The Home Front: Why renovating old buildings is becoming more popular "Climate change has become our biggest challenge to overcome, so it is vital that we focus on how to make our buildings more energy-efficient, less carbon-intensive and more sustainable," says architect Oliver Bayliss, director of London architecture studio Buckley Gray Yeoman.
There’s a growing trend in large cities worldwide, like London, to retrofit (restore or renovate) old buildings, instead of tearing them down and building new, says architect Oliver Bayliss, director of London architecture studio Buckley Gray Yeoman. This is mainly driven by concerns surrounding climate change and a growing desire for more carbon-neutral, energy-efficient solutions in the building and construction industry, says Bayliss. We apologize, but this video has failed to load. tap here to see other videos from our team Try refreshing your browser, or The Home Front: Why renovating old buildings is becoming more popular “Climate change has become our biggest challenge to overcome, so it is vital that we focus on how to make our buildings more energy-efficient, less carbon-intensive and more sustainable,” he says. The construction sector has traditionally been one of the biggest culprits in carbon consumption, and reusing old buildings is more carbon-friendly than building new, explains Bayliss. Retrofitting old buildings using new technology also means they’ll be more energy efficient.
In London alone, homes are responsible for around one-third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. But programmes like Retrofit Accelerator and Passivhaus Retrofit provide people with access to the skills and funding to upgrade their homes to be more energy-efficient. “Make it simple and affordable and it will not only reduce the carbon footprint of our ageing housing stock but also create skilled jobs along the way,” says Bayliss. An assumption people often make when it comes to renovating old buildings is that they’re money pits, and as much as people love the look and feel of heritage buildings, it’s cheaper to build new than bring old buildings up to code, to make them safe and comfortable. But this isn’t the case. “In general, it is both cheaper and quicker to retrofit an existing building. Take a building in central London as an example; retrofitting can be up to 40 per cent cheaper than knocking it down and starting again. Unless there is a very good reason for knocking a building down, it will always make commercial sense to retrofit rather than rebuild,” he says. Buckley Gray Yeoman has retrofit projects underway in the UK and across Europe and is known as specialists in this area. Some of these projects include restoring Whitechapel’s Department W, which was built in 1890 and was known as “Selfridges of the East” due to its grandiose appearance. “The story goes that the Wickham family who built it bought the entire street apart from one small shop whose owner, a jeweller named Spiegelhalter, refused to sell. After failed negotiations, the Wickhams were forced to build around him. It was a true David and Goliath story when the underdog came out on top,” he says.
In retrofitting this building, Bayliss says they retained this shop and transformed it into the main entrance. There are challenges that come with retrofitting old buildings, as many of them are protected, which means extra hoops to jump through. This was the case with the art gallery and artists’ workspace that Buckley Gray Yeoman recently designed. Rather than build new, they created the spaces within five joined-up buildings in London that date back to the 1850s. As it turned out, the buildings’ original elements made it easy to modernize, says Bayliss. Tall windows, high ceilings and natural light meant minimal work to convert the spaces for contemporary use. “It was an exercise in constraint, balancing the old and the new,” he says. Other retrofit projects they have underway include “a striking re-imagination of a fairly underwhelming 1990’s commercial building” in London’s Canary Wharf neighbourhood, a timber-framed building they’re completing in Madrid early this year, and other projects in Milan and Rome. “All in all, we’re very excited about what’s to come,” adds Bayliss. More On This Topic The Home Front: The right light for health and well-being