Building with Heritage: A Case Study or Two…
Architecture takes a snapshot of a society within time and exhibits it as a physical manifestation of that moment in history. It is the translation of values into the built form. Each building you look at reveals certain values and the daily lifestyle that existed within the time and place in which it was built.
As familiar as we are with the present and understand the motivations of contemporary architecture, it is historic architecture that can provide us with an intriguing insight into a world not so familiar as our own.
Despite Perth being a relatively young city, we have our fair share of heritage architecture and it is not uncommon for us to work on heritage projects. Heritage projects offer a unique opportunity to preserve and highlight the original fabric of a building, to interpret its history through architectural intervention and conservation. A sensitive adaptation allows the visitor and user of the place access to the building’s history and story in a very tangible way.
The first crucial step in these projects is the research into the original building and the development of a Conservation Management strategy. This involves the assessment and outlining of the key conservation policies and strategies relevant to ensure any significant heritage fabric is identified and conserved. As part of this, heritage impact statements are often required to be submitted for approval which outlines the building’s significance, how any works will protect or enhance heritage areas, and any risks to the heritage aspects and how these will be mitigated. The strategy also can identify best approaches for new work and integration of new & old and future management of the property.
For our recent heritage project, the Guildford Hotel, it began with a lengthy assessment of the current building condition. Significant portions of the building, including the roof, sections of the floors, and complete walls, were destroyed by the 2008 fire, leaving a mess of a building. We decided to have a 3D laser scan done of the Hotel to accurately capture what remained and where everything was. From this point forward we were able to create a Conservation Management strategy to deal with the complexity of what could and should be salvaged and restored, and what opportunities existed to integrate contemporary architectural components.
One of the most successful approaches to heritage projects is to retain and feature the heritage fabric juxtaposing this with contemporary architectural forms, materials, and planning, to contrast new and old in a dynamic way and generate curiosity in users. If buildings were simply recreated to their exact original form, they would risk not addressing current user needs and becoming underutilised. Thus, this amalgamation of old and new serves two purposes simultaneously – preserving history and preserving function. The contrast created by this integration highlights how far society has developed, it gives an interesting insight into life and values at the time of the original building construction.
We adopted this approach in both the Guildford Hotel, and another recent heritage project – the Midland offices of Smith Broughton Auctioneers. I both, we deliberately exposed and featured the original structure and finishes as a basis for creating a dynamic and obvious dialogue between itself and the new additions. In addition, in the Guildford Hotel, elements damaged by the 2008 fire were showcased to help illustrate significant events in the story of the building. With the Midland Offices, most of the materials selected are contemporary materials – glass steel, aluminium and dark grey (Monument) Maxline cladding – to contrast and compliment the natural, somewhat rustic original materials (face brick, concrete floors, dressed natural timber) with sharp, slick modern materials. The new main office space on the First Floor is a large open plan space which sits under the original tongue & groove jarrah lined raked ceiling. We are providing rooflights through this ceiling lining to provide the space with natural light. Offices sit around this main space – again sitting under the main cathedral timber roof. These are lined and enclosed as ‘boxes’ that sit within the main space, so the whole cathedral ceiling space is appreciated. New dark steel clad ‘boxes’ rise out of the roof to the east and west providing additional space and outlook to the hills and to the west. The large original timber trusses are being retained and highlighted within the new office space. The contrast of all these elements tells the story of the original building as well as making the new works easy to see and understand.
Often in adapting a heritage building to current use one of the more difficult things we come across in our initial assessment of the building is a requirement to repair the original structure with minimal impact on the original building. While safety of the building cannot be compromised, repairing the heritage structure in a harmonious way can require very drastic, complex, or time consuming processes. An additional challenge to address in an existing intact or damaged heritage building are the services. In conventional new works, services are generally concealed, however many services were introduced after the construction of today’s heritage buildings and thus have had to have been surface mounted. Services though can tell their own story, by being left exposed and in conduits.
One of the biggest obstacles to heritage projects outside of the building design is the time, cost and management of the works, with timeframes and costs often exceeding the budget. This is often due to unforeseen issues arising, such as certain elements being discovered in poorer condition than expected, having to source materials that match existing building materials which often are difficult to find, expensive, and remove the opportunity for cost comparison to alternatives. There is typically a requirement for more time from the architect to project manage due to issues like these. More time is also required upfront to assess the heritage building condition and complete a measure, which can often be time consuming and difficult as older buildings tend to have deteriorating materials and less consistent dimensions. Depending on the scale and complexity of the building, a 3D building scan may be used to capture accurately great detail of the original building.
With the Midland Offices, the external timberwork had deteriorated from exposure to the elements for over 100 years and the windows, barge boards, and western former ‘train platform’ lining all needed repair and some sections that were too weathered have been replaced. One unexpected thing that we have had to deal with was a huge amount of bird droppings that have been collecting for the best part of a century! This incurred a cost of nearly $30,000 to remove and safely dispose of. An area we have had to make significant repairs to is the main roof under-purlins and rafters, which have sagged significantly over the years, with some areas sagging up to 30mm. In order to rectify this problem, we have retained the original rafters in place, and bolted new treated pine rafters against the original, reset the ridge with the new rafters and bolted the new and original sagged rafters, to take the ‘sag’ out of the roof. We have also provided new collar ties and tie-down strapping to ensure the roof meets current by-laws and standards.
In light of the above, heritage projects can seem overwhelmingly complex. However, it is the challenge of dealing with this complexity in a way that delivers a unique fresh design that drives us to continue taking on board heritage projects. We find that simple, exposed architectural solutions are often the most proactive, but also the most honest and easy for the user to interpret. A successfully renewed heritage project provides such rich value to the users and the wider society through its acknowledgement and intersection of the past and the present.
For a greater look at our heritage projects, head here for the Guildford Hotel, and here for the Smith Broughton Auctioneers Midland Offices.