeover runs from April, for about 4 months, so why not head over and get involved, follow along and see, live, what more of the team have to say. You’ll find it here.