To Renovate, or to Build New?

To Renovate, or to Build New?

August 15th, 2014


Some fantastical images of places where nature has taken over the lease.

Has our never-ending drive to create over-reached our ability to maintain what we already have?

As architects it seems counter-intuitive to talk clients out of building ‘new’. There is a satisfaction from designing something from a blank slate. Whether we are talking about the design of new houses, apartments, shops or offices.

Where renovating a house, or maintaining a commercial building, comes pre-packaged with its own set of unique challenges. If done well, it has its own set of rewards for owners, architects and the surrounding neighbourhood.

There is the reward of selectively salvaging a small part of our collective history. In Australia we head overseas and admire the history captured in buildings in European or Asian cities. Naturally those buildings were also once 10, 50, and 100 years old. They were kept, and maintained to varying standards, to allow them to hit the 500 year mark and beyond.

Renovating can dramatically reduce the resources used in designing the building that might house a family or host office workers. Sustainability doesn’t have to mean missing out on things. It can simply mean cutting waste where we collectively can.

It can help enhance our lifestyles: if a young couple can renovate an inner city workers cottage or townhouse to help it house kids – could they choose to stay there longer rather than feeling forced outward further into the suburbs to grow a family? The choice of inner or outer suburb is a real choice then, rather than being a forced reality.

It can reduce urban sprawl and significantly reduce infrastructure costs: if we design a renovation well to optimize each parcel of land that already houses, feeds and employs us there may be less need to create the rings of suburbs which push us further from the city, from public transport, shops, and each other. Each ring progressively getting larger, further away and harder to service.

Ultimately if we consider ourselves custodians rather than owners – if we design for flexibility, build to last, and look after what we have: it gives us choices. It enables the building we leave behind to be a viable alternative for a new generation to enjoy… which gives us another way to consider whether to Renovate or Build New.

Source for photos:

[Note: some of the buildings in the photos certainly aren’t unused, and some are being looked after. Angkor Watt (dating from 12c) is a significant site, world heritage listed and a tourist draw card. The ‘Christ of the Abyss’ is a bronze statue deliberately placed under the ocean as a memorial and artwork. And so on.













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We are proud in 2022 to have opened this home for Gold Coast Open House, and Sustainable House Day. This movie is now updated for 2023.

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This modern home design is currently under construction in Coorparoo. The core concept for this project: is the resurrection and transformation of a dilapidated timber church, into the core of a modern family home.

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This modern home design functions as a co-house for 2 families or separate groups. It is being built slowly, evolving with the needs and budgets of the occupants over time.

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