A building is never truly finished; it can always be re-adapted and transformed to take upon a new form or function. Recycling architecture has been a common practice through history, and in many cases, it has led to the preservation of a big part of our current cultural heritage.
We notice this in many of our medieval churches, which received several extensions as their communities grew bigger through time. Today these structures display a set of collages, part Romanesque, part Gothic, part Baroque… where every layer carries a memory of the era and people that built them.
“Buildings undergo changes because society does not stand still.”
- Onvoltooid verleden, Vlaams Architectuurinstituut
Lately, a rise of in several ecological and humanitarian issues urges us to rethink and transform our built environment once again. Our dense and congested cities must be loosened and integrated without taking up additional free space. Hence, one of the ways of “doing more in less space” is through urban redevelopment, a process determined by the existing architecture.
Redevelop/Redevelopment - Building new construction on a site that has pre-existing uses or renovating existing uses on a site. Redevelopment generally is a strategy to rehabilitate blighted urban areas through renovation.
- Glossary of Land Use and Planning Terms, The Institute for Local Government
For Belgium, a country that has witnessed rapid growth during the modern era, its current building stock is largely composed of post-war concrete structures. Focusing on functionality and fast, low-cost construction, these apartment blocks were designed with very little attention to their visual or ecological impact. Decades after, hastened by their deteriorating state, a debate arises concerning their future treatment: demolition or renovation?
By focusing on turnover and profit, many developers have deemed these buildings as disposable. Although many of them are truly beyond repair, some may still have a future value, if successfully modernized. Therefore, a professional in-depth examination is crucial in order to determine the true potential of these outdated structures.
Unlike complete demolition and new construction projects, a transformation process requires a significantly smaller financial input and shorter time span. This way, owners can improve the quality and safety of their homes without the need of third-party investors. Additionally, the expenses prove their worth in the long run, reducing maintenance costs and energy consumption in the following years. Renovations also generate significantly less waste and CO2 emissions than the rebuilding process, leading to a more ecological choice in the course of urban development.
Although they are small elements in the urban fabric, apartment homes also carry their own microhistories, materializing important social changes or simply holding a significance in a certain social group like a neighborhood or a family. Just as complete demolition is a process of erasing and starting over, redevelopment is a process of organic urban growth which has the power to connect the generations of the present with those of the future.