Reinvention is a powerful mechanism for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Work with what you find, re-use it and re-imagine it. In 50 years, the way in which we use our buildings has not changed radically, but the way in which we interact with one another is almost unrecognisable. An organisational structure reliant on hierarchy and segregation is less relevant now than it has ever been, with a new egalitarian, collaborative agenda taking its place.
This idea looms large in the minds of our clients when we are asked to consider how a building that has been designed, altered and adapted to suit an outdated ethos might become a shining beacon of architectural excellence. The solution, regardless of the building in question, is always the same: we listen, we absorb and we work from the ground up, considering fabric, operation, aspiration and ideal, with different results every time. The goal is always to provide better; to delight and surprise, to embrace an aspiration and create new opportunities, delivering beyond the brief in unexpected ways.
At 50 George Square in Edinburgh – a fine example of Scotland’s modernist heritage and grade B listed – the departments of literature, languages and culture were brought together in a comprehensively renovated and extended building that embraces a contemporary way of working. The disciplines of study, research, discourse and documentation are brought together by subtle manipulation of interior detail, around a shaft of natural light driven deep into the building’s core, activating traditionally ‘dead’ circulation spaces and encouraging life and movement previously unimaginable in the once-drab, narrow, artificially lit corridors.
Flexible, collaborative working is accommodated within this newly activated hub as students take advantage of the facilities to explore new ways of working, resulting in a dynamic, surprising space, exerting its own will, whilst being moulded to the desires of those who care to pick at the edges. This opportunity taken sends a message that ‘how’ life happens between the walls of a great institution should be as important as the work produced. We can learn from this too, so that the process of design perpetuates itself, continually feeding back in to be dissected and re-evaluated.
With any new building, the best solution often appears obvious once manifest, and so it is with the refurbishment of an existing building that, sensitively and thoughtfully handled, the result appears to be what was always intended. Reinvention with the spirit intact.