How do new buildings get to be old?

February 14, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, Wondrous Cities

The north of England isn’t short of fantastic 19th and early 20th century architecture.

Some of it is grand civic buildings like St Georges Hall in Liverpool.

A photo of St Georges Hall

St Georges Hall

Others are the abandoned industrial buildings which have become a sort of new natural resource in the northern landscape like water power or coal.

These old buildings can be re-purposed into loft apartments or cheap space for new kinds of business, for example Bates Mill in Huddersfield, still run by the same family who owned it as a woollen mill.

We look at the grand civic buildings and think “no one would ever knock them down.” But of course some were, for example Huddersfield’s Piece Hall. If only it had been kept, like the one in neighbouring Halifax, it might also be getting a £7 million grant.

Over the last ten or twelve years there has been a boom in new civic and commercial buildings, such as the Sage in Newcastle. These have often been built as part of a regeneration strategy, following the model of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

photo of the Sage, Gateshead

The Sage is fantastic, and it will never be knocked down, but has the regeneration of northern city centres cost us some new favourite buildings that might have grown to a noble and well-loved old age?

In Sheffield, Missy Tassles wrote about the “hole in the road”, a subway below a roundabout that had a fish tank in the wall. It’s hard to think of anything more wondrous than than that.

The Hole In The Road

The Hole In The Road

Maybe subways could never escape from their sinister feel of 1970′s horror films, but Wondrous Place posts from Missy, Dan Feeney and Sid Fletcher, about Park Hill flats and Castle Market, gave such a strong feeling that the people who built the best things in the second half of the 20th century really did try and do justice to the history, geography and people of Sheffield.

I can’t wait to go to Sheffield again, and I’ll walk round it with different eyes. With so much care going into some new buildings of the last 50 years, would it be a shame if they weren’t around long enough to become old ones.


Photo credits: uknow-uk and Alexi Parkin on Flickr

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Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson has been using mobile phones for creative participation for more than 10 years, and his work includes the Guardian’s SMS poetry competition; City Poems in Leeds and Antwerp, commended in the British Interactive Media Awards, and Free All Monsters! a game for children, families and even grown ups, using a Monstervision Machine, a monster spotter’s guide and the Fluffy Orange Pencil Case.