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Should iconic buildings be demolished – or preserved?

December 27, 2021

Heritage at Crossroads: The Dilemma of Demolition or Preservation for Iconic Buildings

We know all too well at Kinetic Demolition how the retail, commercial and industrial landscapes have changed globally, in the UK and in our base of Scotland.

Just a cursory glance at the four major cities here reveals some interesting facets.

Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, developed as a maritime trading post, with the Industrial Revolution adding textiles, engineering and chemicals. Much of this industrial heritage remains with a Merchant City area springing up since the 1980s.

Edinburgh, the capital and our base, is the second largest city in Scotland and is steeped in history and grand architecture, like its neighbour Glasgow. Despite it always being an epicentre for tourism, it does have a rich industrial heritage based on printing, brewing and distilling continuing to grow in the 19th century and joined by new industries such as rubber works and engineering works. It is a centre too for financial services.

Aberdeen, the third most populous city, is built on granite and oil, with much of its current wealth stemming from the discovery of North Sea oil. The traditional industries of fishing, paper-making, shipbuilding, and textiles have been overtaken by the oil industry and Aberdeen’s seaport. 

Dundee is, perhaps, the city that has changed the most and its present was built on the three J’s of jute, jam and journalism. It has long maritime associations with its place on the Tay, along with whaling. Its waterfront has seen major investment in flagship places like the V and A museum, designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. 

Potted history of the four major cities ticked off, we need to look at the question posed in the title:

Should iconic buildings be demolished – or preserved?

Clearly, it’s hard to give a straight answer to such a binary question but with space at a premium in many major cities, like the ones close to us and others like London, should preservation be a non-negotiable.

We’ve considered in several blogs how cities are changing in use. Covid-19 and Working From Home, online habits and the restrictions on travel, have led many businesses to consider their presents and likely futures. John Lewis, already closed in Aberdeen, reports that 70% of revenue now comes from their app and website and other retail and hospitality casualties have been felt this year.

One iconic company, Marks and Spencer, is currently debating its city centre future on Oxford Street no less, which is moving from an epicentre of retail to residential as consumer habits change.

Instead of improving the building they’ve occupied since the 1930s, there are architects arguing for its demolition and replacement:

Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners, heading the project, has this to say:

“It’s not always right to refurbish” old structures,, claiming that the contentious project is akin to trading in a gas guzzler for a Tesla.

“I would liken this to a discussion about a not-very-well-performing diesel car from the 1970s,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is replace it with a Tesla.”

“In the short term, the diesel car has got less embodied carbon,” he added. “But very quickly, within between nine and 16 years, we will be ahead on carbon because our Tesla will perform better.”

The new building will be mixed use for residential and retail, arguably more in tune with 2022, than 1932, but would refurbishment be a better option?

What are your thoughts?

Join the discussion on our LinkedIn page.

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