The ability of existing buildings to accommodate and in turn represent contemporary functions is a remarkable quality of our cities. Retail, commercial and education activities have embedded themselves in that fabric. Location is obviously a key aspect, the existing city has convenience and adjacency and contemporary functions benefit from this. The capacity of that existing fabric to meet new needs is our greatest challenge. Historic Scotland is clear on the contribution it can make:
“(Scotland’s) historic environment is part of our everyday lives. It helps give us a sense of place, well-being and cultural identity. It enhances regional and local distinctiveness. It forges connections between people and the places where they live and visit. It helps make Scotland a great place to live and work.” Scottish Historic Environment Policy, Historic Scotland December 2011.
Businesses do acknowledge this in deciding to locate within these environments. This is despite the value attached to these environments being stacked against other criteria that are more difficult or costly to achieve in this building type. An assessment of one such commercial activity, offices, is informative.
Commercial office value is determined by of course location, but in addition, size and flexibility in the form of floorplate and high ceilings, building condition, ease of fit out, flexibility for servicing and running costs. Existing buildings often are perceived as having smaller areas and being less flexible, can be more expensive to maintain, more challenging for fit out and re-servicing and cost more to heat. But they have location. The architect's role has to demonstrate that these other challenges can be overcome through lateral and creative thinking.
Two projects were assessed in relation to these issues:
Firstly our project in collaboration with ECD Architects to relocate student activities of the GUU building at Glasgow University where the existing 1928 building has shown remarkable ability to accommodate changing needs without sacrificing the original intentions.
The second at Govan Fairfield, where the existing shipyard offices are being adapted to create a variety of scaled work spaces by the new owner Govan Workspace.
Common to all these projects is the need to make existing buildings and sites work harder building on their splendid locations set in the historic city fabric. The key is showing the resilience of that historic fabric and its setting in relation to contemporary need.