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In Conversation with Neil Baker: Crafting Future Spaces from Historic Foundations

Article-In Conversation with Neil Baker: Crafting Future Spaces from Historic Foundations

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Cityscape delves into the art of adaptive reuse, featuring Neil Baker, Director at WW+P (a division of Egis Architecture Line). Join us as Neil unravels the innovative processes that breathe new life into historic structures.

Beyond the environmental benefits, how do you think adaptive reuse impacts communities culturally and socially, especially in preserving their architectural heritage?

Neil. Our sense of belonging to a familiar environment helps us each to form and maintain our own personal identities, providing us with an understanding of shared history, culture, and community. In turn, our understanding of new places, and the communities of others, is strongly informed by our experience of their architectural heritage. The discernible materials, forms and symbols that are preserved through adaptive reuse enhance our wellbeing by enabling intuitive wayfinding and lending a calm sense of permanence to our reading of towns and cities.

The preservation and reuse of architectural heritage helps nurture social wellbeing while providing an awareness of collective identity for our communities; yet it is also a valuable resource for both economic development and place-making initiatives in urban areas around the world. Major cities across the globe invest in historic areas, not only as a means of preserving cultural heritage, but also to create identifiable anchors to functioning commercial, leisure and tourism districts. The rich urban character created through the preservation of historic assets translates into economic value, together with a high potential for sustainable growth.


In what ways do you engage with the local community when repurposing a historic or iconic building, ensuring their history and memories are respected?

Neil. Paddington and Woolwich stations, on the newly opened London Elizabeth line, are amongst our recent projects at WW+P (part of Egis Architecture Line). Each station possessed its own unique challenges, as well as vital sources of design inspiration, in relation to their historic contexts. Ensuring that these factors were handled appropriately required extensive engagement with heritage experts, local historians, and surrounding communities.

For Paddington station, we prepared a Conservation Strategy and Development Framework in collaboration with a wide group of stakeholders, taking into account all of the development planned for the station, as well as identifying opportunities for enhancement of the historic structure. To fit the setting of the Grade I listed building, a design of exceptional quality was required. We underpinned this with a simple and consistent approach to materials and a coherent built form adjacent to the listed structure to provide a clear and legible environment for passengers that disguises a complex layering of functions.


The site of Woolwich station is sensitive, challenging and embroiled in military history, located within the confines of the 16th century Royal Arsenal. The introduction of the new station, its component buildings and significant levels of new housing, required a holistic approach to placemaking. We worked conscientiously with historians to develop subtle architectural references to the site’s military history, including cast bronze panels as a gesture to the cannons which were fabricated on the Arsenal site, as well as a tiled motif to the platform columns in the colours of the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery.


Given the increasing emphasis on sustainability and preserving cultural heritage, how do you see the role of adaptive reuse evolving in the next decade, especially in urban areas with limited space for new construction?

Neil. Most of us will appreciate that traditional approaches to development – requiring full demolition and complete rebuild – are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and that the adoption of alternative approaches are essential, if we are to achieve zero emissions targets.  For architects and designers, intelligent adaptive reuse is one of the principal opportunities that we have to enable the construction industry to support cities and countries, globally, in maintaining progress towards their sustainability goals.

However, we also know that historic buildings often lack the materiality and technology necessary to deliver modern levels of energy efficiency. If adaptive reuse is to succeed as an approach, we will need to enhance our design and construction skills so that the ability to flexibly adapt, insulate and refit our buildings becomes commonplace and not a costly specialism. In essence, I see the role of adoption and adaptive reuse increasing as we learn important lessons and inevitably become more adept at its delivery. 


Photo credit: ©morleyvon

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