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If it ain’t broke… 5 ways to work with existing buildings, as told at FRONT

In the face of mounting pressure on designers to balance environmental and financial considerations, Todd Hammond of Hammond Studio chaired a session at the inaugural FRONT event on the true value of adaptive reuse.

We can all agree that the past few years have been tough for the design and construction industry. Not in terms of growth – the Australian design and construction industry continues to expand at an unprecedented rate – but in terms of the pressures faced by practitioners. As clients and end-users alike become increasingly attuned to environmental issues and facilities managers tighten the belt on mushrooming budgets, designers are now faced with the seemingly impossible task of delivering high-performance spaces that balance the books without compromising on sustainability.

In this session of the FRONT Forum – proudly presented by Gaggenau – from the inaugural FRONT event, Todd Hammond of Hammond Studio sat down with Peter Tonkin, Director of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, and Marc Schamburg and Michael Alvisse of Schamburg + Alvisse to discuss how adaptive reuse can make this task significantly more achievable. Speaking animatedly about all types of design from product and industrial to architectural and interiors, the panel shared their experiences with adaptive reuse and provided valuable insights into why newer isn’t always necessarily better.

(L-R) Marc Schamburg, Peter Tonkin, Todd Hammond and Michael Alvisse.

(L-R) Marc Schamburg, Peter Tonkin, Todd Hammond and Michael Alvisse.

Watch the full video above, or read on for a summary of the five main ways in which adaptive reuse can transform your practice for the better.


  1. It can be easy being green


While certification schemes and accreditation programs are often one of the first things people think of when they hear “green design”, the reality is that the playing field for sustainable design is considerably broader. Though there is a time and place for box-checking – and sustainable certification schemes are certainly worthwhile – it’s time to think a little more creatively about how to marry your design practice with your inner eco-warrior. Reusing an existing building (and, in some cases, parts of a fit-out) can make a significant environmental impact by preventing the carbon-intensive process of demolition and saving materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill. The latter is particularly valuable, given that the design and construction industry remains one of the country’s leading sources of waste.


  1. Dive into layers of character


As the panellists in this session pointed out, one of the key benefits of an existing building – particularly one that is several years old – is the rich history and character that it embodies within its four walls. By adapting an existing structure you can avail of layers of identity and texture and use this as a starting point and source of inspiration for your own designs. What’s more, most older buildings offer a veritable treasure chest of designer delights including larger footprints, higher ceiling heights, and detailing and rare materials that you just can’t get with a new build.


  1. Get a return on your investment


There’s no denying that adaptive reuse is a labour of love – and just like any labour of love, it requires a significant commitment in terms of both time and effort. However, as Hammond, Tonkin, Alvisse, and Schamburg agree, this commitment always pays off in the end. Unlike new builds, reuse projects often require more planning but less by way of execution; as Tonkin puts it, “more time up front but less time on site.” This is a massive benefit, given that supervision and on-site costs often make up a large chunk of overall project expenses. Minimising time spent on site and properly planning how a project will be executed can significantly soften the blow in this regard.


  1. Honour the past while looking to the future


Breathing new life into existing spaces is a great way to pay homage to the past and celebrate the enduring work of the talented designers who have preceded you. The built environment is one of the most visible and powerful means of telling the story of a city and helping establish its identity; buildings are an indicator of the ways in which we choose to live, work, and play. And it’s not all retrospection: existing building envelopes can also be a potent source of inspiration for new design and drastically shape the way we design well into the future.


  1. Loosen up!


Importantly, adaptive reuse can equip you with skills and knowledge suitable for use in new builds. Working with existing buildings can help reshape your design approach for the better, primarily by guiding you toward a more “loose fit” approach to design that is informed by the knowledge that your space may well be the subject of adaptive reuse in future. This can lead to the design of more flexible, accommodating floor plans that leave space for changes in use and occupation, without adhering rigidly to a specific program or function.


Want more? Watch the full session now

The FRONT Seminar Series was proudly presented by Gaggenau.

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