The UK welcomes millions of tourists every single year, with many of them venturing far beyond the confines of our capital. Many of these visitors come to see our historic buildings, even ones that we don’t consider to be all that historic. In fact, many of us take them for granted, such is our wealth of architecture and the variety of buildings to be found all over the country. However, when a storied building comes under threat, Britons of all stripes rally to defend it. This is even the case when a building has been neglected for years and is on the verge of falling down. So when is it okay to take a wrecking ball to a “classic” building?
Sometimes it can be the case that changing tastes necessitate demolishing a structure. In an article about classic buildings around the world being torn down, the Guardian notes that sometimes the proof is in what replaces the older building. When the West Pier in Brighton was replaced, it was with a modern glass and metal structure. Yet changing tastes is, for many people, an unacceptable reason to tear down a building, no matter how ugly it is perceived to be. A case in point is the Brutalist architecture that defines the University of East Anglia. A multi-level maze of dark concrete, featuring a famed ziggurat style of accommodation building, people have argued for years that it should be replaced. Certainly the buildings that have been added since reflect more modern sensibilities and needs. Yet Brutalism has undergone a recent revival, and UEA’s architecture is now increasingly treasured as being significant of its time.
Greenbelt land is exceptionally difficult to build on, such are the restrictions in place. This means in many cases, home builders are forced to choose from a limited selection of brownfield sites. Some of these sites are home to old factories that are an intrinsic part of the area. Locals will either have worked there themselves or had relatives work there, and will consider it being torn down as an affront to the town’s history. Yet in many cases, the factories are empty and falling down. So what’s the solution?
In some instances, including a few well-publicised ones, the old industrial building is repurposed. As much of the original structure is retained and restored to at least maintain the aesthetic of the area. Although this route may please the majority of people, it is not without its downsides. Architect David Parrish, speaking to National Real Estate Investor, explains:
“When you renovate you have to deal with an existing structure. You would have to live with a feature that’s unacceptable. But if you can just go in and demolish it, you can build the building you want with a pricing structure that you know and understand. That can be cheaper.”
It’s unrealistic to maintain every single older building in the country where people have a semi-sentimental attachment to it. In some cases, it is not that locals object to a building being torn down, but that the replacement isn’t in keeping with the current aesthetic. Perhaps architects should try to replace old buildings with something similar to what was there before, if not in function then at least in feel and appearance.