Preserving historical buildings: the most sustainable thing is not to build new stuff

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Preserving historical buildings: the most sustainable thing is not to build new stuff
The restored Mayfair building in Melbourne, now known as 171 Collins Street / © Peter Clarke
Preserving historical buildings: the most sustainable thing is not to build new stuff
The restored Mayfair building in Melbourne, now known as 171 Collins Street / © Peter Clarke

Making heritage buildings sustainable is just as important as preserving their history – and they can offer energy-efficiency lessons of their own

After grinding grain since 1897, Sydney’s Crago Flour Mill finally cranked to a halt in the mid 80s. Over the years, this handsome industrial Newtown site became rundown, a dusty labyrinth of rooms sprawled over four buildings.

Given the job in 2008 of transforming the mill into 47 strata studios, architects Allen Jack+Cottier (AJ+C) made a strategic decision. By refusing to tear down the structure, they saved an estimated 21,000 tonnes of CO2. Preserving embodied energy (the energy consumed by the entire building process) was key, along with avoiding the physical energy needed to destroy a large structure.

“The most sustainable thing we can do is to not build new stuff,” insists AJ+C architect Peter Ireland. “I often say to a client, everything is an asset until we prove it otherwise. A lot of demolition doesn’t make sense.”

Across Australia, historical buildings are being adapted for reuse. While preserving heritage is key, construction methods have changed dramatically while energy efficiency is often paramount, so architects are looking at ways to make these buildings more sustainable. […]

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