We don’t decide to raze a building to the ground on a whim – quite the opposite. In fact we can be at our most resourceful and inventive when adopting a light touch, transforming the way a building works with a judicious intervention or two - especially if the building is beautiful and worthy of restoration. Nevertheless, many of our projects do indeed involve complete demolition of the existing.
The first benefit is the freedom of design this provides. Designing on a blank canvas is a completely different experience to adapting an existing building. It involves free ranging discussions with clients and architects, exploring precedents, lifestyle and aspirations to see exactly what the best case architecture might be.
Secondly, and much more prosaically, new buildings in the UK are zero-rated for VAT. It’s not clear why this should be incentivised when we should be relearning to maintain and repair, but such is the tax regime. A 20% saving on build cost (sadly not consultants’ fees) is significant, and might typically comprise the budget for the best bits, such as the kitchen and landscaping.
The third lies in a curiosity of planning policy. In some areas, local policies have been drafted to codify the design of extensions. These can be highly prescriptive and blighting to some properties, whereas no such guidelines exist for new build proposals. In these situations, the only route to secure an acceptable planning consent may be to propose demolition of the building.
Finally, and as building purist probably the most significant, is the question of the building fabric itself. Whilst many older buildings are beautiful, detailed and ornate, many are not. Scratch beneath the surface and much of the domestic building fabric left by the Victorians and everyone since is, by modern standards, ropey. There have been many occasions where we have designed intricate groundworks and steelwork, involving diversion of services and complex methodology, to support existing structures. Then we get to site and look up at what we have preserved – a loose stack of brickwork (fairfaced to the front but underbaked rubble where unseen) held apart with soft lime mortar, supporting timber joists that have been nibbled and notched beyond repair. Left well alone this construction is fine, but it does not combine well with new rigid structures, still worse with highly serviced interiors with their air conditioning, steam rooms, tumble dryers, power plates, stone baths and so on.
Modern construction, which complies with and often exceeds Building Regulations, provides a high performance fabric that controls heat loss, air tightness, condensation, acoustics and fire risk. It is rigid and robust, to accommodate our high specification interiors and finishes. It can create shapes and wide spans way beyond what was traditionally feasible, and expanses of glazing that lose less heat that a Victorian brick wall. We have learnt a lot in the last 200 years.
Jason Harris, is owner and Principal Architect at T-Space.
Contact us if you have a project you would like us to consider.