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Old becomes new

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During the last two years members of our practice have been fortunate enough to make trips to Christchurch and Dunedin, the kaupapa on each occasion being to tour the architecture of the city.  One of the highlights for me of both excursions was the clever adaption and reuse of previously neglected buildings.

In Christchurch, the rebuild of the city has seen the creation of some award-winning new architecture, but I was most taken by the businesses that had sprung up and created compelling spaces in often unassuming or simply functional buildings.  The Welder, previously a group of industrial warehouses used by a welder, blacksmith and engineer, is now an urban oasis, home to professional offices, boutique eateries and food producers, a plant shop, event space and yoga and wellness studio, all focused around a shared indoor garden space.  Architecture practice Fabric has fitted out their own former warehouse with a surprising mix of old oil drums, plants, a shipping container, and the installation of several glasshouses, to create a space far more inviting and cohesive than it might sound.

More recently I read of the example of Marian College, which, having searched nearly a decade for a new home after the Christchurch earthquakes, has found an innovative solution by building a new school in a former Foodstuffs distribution centre building.  Two-storey classroom blocks, as well as gym and other facilities, will be built within the existing structure, while some parts will be opened up to bring in the outdoors and provide natural light.

In Dunedin, heritage architect Mark Mawdsley gave a tour of the warehouse precinct, where Dunedin City Council, together with enthusiastic building owners, is working to revitalise buildings that date to the gold rush era when the city was the largest and richest in New Zealand.  Concentrated in one area, the buildings, with a little TLC, have character and personality that spills over into the eateries, bars, shops and offices that now inhabit them, in a way that new buildings seldom do.

While locally we have developers like Stark Property providing excellent examples of this kind of rejuvenation, I remain hopeful that more and more property owners will take note of the value to be created by investing in existing buildings.  As well as the attractive character of adaptive reuse and cost-saving potential of using an existing structure, there’s good evidence that upgrading environmental and energy performance leads to improved occupancy rates.

The initial carbon footprint is also significantly reduced compared to a new build.  At a recent conference architect Fiona Short of Warren and Mahoney shared an example of a project in which the decision to retain an existing concrete structure had saved 1400 tonnes of CO2 emissions per square metre.  In a carbon constrained world that should already be a consideration for every building owner, though it’s likely only a few years until such carbon emissions will carry a more tangible cost imposed by government or international obligations.

At a time when good staff are more precious than ever and encouraging teams back to the office, at least for a few days a week, is challenging, creating interesting, engaging and healthy spaces to work seems like a sound investment.  Repurposing an existing building offers a cost- and carbon-effective way to achieve this and an opportunity to contribute to the re-invigoration of our city.

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About Author

Phil MacKay

Phil Mackay is Business Devolpment Manger at Hamilton-based PAUA, Procuta Associates Urban + Architecture