When adaptively reused, heritage buildings have a significant role to play in the sustainability of our communities. Much like the idea these buildings create a sense of belonging, heritage preservation has benefits to the environmental, social, and economic viability of a city. For the most part, preservation reduces landfill waste, demolition energy use, and the need for new construction.
In 2017, the Australian construction industry generated approximately 20million tonnes of construction waste, and as the industry continues to grow, so does the amount of waste. While slightly ominous, this figure has the potential to be reduced through the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings.
During the construction of Melbourne’s iconic Garden State Hotel, we actively reused as much of the existing building as possible. With direction from the owner and architect, we repurposed the existing internal steel beams and timber rafters to create feature wall cladding and decorative overhead structures.
By taking simple measures such as this, we can positively contribute to the broader sustainability of our built environment.
While the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings is a step in the right direction, these old structures come with inherent challenges. Latent conditions often present difficult obstacles that directly affect efficiencies from project conception to completion – and although ‘unknown’ by definition, they come to be expected during the planning process.
The inclusion of contingency in programme and budgets is a must. Through assessment of an existing building’s age, location, construction, and materials, a skilled builder can create a list of possible latent conditions and formulate strategies to overcome the challenges ahead.
In addition to veiled challenges, heritage buildings come with old design elements and fabrics. Materials can be hard to find, and while it would be convenient to be able to drop into a hardware store to pick up matching supplies off the shelf, the reality of this idea can be hard to swallow.
The iconic Clocks at Flinders Street Station was revitalised to its 1920’s glory in 2017. The establishment’s existing pressed metal ceilings were badly damaged, and large sections required replacement. To preserve the integrity of the space, we hand-pressed aluminium sheets to recreate the pattern.
In essence, patience and creativity are vital to the successful preservation of a heritage building. Without this, the history embedded in our cities doesn’t have the chance to inspire our communities into the future.
Construction for the community
Understanding a heritage building’s significance is critical when viewed not only through an architectural lens but also a cultural one. If a building is deemed heritage, then the influence it has on its community is paramount.
As such, formulating a construction management plan that considers this is essential. From the outset, consultation with heritage stakeholders is required to identify the heritage components of a building, as well as the conservation practices needed to fulfil the refurbishment.
Given these developments are inherently guarded by the communities in which they stand, any refurbishment works can generate a sense of anxiety amongst the public. To alleviate concerns throughout the build, it is imperative to provide information to communities through transparent and consistent communication.
Preserving our past to build our future
Heritage refurbishment and preservation opens up a world of possibilities. From the adaptive reuse of old structures, to the ingrained environmental, social, and economic benefits; heritage buildings hold the connection to our past.
When combined with creativity, patience, and a well-formulated management approach, these buildings can continue to add to the rich layered fabric of our cities for years to come.