Deconstructed Architecture

Deconstructed Architecture Anyone?

I have a penchant for the BBC TV show Masterchef, my guilty pleasure, however, the phrase ‘deconstructed’ usually fills me with dread. There is a contemporary, and often incorrect, assumption that if you take the individual parts of something good and make each of them ‘extra special’, the assembled dish will inevitably be superior to the original recipe. The reason why this is often a false assumption is serendipity. There is no magic, no surprise in a deconstructed apple crumble because control and fashion have taken precedence over the ‘natural’ process, and hence the result.

As designers we delight in the process of design and in trying to make everything exactly the way we want it to be, and now technology enables us to gain that minute control that does not even exist on a building site. We are constantly exposed to images of ‘fashionable’ architecture, as we are fashionable food, which currently appears to dictate that we should only embrace simple forms, ‘honest’ materials and clipped eaves, whilst eschewing colour, decoration and ornament. The result is normally very tasteful and looks exactly the same as the last widely heralded Scandi-modernist restrained Fjord-based bolt hole. That’s not necessarily the wrong response, or unattractive, but it does not necessarily translate across every site.

That’s not to say that this approach is happening across the board, there are plenty of pioneers out there currently the Dutch seem to be embracing ever-fantastical designs, taking over the moniker from the French of the 1980’s and 90’s. not to mention Grayson Perry.

There is a natural antidote to this, in contrast, refurbishment and reuse projects provide the ideal basis for unexpected things to happen, and that’s because the designer has to bend to the building, not the other way around, which takes me back to my apple crumble. The reason why an apple crumble is so good is not necessarily because either the fruit or the crumble is fantastic, but instead what happens in the interface between the two, that slightly soft slightly crumbly element and the caramelised leakage out of the top. These things do not happen in the uber-controlled ‘designed’ and deconstructed crumble, in fact they are actively banned from occurring. 

With the reduced control that occurs when working with an existing and sometimes listed building, the opportunities for these interesting interfaces is greatly increased. The designer has to relinquish a degree of control to the building and the results can be unexpected, joyful and even thought-provoking. The interfaces between old and new, wobbly and straight, complex and simple, all generate the need for the architect to act as mediator, allowing each to exist separately whilst meeting harmoniously.

This is why many architectural practices, such as ADG, relish the opportunity to work with existing buildings, regardless of whether they are historic, listed or from the last century. There is of course also the great satisfaction that can be derived from breathing new life into a tired existing building. You just need to bend a little and keep an open mind.

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.