“Buildings are only new for a second, but they are old for a very long time.” John Tuomey. This week our newly hirsute conservation team came together to reflect on a landmark year. Among other successes, winning the Glasgow School of Art was a triumph that will forever be a defining moment in our office trajectory, but it is one of many such projects. Varying scales and none quite so prominent, but each with its own challenges. Common among them is a rigorous approach to history, context and planning, adapted to the technology available to us.
Although not perhaps the first word that comes to mind when we talk about conservation, most of the buildings that we work on were once considered cutting edge. Technology is by its very definition amorphous, changing constantly with each new discovery, pioneering prototype and every failed experiment. However fast and loose we play with the definition, much of the conservation work we do now is only possible through scientific and technological gains.
Chemical analysis of stone, lime mortar and paint allow us to develop appropriate solutions, building up layers of understanding that inform our approach. Huge databases allow us to source the best available match from a much reduced number of working quarries. Thermal imaging gives us the means to understand how the fabric performs and where its weaknesses lie so that our response can be proportionate.
Another arrow in our quiver, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is generally associated with the new, but has applications far beyond as technology is developed that allows the faithful digitisation and documentation of existing structures, challenging our approach and encouraging a deeper understanding of our role as conservationists.
Are we pruning back the old to accommodate the new, or are we carefully preserving a direct link to our ancestors and our built past? Both are true in different measure depending on the building and the information available to us. In each case technology plays a part, helping us to understand what remains and achieve a sensitive resolution to the brief.
Coming to terms with these new technologies consumes a great deal of our time. The learning curve is often steep and full engagement requires no small amount of faith in what can be achieved, but it is the only way.
The increased certainty that lies at the end of this journey (and each small, incremental journey along the way) means that we can spend more time on the things that are important, to deliver an Architecture that forms a new layer in the history of our towns and cities. Old buildings rejuvenated so that they might continue to age, alongside our new buildings that develop their own patina, to be discovered by future generations.