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Reuse, recycle, refurbish

James Harrison | 15 Nov 2016 | Comments

You wouldn’t not recycle your paper in the office, so why would you not recycle your building estate?

Older buildings are often like a well-loved uncle, they are appreciated but could do with a new suit of clothes, and a new haircut to look more contemporary. The skill of the designer is in shaping this ‘new set of clothes’ to fit the building (like a Saville Road suit, at half the price).

We recently did just that for City College Plymouth, where we created a new facade for an existing 70s eight storey tower block with creative use of mesh cladding, rendered insulated walls and new double glazing. The new look designed out the overheating issues from direct South West and East elevations, massively added to the thermal capability of the building, and ensured safe cleaning of windows. It also won the college a design award for sustainability.

There are, of course, many things to consider when moving towards a refurbishment option. Sometimes the building is too far gone and no matter how much electrical voltage you apply to the defibrillator paddles, it’s just never going to make it. In our experience it is rare that it cannot be reused but in some cases, you have to be realistic.

So how do you land a great big refurb shaped punch on a low budget? Here are some suggestions, based on our experiences within the college sector.

Choose your architect and design team with great care. If they are not as excited about the project and the opportunity it presents, then you can only expect mediocre results. Passion and real creative talent within limited budgets counts for a huge amount when it comes to refurbishments.

Use interior designers. They are at the heart of the building’s final touch. They’ll make a big impact on the look and feel of the final result, but make sure they have worked with the architects to ensure aesthetic compatibility.

Spend the budget in a non-linear way. The cost consultant may blanket the budget over the building area, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend it that way. Through vision workshops and stakeholder engagement, find out what is important to spend money on. Focus on pockets of excellence that have a real ‘wow’ factor along an otherwise boring corridor; otherwise you can end up with a bland magnolia, lukewarm, boredom inducing nothingness refit. At City College Plymouth we created the ‘wow factor’ by creating zinging trade zones along a boring corridor which advertised what was happening in the teaching spaces and themed them heavily. This gave ownership of the spaces to the staff and students to show off and engage with the whole college cohort.

Use cheap materials creatively. Paint for example is cheap, effective and covers a multitude of sins if it is used boldly and with real commitment.

Recycling your building is also much more in line with the current world zeitgeist and in harmony with the millennial culture of the students you are trying to attract. Generation Z care about how we use and reuse Earth’s resources, and appreciate innovative and clever ways of doing so, so a refurbishment can be a great opportunity to show you’re in tune with their issues.

If you view a refurbishment as a series of recycled elements brought - through good design - into a rejuvenated and uniquely exciting asset it’s not something you’ll ever view as the ‘second best option’.