We work exclusively, with historic buildings and define ourselves as a specialist “conservation” consultant. Although the word conservation can embody the repair and refurbishment of a building, we see it as a dynamic creative process, through which buildings maintain relevance and vitality for each generation, whilst retaining all that keeps them special to the society they serve.
The UK’s listed buildings is one of the world’s great cultural collections but unlike the statues in the Louvre or the paintings in the Prado they must constantly accept change to remain relevant, usable and beautiful. Managing this process is the task of the conservation architect.
To me adaptive reuse is the creative process of keeping our shared heritage, embedded in our historic buildings, relevant to the needs of a changing society. This is not just the tangible changes relating to access, facilities and servicing but importantly the intangible emotional ties of a community to a much-loved familiar building and the delight of discovering another, new, beautiful layer of history in that building.
key ingredients and principles of a successful project
In the historic environment, finding the harmonious balance between function and attractiveness, whilst expressing the character and significance of the building is the goal of the Insall team.
We must therefore accept that we have a precious element of our cultural heritage in our hands, so we need to fully understand what makes it special, how it has developed successfully through the previous generations and maybe what is threatening its future role in society. At Insall we listen, really listen to our clients to discover what the need of the new users will be and in parallel we “listen” to the building too. This extends to recent and ongoing projects, such as at the internationally important Rochdale Town Hall, where the focus has been firmly on the needs of residents, visitors, as well as users of the buildings and all of this whilst carrying out detailed surveys and reports of the building. The design process and the end results will be enriched by an informed process of gathering a deeper knowledge of its past and future.
challenges and design approach
It is the design process informed by an understanding of the significance of a historic building that characterizes Insall’s work. Learning about and growing in respect for, what is special about a structure is the first challenge, much like getting to know a new person. Only with the real knowledge, understanding and respect can creative design solutions be framed.
It is important that this informs and does not inhibit the creative design process, rather it can clear away wrongful first impressions, put the architect’s ego back in her / his pocket and will encourage a solution which brings out the best in the building and the designer.
Just like people, no two historic buildings are the same and there can be no single approach or style when designing a building’s new form. Our projects have ranged from vast Victorian glasshouses, such as the Temperate House; to small, new build projects in tightly controlled conservation areas, such as in Llandrwog, north Wales. I don’t, therefore, believe anyone would say of any of our projects that, “here is a typical Insall adaptive reuse project”, only that “there is a wonderful old building, brought back to a sustainable new life with new and old sitting together in harmony”.
social and cultural significance of adaptive reuse
Our historic buildings tell our story more truly than any written word. They are the backdrop to our lives, with ranging levels of significance, internationally, nationally or locally and always important to the communities who live in and around them. Would we throw away a Modigliani to make space for a Damien Hirst? No, we can have both. Not all old buildings can be kept although keeping the embedded carbon in existing buildings is being recognized now as a major factor in combatting climate change.
We do not accept that any historic buildings will have come to the end of its life if it has been occupied and maintained. Rather only one chapter in its story will have closed and the Insall architect is the catalyst in turning the page to the next.