Making the best use of the existing building

Deciding whether to renovate an older building, or knock it down and rebuild, can be difficult. The decision to favour renovation hangs heavily upon determining whether the existing building has sufficient merit. Caroline Pidcock and Jeremy Spencer explain their different methodologies for determining whether or not to renovate, and how to make best use of the existing building.

What must we look for in the existing building?
When starting a new project with great aspirations, why would you think about keeping the building that already exists on the site? Especially if it does not work exactly with your new design concept.

Reasons for keeping the old
Apart from the financial benefits or heritage requirements, perhaps you might be drawn to the idea of making use of existing materials and all that has gone into their manufacture and construction, particularly their embodied energy. Or perhaps you might like to retain and celebrate the cultural and social history that is an essential part of their story. Or enjoy the design challenges that retention imposes on the project, something a blank canvas does not offer.

History has shown that building structure will always outlive function and this means there will always be a constant supply of existing buildings ready for reuse. Therefore, there are many good reasons to spend some time examining whether working with existing buildings is a worthwhile pursuit before deciding otherwise.

When first approaching a new project with an existing building, issues to consider include:

Orientation of the building and creative options for working positively with this to improve the solar access and protection from the elements
Quality of the building fabric and construction and if this is sound enough to be suitable for the future
Thermal performance of the building envelope and if this should and can be improved to give better control over energy movement
Social or cultural relevance of the design, construction and /or development, and if this can be respected and extended