Opinion: The Rubble Club calls for renovation over demolition, says Gordon Young
This may be the age of sustainability, but it is also the age when more and more buildings are disappearing in a puff of pulverised bricks and mortar. Once upon a time, architects could be confident their scheme would survive happily ever after. But now the chances are, most will live to see many of their grand schemes reduced to rubble, in a phenomenon akin to increasingly fat kids predeceasing their parents.
The Rubble Club was set up as a support group for recently bereaved architects who, thanks to the wonders of medical science, are living longer, which again increases the chances they will live to see their masterpieces being carted off in skips.
But there is a serious side to the club, too. It aims to draw attention to the growing popularity of demolishing buildings, rather than finding ways of breathing new life into them. It is a trend totally inconsistent with society’s new-found focus on sustainability. Consider the energy that went into a massive scheme such as the Tricorn, Owen Luder’s 1960s mega-structure in Portsmouth. Despite being completely structurally sound and a mere 40 years old, it was simply swept away to be replaced by a car park.
Why? Because some didn’t like it. But is that really a good enough reason to opt for demolition? This is a building that certainly could have been re-used and, with a bit of vision and determination, turned into a jewel in Portsmouth’s crown. Though not necessarily cheap, it would certainly have been a more environmentally sound option than simply tearing the place down.
Nobody would suggest that buildings are designed to last forever. Even Luder himself concedes: ‘Buildings are there to fulfill a purpose, and if it gets to the point that they are totally redundant then they should go. But demolition should be a last resort.
The city broke the first rule of development with the Tricorn by pushing ahead with demolition before having a clear idea of what was going to replace it.’
That is why the building is amongst the nominations for the very first Rubble Club Prize, which will be announced at the Roses Design Awards in Nottingham on Friday night. It is up against various rivals including another Owen Luder scheme, the Get Carter car park in Gateshead, and Southwark Tower by Stephen Furnell and Len Abbott of TP Bennett and Son, recently demolished to make way for Renzo Piano’s Shard.
The entry that really underlines the waste The Rubble Club aims to highlight is Reiach and Hall’s Forth Road Bridge Toll Booths. When the SNP Government’s abolished tolls, this competition-winning scheme was flat-tened in 2007, just months after completion.
Gordon Young is director of The Rubble Club.