The latter half of the twentieth century saw a challenging shift in societies relationship to religion and the buildings that house it. Remarkable work by the Archdiocese of Glasgow, the Church of Scotland and external bodies such as the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust sought to manage that change, facilitating reuse and the transfer of buildings. Looking back a large number of buildings were saved, sometimes less successfully than we would have hoped, but on the whole the tide of demolitions was held back.
Jumping forward to today we face renewed challenges of building obsolescence. It looks now like the impacts of the last recession are beginning to unwind. With less public and private money, the number of church property 'for sale’ signs is up and building closure programmes on the rise again. Our historical fabric appears once again to be under intensified threat and in particular the twentieth century contributions to that legacy.
For the most part, the existing buildings we admire sit in the body of the urban environments we appreciate most, our cities, towns and villages. To find reuse we need to find ways of supporting the wider context of these settings. When uses become redundant we need to look creatively at these settings, how we adapt the historical fabric, what technologies we use, but crucially how we might blend new use into the context.
There is no formula for getting it right, but we have found that the key is to determine 'what we know' about a place, understand it's capability to be reused and be as creative as we can be. There will be some projects where the fabric is almost sacrosanct but they are the special cases - the reality is for the most part a new creative synthesis specifically and in relation to the broader context is required.
This might be seen as contradicting a conservation led strategy, rather it should be seen as essential. With the growth of the scale of the problem we face we need to heighten our creativity in response.