Fringe Box



Opinion: The Case for Recycling Old Buildings

Published on: 1 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 4 Jan, 2024

The recycled Millmead Baptist Church

By Anna Hummel

local architect and member of the Guildford Society’s Design and Heritage Group

In the drive for net zero should we be giving more thought to recycling our old building stock?

With concrete accounting for up to 7 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions (Cop27: UN report) and other building materials such steel, aluminium, glass and bricks having high embodied energy, re-using appears to be a convincingly sustainable strategy.

This article considers the pros and cons and cites an example of a successful local project. Recycling buildings saves raw materials, energy in production, transport and waste disposal while minimising the equivalent embodied carbon emissions involved with new construction.

Views of Millmead Baptist Church, as it was

However, the benefits of these savings are reduced if the energy efficiency of the building in use remains high. Therefore the first challenge is to improve the thermal performance of the roof, walls and floor in a way that resolves multiple technicalities including cold bridging
and ventilation – not always as easy as it sometimes sounds!

Working with the existing structure can also impact functional organisation and aesthetic freedom of design. Integrating upgraded service installations can be difficult and few buildings built before 1995 made any concessions to accessibility.

The logistical and economic implications of such challenges are substantial but nevertheless retrofitting can be a cost-effective solution, causing less disruption and allowing more flexibility in programming construction.

It allows cultural continuity and preserves architectural heritage, which is often perceived as a benefit to the wider community.

Such was the case at The Baptist Church in Millmead Guildford, a 1960’s building with a concrete frame that has been successfully adapted and transformed. The project had wide public support through the planning process and the lengthy construction period, eventually winning the Guildford Design Award in the Community Public Building Category in 2021.

Although retaining the primary concrete frame structure presented complications, it did not prevent the architects, Re-Format, from revitalising the tight network of interior corridors by introducing roof lights and vertical light shafts into the building. These also reduce reliance on artificial light and increase natural ventilation

Externally the installation of full-height windows within a new overcoat of elegant stone-coloured cladding provided the opportunity to greatly enhance the insulation and thermal efficiency of the whole building.

Cold bridging was avoided and airtightness achieved by meticulous detailing.

Leaving the existing structure in place allowed a phased construction programme starting with the leaky roof and progressing downwards. This meant that the building could continue in use with each new stage starting as funding became available.

The final phase included the addition of a new entrance pavilion with a café and raised terrace.

Viewed from the street across the landscaped forecourt the building now appears open and approachable with a generous ramp and stairs leading up to the wide glazed entrance doors.

This delightful building demonstrates that, given due thought and care, there is plenty of scope to recycle our building stock and save carbon emissions while still meeting new standards of thermal performance and ease of use.

This approach to redevelopment should be applied more widely.

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Responses to Opinion: The Case for Recycling Old Buildings

  1. Andrew Halliday Reply

    January 1, 2024 at 7:48 pm

    A really interesting and thought provoking article.

  2. Olly Azad Reply

    January 1, 2024 at 11:53 pm

    Anna Hummel makes several important points in her article where older buildings could be considered for possible recycling, with the Millmead Baptist Church already undergone a complete transformation. From an uninviting 1960’s pile of concrete jungle to a contemporary and spacious light filled building both inside and out the difference is vast.

    I’m embarrassed to say that i’ve visited the Britannia Pub next door for lunch but never ventured inside the Millmead Centre thinking that some sermon might be taking place? However, with a trendy and airy looking cafe on site a visit is needed to fully appreciate the environmental credentials that this building has to offer.

    There must be numerous other buildings in Guildford, as highlighted, and around the country, that could surely be in need of rescue from toxic emissions they are emitting? With the right vision in place and without the need of being an environmentalist fanatic and causing chaos, I think with proactive initiatives, like the one at Millmead, the environment and infrastructure can work seamlessly. We can only hope so.

  3. E Shaw Reply

    January 2, 2024 at 12:27 pm

    This kind of development would get my vote every time. But, the appeal is just as much about the use and amount of green space surrounding it, which is invaluable.

    It would be good to have a second opinion piece covering some more of the financial aspects of recycling existing buildings, particularly where they are privately owned, since this will be the overriding concern.The visual, placemaking bonuses are clear. Guildford could certainly benefit from more develoment like this.

  4. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    January 4, 2024 at 12:23 pm

    An interesting article about how to transform an older building and extend its usage to suit current needs.

    Reducing carbon emission should be top priority for all – from grassroots up to the top level of our global society.

    New constructions must all be very energy efficient but demolition and reconstruction activities should also pay careful attention to carbon emission and preserving construction that had already produced their emission.

    Demolition of low-rise brick buildings, brown sites and their replacements with multi-storey constructions to accommodate rising population are taking place in many towns. There are also cases where older concrete and steel-framed buildings are also destined for demolition because of their inefficient use of space and functions they accommodate.

    A prime example in Guildford is the Debenhams building. Native Land, the developer, has planning permission to demolish and rebuild apartments but retaining the basement and the ground floor for commercial use.

    As far as I am aware this is a sound building and I think it could be re-purposed for both commercial and residential use. However, Native Land has not yet disclosed whether they have been able to satisfy pre-commencement conditions and whether they have firmed up their plans for demolition and reconstruction. Maybe there are financial consideration of inflation, difficulties in procurement of materials and skilled labour etc.

    I am firmly in favour of re-purposing this building as I have stated this many times here in The Guildford Dragon NEWS. Conserving assets and reducing unnecessary carbon emission make sense when financial conditions have become unfavourable.

    I am sure an update from Native Land will be appreciated by many.

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