Re-use of Industrial Buildings
recent years much of the built infrastructure associated with the UK’s traditional
industries has fallen into disuse. Sometimes this has come about because companies
have transferred manufacturing activity overseas to take advantage of lower costs
there. In other cases industrial activity has moved to new purpose-built structures
in order to meet process changes, to conform to modern working practices or to
meet regulatory requirements. Whatever the reason, many companies have left behind
a large stock of redundant buildings – some old, some much less so – which has
declined rapidly through lack of maintenance, dragging areas of our towns and
cities into dereliction.
Current central and local government planning and fiscal
policies are increasingly directed towards re-using such sites and buildings in
order to help fulfil the broad political objective of redeveloping ‘brownfield’
sites in preference to greenfield ones. The fact that brownfield sites have already
had a use often means that they possess a cultural history. Older buildings or
the complex of buildings may already have been listed or scheduled as ancient
monuments, or the site itself protected by another designation. Conservation officers
and inspectors increasingly require that the significance of such sites be assessed
in accordance with the Planning Policy Guidance, PPG15 and PPG16. And such
an assessment is not to be limited to below-ground archaeology. Above-ground archaeology
can be of equal or greater importance, since it may provide a record of architectural,
industrial or some other form of human activity.
great masters of Renaissance art employed dissection, anatomical study and draughtsmanship
as a way of gaining a proper understanding of their subject matter. Today’s designers
can also benefit from taking a scientific approach to their work if they are to
make the best use of existing buildings and sites. All too often an imperfect
understanding of how structures perform and, most importantly, how they can be
adapted in ways which recognise their cultural significance results in poor proposals,
conflict with the conservation authorities, and time and money being wasted.
initial task should be to assess the cultural significance of the site and its
buildings. This may reside in their architectural form or spaces; in the materials
or structural systems used in their construction; or in the industrial processes
carried out within them. Any of these may have led to a designation in recognition
of historical or architectural importance. This is achieved by a desk-based assessment,
(produced from researching archives and other sources), which can sometimes reveal
an unexpected wealth of information, including the original constructional drawings.
The local conservation officer or librarian can often give guidance to sources.
assessment will provide the brief for the next stage, which should include a field
evaluation of the buildings and the site, identifying and recording the various
buildings, the materials employed in their construction and any architectural
or historically important features and fittings.
on these ‘desk’ and ‘field’ assessments a report or ‘conservation plan’ should
be produced that provides an objective statement of facts that can be accepted
by all parties. This can be used as a basis to agree what is significant and what
is not about the site and buildings, preferably as the starting point of the design
process. This document will benefit all parties. For the designer, it will be
as much a part of the brief as the schedule of accommodation, giving an indication
of those areas where the existing fabric should be retained and others where a
bolder approach can be taken. For the client, it will be a source of information
on the cultural significance of the site, which can be a valuable component of
the marketing and it will provide the conservation officer and the Inspector with
the information to take informed decisions on the design and on the degree of
impact or intervention that is acceptable.
traditional industrial buildings were over-built, in that they used materials
of greater strength or in greater quantity than was necessary. This means that
today they can frequently be adapted successfully to new uses. For example, when
seeking to convert a building to a residential use the generous storey heights
often provide the designer with the opportunity to introduce duplex units with
minimal intrusion. Subdivision will alter the nature of the architectural space,
but industrial buildings usually have a simple bay that is repeated, and by preserving
one bay, perhaps using it for vertical circulation, it is possible to provide
an exemplum of the building’s original design and use.
introduction of new elements such as openings, ventilators, airbricks or terminals,
is likely to have an effect on a building’s character and must therefore be taken
into close account. Moreover, the subdivision of existing openings can damage
its design or proportions which may be the very features that led the building
to be listed in the first place. Or it may have been the architectural space or
the fittings which were considered notable. If so, their retention should make
it possible to conserve the history of the place and, perhaps, something of the
people who worked there and the industrial processes which took place. This is
the design-led approach being adopted for the conversion of a former military
base in South East London, where the new inhabitants will become the guardians
of its history. The display of artefacts and of some of the site’s former products,
such as steam hammer bases, gun barrels, and the redeployment of cannon balls
as bollards, along with the retention of fire notices, keyboards and cast iron
heaters, will ensure that the Royal Arsenal’s history is not lost.
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2002
Update, September 2012
Recently there have been several significant changes in UK government planning guidance and policy.
In England Planning Policy Guidance Note 15: Conservation of the Historic Environment (PPG15, 1994) and Planning Policy Guidance Note 16: Archaeology and Planning (PPG16, 1990) have been cancelled by the Government. Initially replaced by Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) in March 2010, current policy guidance for England is now given in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) issued in March 2012. Further guidance is proposed, but in the meantime the guide which originally accompanied PPS5 remains in force - see PPS5 Historic Environment Planning Practice Guide.
In Scotland the principal statutory guidance on policy is now Scottish historic environment policy (SHEP), which was published in December 2011, with subsidiary guidance given in Historic Scotland’s Managing Change leaflets. These documents together replace the Memorandum of Guidance on Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas published in 1998.
NUGENT RIBA is the principal of Robin
Nugent Architects. At the time that this article was prepared, he was the Senior
Architect of the Cultural Heritage Division of Broadway Malyan. He has 20 years'
experience in conservation and is a member of ICOMOS, SPAB and the IHBC. Some
current commissions include a new Visitor Centre at Syon Park in West London
and a number of scheduled ancient monuments where sustainable
solutions for the future are being sought.
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