The concept of sustainable development was introduced in the 1987 Brundtland Report, by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). It defined sustainable development as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
At Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios), we term our approach to restoring, repairing and re-imagining existing buildings to ensure their relevance and use in the future ‘creative reuse’. It is the transformation and reinvigoration of existing buildings and infrastructure to bring social, cultural, environmental and economic value.
The creative reuse of existing buildings – both historic and modern – is a clear route towards sustainable development. Our work ranges from the sensitive repair and reuse of individual historic and listed buildings to the design of contemporary interventions, refurbishment of outdated and tired buildings and the master planning and redevelopment of large areas of historic cities.
Historic buildings, those projects traditionally taken on by conservation architects, are a key part of creative reuse. Buildings that are made of traditional materials and recognised for their heritage, such as Bath Abbey, Middleport Pottery and Alexandra Palace. They are considered authentic and important, and their history and fabric are documented. However, our work with these buildings recognises them as living buildings, not museum artefacts. They have a past, but also a future.
Modern buildings can be more experimental, both in the intellectual approach taken in their design and in their use of materials: Buildings like the Southbank Centre in London, or The Richmond Building for the University of Bristol. The original architect or designer is often still alive, and work to these buildings is often a re-purposing, bringing up to date or restoration.
Creative reuse at FCBStudios combines specialist conservation skills with design to provide an innovative approach to existing buildings and historic contexts. We consider that conservation and design are inseparable and that the reuse of buildings is an integral part of creating sustainable architecture.
Bath Abbey has been the centre for Christian faith in the UNESCO City of Bath for more than 1300 years. The Footprint Project seeks to ensure that it remains so for generations to come, through repair and conservation work and crucial new facilities. FCBStudios work at the Abbey over the past 10 years has repaired the collapsing floor of the Abbey, logging, researching and relaying the 891 gravestones that make up the floor, and used Bath’s hot spring water to power new underfloor heating. Once complete in 2021, it will be possible to experience the full volume of the glorious space of the Abbey as it was during the Georgian period: from the lofty fan vaulting, and the descriptive and poignant wall memorials, to the magnificent historic floor below. The Church will provide a beautiful, functional space for traditional and contemporary worship and the community use for which it was first designed. In appreciating the fabric, updating the services and rethinking the use of the spaces, we are unlocking Bath Abbey for the next 100 years.
The regeneration of the Victorian Theatre and East Court of Alexandra Palace in London – the ‘people’s palace’- has breathed new life into a much-loved cultural icon, integrating a new technical infrastructure while retaining the unique character of its historic spaces. The 19th-century theatre, closed for over eighty years, tells a story of grandeur overlaid with decades of alteration, damage and slow decay. All of this is integral to the character and atmosphere of the space making the past tangible. Some far-reaching interventions were called for, but of paramount importance was the preservation of the evocative and layered character that made this room unique – a fragile quality that could have been destroyed by well-meaning repair. We use the term ‘arrested decay’ to describe an approach of consolidation rather than restoration
Middleport Pottery is one of the last working Victorian Potteries in the United Kingdom. Our quiet and restrained refurbishment of the site created a dynamic new business and visitor centre which honours the past while enabling the future. The renovation of the at-risk building fabric, reclaiming abandoned and uninhabitable spaces to house new businesses and visitor facilities has created a more diverse mixed-use ‘hub’ of ceramics enterprises within the Victorian factory ranges. The ‘light touch’ philosophy sought only to intervene where essential. Improving visitor access and education facilities were fundamental to the regeneration objectives of the project, allowing the local community to reconnect with their industrial heritage, and rekindling the pride of a community built on generations of world-leading design and craft. The completed project puts a craft skill at the centre of its community.
The restoration and redesign of Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery has given these unique 1960s Brutalist wonders a new lease of life and a low maintenance, lower energy future. Whilst primarily a conservation project to replace building services, improve environmental performance and upgrade infrastructure, the revitalised buildings are now able to fully support an ever-widening artistic programme, and improve disabled access for audiences and artists. The building’s 66 iconic pyramid roof lights have undergone an adaptive redesign inspired by sculptor Henry Moore’s call to “Let the light in”, and now allow the galleries to be flooded by controllable natural light. New glazing to the front corner of the reconfigured Queen Elizabeth foyer celebrates the new connection to the river front. These design interventions remain in the spirit of the original design, making use of modern technology and experience of the buildings.
sustainability & creative reuse
Our approach to existing buildings, whatever their age, is always led by a deep understanding of their materiality, their aesthetic and social context and the physical context and importance of the building today. Where we are introducing new elements, we allow both an intuitive and forensic understanding of the existing buildings to be expressed within a wholly new scheme, so that a creative dialogue is established between old and new. We believe that design and conservation are inseparable and to be practiced by all.
The most sustainable architecture is arguably not building at all, so it follows that the reuse of buildings is an integral part of creating sustainable architecture. Existing buildings must be used more intensely – densifying cities and increasing use across the day. By making existing buildings more energy efficient and by building within existing infrastructure, architecture becomes a less resource hungry sector. Adapting existing buildings can preserve embodied energy that would otherwise be lost. What we need to ask is how should our heritage best serve the people, to achieve sustainable development?