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How to revamp traditional buildings to meet modern needs, by architects

By Victor Gbonegun
11 April 2022   |   2:48 am
With traditional buildings being abandoned in several cities and urban centres in the country due to their obsolete designs, professional architects have recommended the remodelling

Building plan. Photo; PIXABAY

With traditional buildings being abandoned in several cities and urban centres in the country due to their obsolete designs, professional architects have recommended the remodelling of older buildings and structures to make them relevant for modern-day use.

The Guardian investigation revealed the old structures, mostly residential and commercial properties litter highbrow areas such as Ibadan, Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Abeokuta and Enugu have contributed to the high vacancy rate in the country. Some tenants had in some circumstances prevailed on the property owners to give their buildings a facelift.

Statistics revealed that commercial property or residential remodelling of buildings over the last one-decade has recorded an average growth rate of 10 per cent globally.

In cities like Lagos, real estate investors are turning to remodelling of properties rather than new construction due to a variety of factors that include lack of available space, limited facilities like toilets, walkways, recreational centres, parking spaces and others.

Although such initiatives may not involve total demolition of the existing structures, however, The Guardian gathered that it involves tearing down the walls, ensuring the structural integrity of the building, improving energy efficiency, introducing new plumbing works as well as high tech capability and preserving historical features.

Retrofitting commercial and residential buildings, experts say is the best way to adapt older spaces for modern needs and revitalise the communities where the buildings are located.

The president, of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Enyi Ben-Eboh, said building styles are dynamic but the bottom line remains their functionality, sustainability and fitness for purpose, which determines how long a style lasts.

Old buildings, Ben-Eboh said can be retrofitted to such issues as energy efficiency, low greenhouse gasses emissions and improved facilities without changing their character as each building tell a story.

“Our buildings not only shelter us but speak volumes of our civilisation and culture. Architecture like fashion and music is not static and evolves over time with frequent cases of a renaissance of styles hitherto thought to belong in the past. Le Corbusier, a renowned architect referred to a building as ‘a machine for living in’ and like machines, its efficiency does not depend so much on the outer shell which evolves with time, technology and materials availability.”

He said as much as possible, it is always advisable to preserve buildings in their original style because every building normally has a history behind it.

However, he said buildings do have a lifespan and evolving circumstances could make them no longer suitable for their location.

“This is why we have listed buildings, which are notable buildings identified and preserved as a memory to particular styles for posterity. Even when pulling down becomes an inevitable choice, their replacement should bear similar characteristics to the initial building.

“The older and rare an item gets, the greater the tendency for it to be more expensive if its likes are not easily available. It is also quite difficult to get a true replica of certain materials as they get older coupled with the fact that the required craftsmen may not be readily available with the advent of automation. This is why preservation and restoration is often a costly endeavour.”

“I have visited a cathedral in Milan, which took over 400 years to complete and in which all the elements of the building were done in articulately hand-crafted stone. Replicating such a cathedral in modern days will definitely be an expensive venture as most of the skilled artisans may now be endangered specie as a result of the automation of most processes now,” he said.

On what can trigger the need to redesign an old style of architecture building for modern needs, he said: “The concept of the redesign of an old building to a newer style is normally a combination of such factors as the owner’s discretion and applicable planning restrictions governing the jurisdiction within which such buildings are located amongst other reasons. Buildings age and deteriorate with time and most often to give the buildings the required new lease of life, some major adjustments will need to be made to bring them up to modern realities. In this process, the building owner could decide to change the style or carry out the remodelling of the building, while still maintaining the initial style to a large extent. In some parts of the city of London for instance, there are strict regulations governing the limits of deviation (if any) from the original style of the building including colour and other such seemingly minute details.”

He further explained that the first step in revamping an older architecture structure for modern design is to seek planning information on what is permissible in the area of the subject property, adding that a structural integrity test must be performed on the building in addition to studying the structural elements of the building to ensure that no structural elements are compromised in the proposed redesign and when in doubt, independent structural provisions should be made as a precaution.

“The electrical and mechanical services would also need to be appraised to check for signs of deterioration and if possible, independent provisions should be made for contemporary alternatives as these could constitute a major problem if not taken into consideration from the beginning. As much as possible, it is often better to maintain the initial character of the building or have a fusion of the old and new.

Whatever redesign is being proposed must take into consideration the as-built structural elements of the initial structure. It would not be advisable to introduce additional loading beyond what was initially envisaged and any recourse to an increase in loading as a result of a change of use/density or increase in the number of floors must be done under the strict advice and supervision of a registered structural engineer who must carry out the requisite tests and recommend the best way forward.”

The former president, of the Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN), Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, said what should guide modernisation of existing buildings is not only architecture but also the current development in the engineering field.

He explained that attempt at modernising heritage or existing building do not require total pull-down of such structures but some improvement in certain major components of the building.

For example, he cites instances in Washington D.C, United States of America, where there is a new regulation that all properties must be solar-powered whether existing or new because of climate change concerns and collateral damage from the use of fossil fuel, which is making the earth more hot and other problems.

“If you want to use solar panel on a building, you will calculate how much load the building require to function. Once you do that, solar engineers will design what will provide the amount of power required. I will recommend solar power here in Nigeria because we are not using it enough. The fuel for solar power is free. All you need to pay for is the infrastructure elements and doesn’t require maintenance so frequently,” he said.

The Managing Partner, Sowunmi Williams and Associate, an architecture firm, Mr. Sowunmi Williams, said irrespective of existing architecture design in a building, for instance, commercial building like a hotel, once the facilities became old, there would be a need for remodeling.

“Remodeling means introducing new facilities to upgrade a building to the current market reality. Remodeling is different from renovation, renovation implies reversing to initial state but remodeling means upgrading to the market need. Remodeling affects the structural integrity most especially when a building does not have convertible use.

“For example, from residential to the hotel, there could be more loads, which can affect the structure. In the case of a project we did in Isolo, Lagos, it was remodeling of a hotel. We didn’t rely on the existing foundation but created another foundation for the upper two floors. There were only two stair cases as a means of circulation but we introduced two lifts into the building to aid circulation.”

With that approach, he explained that the status quo of the foundation wouldn’t be disturbed. He stressed that if the structural integrity will be substantially affected, it is better to do total demolition and start fresh work.

“If total demolition is done, it can affect the building and other existing buildings in a location where the property is located. There might be legal cases from the demolition,” he said.