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Blending Old and New: 7 Delicate Alterations to Brick Façades

How can additions to historic buildings be respectfully revitalizing?

Jennifer Geleff Jennifer Geleff

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Just like cities and neighborhoods, buildings go through many life stages. For example, many adaptive reuse designs feature “blind” windows, fenestration passed down from a previous life now blocked up with bricks. These features seem counterintuitive, blocking light and losing the possibility of increased ventilation. It is worthwhile excavating these waves of change and the various circumstances under which such interventions occur.

The following projects include many types of brick façade alteration and adaptation. Grappling with both historical context and contemporary identity, each featured project is concerned with revealing a perfect marriage between restoration and renovation. Dealing with one of the most salient and contested themes in contemporary construction, the architects were faced with an unforgiving challenge — how can additions to historic buildings be respectfully revitalizing? The architects behind these seven projects provided admirable answers to this challenging question.

CaixaForum by Herzog & de Meuron, Madrid, Spain

The CaixaForum is an urban magnet, attracting art and design lovers from Madrid and beyond. After the removal of the building’s original base, the structure — a heavy mass — appears daringly detached from the ground, in defiance of gravity. The only material from the old power station that was both reusable and retained was the building’s brick shell.

Schuurkensstraat by Abscis Architecten, Ghent, Belgium

A project that combines renovation and reconstruction, Schuurkensstrat exhibits a fascination with adaptive design and combining elements old and new. Over a layer of old windows, balconies and chimneys, a zinc roof volume and new window openings were added, which contrast the historical elements in both material and typology.

Charles Malis by MAMOUT, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium

Previously a complex for cigarette production, only two volumes remained after several were demolished. The task was to transform the site into a local city hall branch. Even though each volume has a unique spatial identity, all are linked by the decorative front façade made out of ornamental bricks and blue stone. While the existing structure remained largely untouched, the façades were improved to achieve greater wellbeing for visitors and employees.

Anish Kapoor Studios by Caseyfierro Architects, London, United Kingdom

This project consists of six separate spaces that were incrementally transformed in order to allow for continuous use of the site. The history of the pre-transformed spaces was retained, with archaeological surfaces, drawing and sketches left untreated. The new spaces are naturally lit through glazed sky lights.

Bank of Albania HQ Renovation by Petreschi Architects, Tirana, Albania

Careful to maintain the building in its original splendor, the architects sought to bear witness to Rationalism, the period of international and Italian culture through which this site was built. All aspects of the historic building — architectural, structural, mechanical and technical — were restored and upgraded. Dialogue between the new and existing architecture was nurtured through obtaining the same materials as the old building: brick and Trani stone.

Elderly Healthcare and Residential Building with Hotel and Restaurant by NA NO WO architekci, Lesznow, Poland

Converting the site into a healthcare complex for the elderly, this project involved the restoration and extension of three farm buildings, and the construction of one additional building. One of the major design challenges was to convert the 19th-century stables such that they could support new functions. Thus, the structures needed to be subjected to reconstruction and expansion. Foundations were excavated, ceilings were raised and a recreational terrace was built.

Mar y Tierra by Doyle Collection Co. Ltd., Tokyo, Japan

Located at the end of an alley with high-level visibility, the architects sought to create a unique façade that honored the Spanish cuisine and culture presented inside. Missing gaps of the wall were filled in order to create one large surface that would connect to the other walls. In order to emphasize new ideas, they also altered the materials and lighting productions.

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