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  • Writer's pictureAlexis

Juxtaposition: new versus old and does it work?

This is something that is hotly debated in many different contexts but when you think about it in the architectural and interior design perspective it often invokes an emotional reaction. When you watch programs such as Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud there is often heated debates and friction between developers and governing bodies about what you can and cannot do when working with a period / listed property.

I visited Liverpool, and like many cities in the UK there is an amazing mix of traditional and listed properties nestled in and amongst an array of modern buildings. The Catholic and Protestant Cathedrals are wonderful examples of the new versus the old and visually you could say they both have a place and are both equally impressive. Your preference may come down to whether you are traditionalist when it comes to building design or if you like something a little bit different, playing with shapes and materials to achieve something gravity defying.

I quite by chance turned and noticed this wonderful vista where you can see the modern bridging the traditional and with the sunshine it quite simply took my breath away. I have often struggled with the blending of new and old. When a building needs extending, should it look like the original down to the last little details or should it be a complete stark contrast so you know you are looking at a modern extension. Does it feel like the building is lying to you if it tries to replicate the past or does it feel awkward and distasteful if it is so very modern in its appearance?

I don’t think there is a right and wrong answer. I also don’t think you can apply a carte blanche rule. For me it is very much a case of taking each building and the purpose of any changes into consideration. Weighing the designs up against the setting and trying to understand how all those factors work together in harmony, today and to ensure longevity. We may not build with the stance that it will be around in a few hundred years like buildings of days gone by but we should not be so restricted in our view that they will only be in our existence for a few decades and then someone else will have to deal with the eye sore and tear it down and start again. We should be developing with longevity and sympathy and creativity. We should become the master craftsmen and women of our generation, using the lessons of the past and create something special for the future. Zaha Hadid had amazing vision and designs and it is truly a sad loss that she is no longer with us but her visions will inspire generations to come.

I personally like to see a stark contrast so that you can clearly see what is a new addition and where the boundary of the old stops. Glass, steel and other modern materials make this abundantly clear and can create a visually stunning divide. For example, you could have a traditional listed stone house with a modern walkway expertly crafted on to the side of the property or potentially a glass box extension given we seem to have a need to live in fishbowls at the moment to reinforce the new to old. Maybe also an exact and meticulously built replica of the listed stone house but again with the steel and glass walkway to clearly call out what was old and what is new. This can look sympathetic and dramatic. Whatever approach you decide on, it should not be about creating something fake, it must have heart, soul and a conscious decision behind it. Copying is not making a decision it is giving up the decision to others and removing yourself from the process.

If you are thinking of embarking on a project and need some advice on new versus old and the blending of different design periods then please get in touch as I would love to help you bring your vision to life.

Shepherd's Cottage by Helen Lucas Architects Limited


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