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Out with the old, in with the new?

Richard Aylen of Junckers looks into whether we should be installing modern floor finishes in heritage buildings.

There are very few aspects of our industry that aren’t connected in some way with sustainability and installing new floors in heritage buildings is no exception. I want to look at why we might want to meet the challenges of working with older buildings in the first place, then to go on to talk about the special considerations that might arise when we look at replacing or assessing floors in older buildings.

I’ve seen many discussions among designers about the benefits of reusing, extending, and adapting older buildings for continued or reuse, rather than demolishing them and building from new. In purely financial terms this may not result in a lower project cost because there’ll often need to be more investigative work such as structural and condition surveys and investigation of building services. Buildings that are being adapted for new uses will often need to be altered to suit current space planning and access requirements and to include modern heating, cooling, and communications technology.

However, refurbishment and adaptation of buildings provides significant environmental opportunities compared with newbuild because there’ll usually be less waste from demolition, and therefore a lower burden upon landfill, reprocessing, transport, and reduced use of raw materials, especially in relation to materials with high embodied carbon such as concrete, plastics, ceramics/clay products and steel.

There are social benefits too. There’s usually a strong desire to retain our architectural heritage, and often the most attractive and valued streetscapes are those that have a blend of building styles and ages. Many older buildings will have a connection with local history and losing the building altogether can weaken people’s unique sense of community, identity and belonging.

The people living and working in the building will often value the fact their workplace or home has a connection with the town or nation’s past. The fact it may have an unusual layout can be seen as ‘character’ and can provide as sense of uniqueness that may be missing from a new building. Sometimes of course if the building is listed or in a conservation area demolition may not be an option and so the owner and their designer will have no choice but to meet the challenges of adaptation.

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