Review of Buildings Reimagined: A dialogue between Old and New

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationBook/Film/Article review


With sustainability and the reduction of buildings’ carbon footprint high on the construction industry’s agenda, a book that looks at how the reuse of buildings can contribute positively to this debate has relevance. Buildings Reimagined: A Dialogue Between Old and New focuses on the different ways that existing buildings can be altered for new uses. It defines 5 strategies that the authors consider present in projects that have the adaptation of an existing building at their heart. These are noted as architecture as furniture, renovations and insertion, structural modification, external juxtaposition, and reconstruction and expansion. The book then goes onto examine the component structure of each strategy and provides several case studies to show how this has been realised. There are elements of some or all of these strategies in each project, however they are defined by the element that is most dominant. Of course this topic is not new and has been well documented in the last 15 years by the likes of Graeme Brooker, Sally Stone and Fred Scott in their various books about the reworking, adaptation and altering of existing architecture. Whilst this book does focus on adaption that has clearly altered elevations and structures, the majority of the projects are what could be defined as interior design or interior architecture. The authors have looked far and wide to ensure a good global spread of projects and architects – some familiar, others less so. They also look at a variety of building types from large scale galleries such as Heatherwick’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, to small edifices such as the church of Santa Maria de Vilanova de la Barca by AleaOlea architecture & landscape. Each case study is accompanied by a short paragraph describing the specific challenges and solutions of the project. Whilst these are informative they are concise and lack in depth information, especially in relation to materials or construction techniques. Where the real strength of the book lies is the quality and number of images. There are several for each project resulting in a book of almost 300 pages. These have all been professionally taken, and in many cases are supplemented with historic ‘before’ pictures. This is excellent at demonstrating the impact of the new work on the old structures, and help in understanding just how transformative the schemes have been. What is less successful in terms of images is the use of plans and sections. These tend to be rather small on the page in comparison the photos, and in some cases lack orientation, scale and space descriptions. Overall the graphic design of the book has been elegantly and professionally laid out, with a high level of quality and care evident. With touches such as the strategy descriptions being printed on contrasting paper at the start of each chapter, it is an easy book to navigate through. The authors are both senior lecturers at the University of Cape Town School of Architecture, and the way in which the case studies have been formulated is very relevant to students of architecture and interior design. In a clearly written introduction and epilogue Michael Louw and Stella Papanicolaou describe their thoughts behind the various approaches, and explain why the dialogue between new and old is so important. In the continued debate over how much of an existing building to conserve, and how contemporary an intervention should be , this book clearly demonstrates projects where the balance has been perfectly met resulting in the creation not just of inspiring spaces, but the retention of historic buildings that otherwise might have been lost or even worse – preserved in some conservation aspic that leave them as neither old nor new.
Original languageEnglish
VolumeSprint 2020
Specialist publicationRIAS Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2020


  • Book review
  • conservation
  • architecture


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