DECADE TALK: Is the only Green Building the one that already exists? Event Summary

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Should we stop being distracted by proposals for shiny new buildings, and realise that what we often call regeneration is actually replacement?

With 80% of the building stock that will be in use in 2050 already in place and buildings being replaced at a rate of 2% per annum, we need to focus our efforts on dealing with what already exists.

Inspired by these thoughts the event on the 2nd of June focused on retrofit at a community level looking back to the original tenement refurbishment projects in the 1970s and forward to Europe’s biggest Passivhaus project.

A case of accidental retrofit- with a quirky presentation containing retro imagery Raymond Young recounted tales of the first tenement refurbishment projects in Glasgow. As the majority of Govan was earmarked for re-development it became clear there were some tenements that would have to last for at least 5 more years. Working with the local community, Raymond and fellow architecture students developed a strategy to install bathrooms in tenements flats. Captivating the audience Raymond recounted tales of innovative awareness raising at the Govan Fair, determined women, utilizing the press, community participation and the public opening of a bathroom in a tenement flat by future Lord Provost, Pat Lally.

Collaboration saved the Glengate Hall- Kirsty Macari outlined how collaboration between two previously remote sections of Angus Council worked to provide affordable housing in the centre of Kirriemuir. Originally a church and latterly a community hall the Glengate Hall had lain empty since 2005, the owner’s plans for redevelopment constrained by the recession and in the meantime the building had deteriorated to an unsafe condition. Kirsty spoke about how collaboration between the council departments of planning and strategic housing identified a suite of grants and loans capable of saving the building. With the aid of funding from the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme and the Empty Homes Loan Fund and the help of a pro-active building owner Glengate hall is now a welcome home to both tenants and owners.

The Glasgow Renaissance– since 2007 photographer Chris Leslie has been documenting the condemned and disappearing housing schemes of Glasgow. He screened two of his short films. In The Oatlands long time resident “Irish Tony” reminisces the community spirit of the old Oatlands illustrated by photos of front gardens that could contend for Britain in bloom. Still living in the Oatlands in his new build flat which doesn’t have the same “charisma” of the old place he asks “where did everybody go?” and questions why they couldn’t have just refurbished the old flats. In Lights Out former residents of the Whitevale and Bluevale “twin towers” in Glasgow’s East End offer insights into the life of the flats from their early days as good family homes with all the ‘mod cons’ to being latterly effected by myriad social issues, prompting the audience to really consider whether the failure of the blocks was actually in the architecture, or in the maintenance and poor stewardship of the buildings?

From the ground up– offering up a glimmer of hope Cathy Houston of Collective Architecture spoke of the lighting project at Dougrie Place in Castlemilk in Glasgow where action led by the local community enhanced the needs must approach taken by the GHA to overclad the buildings, adding a bit of magic with a lighting project which turned the towers into a huge weather station, powered by renewable energy. Cathy then went on to discuss how retrofit projects should not just answer technical issues but look also to the social needs of the community.

Illustrating this point her colleague Rupert Daly introduced Collective Architecture’s plans for three tower blocks in Woodside, Glasgow where the blocks were not looked at in isolation but as part of an appraisal of the whole local area. Mirroring the enthusiasm Raymond and his fellow students had in the 1970s Rupert outlined how upgrading the three high-rise blocks to Passivhaus standard could reduce energy consumption by a potential 80%, and went on to present ambitious proposals which included the introduction of community gardens and energy schemes that could have the potential to generate both income and energy resources in the Woodside area.

The event took place on the 2nd of June at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and formed part of Architecture and Design Scotland’s DECADE a series of 10 talks on architecture in Scotland, which reflect on the past 10 years and look forward to the important issues of the next decade.

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