In the world of conservation architecture the building being refurbished can be said to be either ‘alive’ or ‘dead’ – and the design approach for each typology should be treated very differently.

A ‘living’ building has been in continuous use since its design and construction. It is a historic residence that is still busily inhabited, or a civic building that remains a servant to it’s city through the continued execution of its original purpose. Minor works to repair the building should be undertaken in a sympathetic ‘like for like’ style – in order to maintain the integrity of the building as a whole, and be true to it’s original holistic design.

A ‘dead’ building is no longer in use and has been rendered uninhabitable through damage and dereliction. It is the craggy ruined structure of a once great stately home, or the damp dilapidated halls of a vast mill that has forgotten industry long ago. Works of repair should be undertaken with archaeological honesty – not attempting to match that which exists, for fear of confusing the historical accuracy of the artifact.

Two particular case studies that FCBS have contributed to spring to mind when I think about this categorical assessment of historic architecture; both of which attempt to strike a balance between these contrasting means of classification and conservation.

Lowther Castle
A living and working stable block – repaired to safeguard the integrity of the building as a holistic piece of historic architecture. The stable stands proudly in the shadows of the long since deceased castle – itself consolidated and repaired with obvious intervention, made sturdy in its ruinous state.



Middleport Pottery
A dead and decaying 19th century kiln, surviving 50 years beyond its last operational firing – conserved as found, stabilised with new masonry workmanship, and contemporary steel restraints to keep it standing for 50 more years. The kiln sits patiently at the heart of a bustling living factory, still producing pottery wares in the same workshops for which they were built 125 years ago – quietly reroofed and sealed to ensure the survival of the plant’s revolutionary design.

Kiln Panorama


And so the question of re-use? When a dead building is reawoken, reanimated, and bought back to the world of the living?

This is a fascinating design challenge, requiring a much more nuanced combination of the seemingly opposing approaches to the surviving and new fabric. Its previous life is undoubtably dead, and the remaining remnants of that chapter should be safeguarded, but their survival must dovetail with the contemporary intervention in the pursuit of a new integrity.

Once reborn the building will continue to live, permitting all future repair and adaptation to honour this new identity; the summary of it’s previous incarnations.



All images courtesy of FCBStudios
Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann – Image by Dezeen


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