While the urgency of the issue has been occupying the industry for some time – the Architects’ Journal leading the way with its RetroFirst campaign – the topic recently made national headlines when Michael Gove, then communities secretary, ordered a public inquiry into the proposed demolition of the 1929 Marks & Spencer flagship store on Oxford Street. Whereas heritage conservation would once have been the primary reason to retain such a building, the conservation of the planet has now taken centre stage. Campaigners argue the development proposals would release 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, whereas a low-carbon “deep retrofit” is eminently possible instead. They point to examples such as the former Debenhams in Manchester, a 1930s building which is being refurbished and extended. To put the scale of the emissions in context, Westminster city council is currently spending £13m to retrofit all of its buildings, to save 1,700 tonnes of carbon every year; the M&S demolition proposal alone would effectively undo 23 years of the council’s carbon savings.
How can we build a sustainable future in a time of climate change and dwindling resources? As our spatial needs begin to evolve more rapidly, architects are exploring ingenious ways in which to reuse and recycle existing buildings; resulting in a stunning transformation of our existing urban fabric. A new book takes in a global sweep of recent projects that make the most of what is already there, whether breathing life into outmoded structures, creating new buildings from salvaged components or designing with eventual dismantling in mind.
Building for Change collects the strategies of reuse together, demonstrating their power for change through groundbreaking projects from some of the world’s leading architects. From waste repurposed as construction materials, to buildings reworked with canny spatial interventions, and modular structures designed to be dismantled, discover how the architecture of creative reuse is helping us build a better tomorrow.
Ruth Lang is an architect, curator, writer, and teacher at the Royal College of Art and the London School of Architecture. Her work explores how contemporary architectural practice can respond to issues of diversity and the Climate Emergency. Ruth has curated exhibitions for the V&A Museum and the Jerwood Gallery, and she writes for FRAME, Architectural Review, and Modernist Magazine.