Back to the Future

Why retrofit is good for business

Anything written about retrofit invariably gives priority to the benefits in terms of sustainability.  It’s undeniably an important factor, but it’s by no means the whole story.

The human need for connection to the past can be a compelling driver in making a building highly desirable in terms of its end user.

There’s nothing new about repurposing buildings and their materials, it’s something humans have always done.  There are parts of Carlisle where in the past, stones from Hadrian’s wall were usefully integrated into buildings.  What today would constitute sacrilege, in those days was a perfectly sensible use of ready-made redundant materials.

Neither is there anything new about the human instinct to connect to what has gone before.  In the Bronze Age, people used to place the bones of their ancestors underneath their dwellings as a means of staying close to them and continuing to enjoy their protection.  Today, we flock to places of historical interest and as we step into the past, whether it be contained in Cathedral or Coliseum, it seems we feel that past as well as see it, which both grounds and fulfils us. It resonates.

Retrofit can be expensive in the wrong hands, but in the right hands- our hands, it can be both economical and highly desirable.  The truly responsive architect understands the balance between retaining original features and sensitively repurposing the building for its future use.  That’s something we believe Nick Moss Architects do par excellence, perhaps illustrated by this comment from the RIBA Journal about the award-winning Stubbs Mill:

‘There’s an authenticity to the interventions, which never jar with the Victorian fabric, giving the building another valid existence.’

New builds are generally cheaper and easier to deliver- and certainly there are those who are attracted to the new.  But a substantial proportion of people are irresistibly drawn to a space with a past and are willing to pay for the privilege.

In Manchester and the North generally, we’re fortunate to have many buildings that reflect a deep and rich heritage.  The demand for a Pennine weavers cottage or an apartment or office within the bosom of a red-brick mill is unwavering.  Likewise, more modern and iconic buildings, such as The Toastrack- soon to be refurbished and repurposed by Nick Moss Architects.  This, combined with the advantages of sustainability, I believe makes the retrofit project not only worthwhile but also possessed of tremendous commercial viability.    Not only that, it allows every passer-by to stay securely rooted in the history that they intuitively know forms an integral part of their identity.