A New Book Examines the Art of Breathing Life Into Forgotten Architecture

"We often hear that we live in a time that has no respect for the past: that ours is an era that disregards the architectural qualities of previous eras in an often flagrant way. But the huge array of rebuilds, conservation projects, and thoughtful extensions existing today suggest otherwise."

And so begins Upgrade, a new title from Gestalten that goes on to illustrate exactly this point through a series of engaging anecdotes and stunning images of renovation projects across Europe. With a focus on preservation, it looks at thoughtful transformations that range from extensions on rooftops to factories converted into holiday retreats. Each of the projects honor the structure's past in some special way—building around it in a way that respects the original character, structure, or materials.

Existing buildings offer different opportunities to architects than new-build projects, and dilapidated barns or fading facades can actually serve as starting points for inspiration. The projects showcased in this book succeed in finding a balance between traditional and modern. To showcase how this balance is found, the book provides a platform for the architects to share their experiences, motivations, and approaches. Each project is accompanied by before-and-after photos that illustrate its metamorphoses—driving home the point that the walls of old structures are rife with possibilities.

Here, we offer a peek at some of the unexpected and inspirational projects featured in this book.

Located in Zutzendorf, Alsace, France, this traditional suburban Alsatian home was reworked by Gens Architects into a contemporary version of an architectural typology—which is anything but conventional.

The Collage House is a 19th-century steel fabricator's workshop in North London that was transformed into a family home by Jonathan Tuckey Design. 

In Guimaraes, Portugal, Cannatà e Fernandes took sections of this 19th-century stone factory—which were beyond repair—and replaced them with white concrete. 

In Soutelo, Portugal, AZO Sequeira Arquitectos Associados transformed this 1920s derelict stone-and-wood backyard dovecote into a magical and minimalist concrete children's playhouse. It's complete with a separate level for showers to complement their client's backyard swimming pool. 

To enhance this renovation for a stone-and-slate Baptist church from 1867 in Wiltshire, UK, Jonathan Tuckey Design used blackened timber as a direct reference to the tin tabernacle churches, which is a vernacular type that exists in the rural West Country part of England, to the southwest of London. 

This project by Zecc Architecten BV involved the extension and expansion of a railway cottage that dates back to 1867. The home is situated along a train line next to the Sanpoort-Nord station—which is only a 25-minute train ride from Amsterdam—and a national park. The original brick structure was left virtually untouched. 

With the use of glass, the outer space of this building became part of the interior space in a renovation by Jesús Castillo Oli in Palencia, Spain. Located in a rural area of northern Spain, the industrial structure was in a state of ruin prior to being transformed into a vacation home.  

When building the extension of this early 20th-century home in Senneville-sur-Fécamp, France, Ziegler Antonin Architecte left the main house untouched. They added a dark rectilinear structure, which contrasts with the original light brick home, creating a total escape for the homeowners in the form of a light-filled library. 

To fill in existing irregularities and to create a new clean roofline for this home in Caminha, Portugal, Brandão Costa Arquitectos placed concrete on top of the original stone mass.  

Koreo Arkitekter + Kolab Arkitekter created a modern boathouse out of local timber in Vikebygd, Norway, which fits naturally into the traditional context of its location. 

For this old farm building in the back garden of a larger set of farm buildings in Flanders, Belgium, Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu converted an original brick structure into a modern home for the family's grown daughters. The simple incision of glass-and-mirrors brings light into the space, and successfully divides the interior into separate rooms. 

"Recycling in architecture goes far beyond the simple reuse of material." -Upgrade

Taking inspiration from Le Cabanon by Le Corbusier, the architectural firm B-ILD created modular wooden fittings that would maximize the potential of the interior space of this bunker-turned-holiday home in Vuren, the Netherlands.

This Swiss summerhouse is firmly set in the present while being considerate of the structure's 200-year-old past. To preserve the original stone house, Buchner Bründler Architekten created a new concrete one inside of it. 

When their clients were unsure whether to renovate this historic ruin on the northern coast of Scotland or build an entirely new house, WT Architecture advised them that they could acteually do both if they partially occupied the ruin. When there was no economically feasible way to fix a substantial structural crack in the wall, it was retained and turned into a feature of the new home. 

This transformation by Irisarri + Piñera in the northwest province of Pontreveda, Spain, is an elegant example of how a ruin can be incorporated into a new contemporary structure, while preserving and respecting tradition. 

Upgrade can be purchased here.


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