Take a wander around some of our old buildings and you will find that they are often built with superior materials and at different standards than we have today.  Taller and deeper skirting boards, door frames and doors speak quality to the visitor or purchaser.

Whether for dwelling or use as an office or light engineering factory, a century old building might be a better long term bet than any of its present day counterparts.

When You Tear Down a Building, You Never know What’s Being Destroyed.

For example, a building once considered to be an eyesore in Knoxville Tennessee called the “Daylight Building” got a reprieve and as a result was not demolished.

To their amazement it revealed a Treasure Trove of details which included drop ceilings with heart pine wood, opalescent glass and a façade lined with bright copper.  Nothing like it would be seen today by apprentices and tradesmen alike.  Now it’s there as an aesthetic piece of architecture but also as a reference point for learning and maintaining local history.

New Businesses Generally Prefer for Old Buildings

New buildings often in the shape of sheds and ultramodern constructions are fine for supermarkets and department stores but businesses like Book Shops, Restaurants, Pubs and Small Start Up Businesses much prefer and thrive in old Buildings.  Perhaps being situated in an old building passes some subliminal link customer about the longevity of the business therein, whether they have been around some time or are new entrants to the economy.

As the saying goes…

“Old Ideas can sometimes use New Buildings but,

New Ideas Flourish Best in Old Buildings.”

There is an Attraction of The Old

Maybe it’s the warmth of the Heart Pine, Marble or Old Brickwork. It could be the fact that it has had other uses; been used for other activities but, perhaps more than anything else in our subconscious it is the resonance of other people gone before which silently conveys a kind of  security or trust.

An example would be in America where their revival of the old “Downtown” areas demonstrates a liking to be living in and around old buildings and a liking for being photographed in front of old buildings.

In the UK regeneration has worked successfully where old buildings like Cotton Mills, Woollen Mills, old Dock Buildings have been converted to provide small and medium sized businesses with accommodation. They continue to drive forward the small business economy un-reliant on footfall.

Culture and Complexity

Older buildings are a necessity in towns and cities to give a sense of history, culture, aesthetics and permanence.  The provide hubs for the spokes of residency and industry.  The same applies to villages and even hamlets, where they have an old building, it lends itself to usage and that sense of belonging which new buildings cannot impart.   The tendency was for much thicker walls in older times and this helps with sound proofing and heat retention – always nice to have.

Once it’s Gone – It’s Gone!

It can be said that the preservation of old and ancient/historic buildings is a One-Way Street.

Demolish them and that’s it – Gone for Good.  You cannot preserve, renovate or save a historic building/site once its gone.   A piece of our history destroyed is lost forever and in some ways, has an impact on our own psyche.

Better to keep them and maintain them for current use, not have them pickled in aspic.  They must be used to have value.  We can never know what value future generations would put upon an old or historic building.

Looking back, there have been hundreds of Manor Houses demolished for whatever reason, which if saved could be providing public centres for communities and housing estates.

So many have been knocked down because no value was seen in them remaining, and of course the fact that three or four more houses could replace it, thus adding more profit to the finished project.

We must not be so short sighted in the future.

Skills and Knowledge Lost

Old buildings can teach us much about best construction in certain areas.  Heavy roof slates or stones require specific types of wood and joints to give a required strength.  This is knowledge we should be preserving and teaching, so it is not lost for ever.  New buildings tend to be set shapes to maximize speed of construction and reduce costs.

No decoration, nothing artistic is seen on these new properties as would have been seen in Victorian and earlier constructions.  All of this creates bricklayers that simply build corners and fill in the runs between them for the desired square or oblong property.

Joiners simply fit made to standard doors and windows and measured roof trusses which are then covered for weather proofing and then tiled, perhaps slated if local regulations insist.

If we had a programme of renovating old buildings to house small businesses and as dwellings many old properties could be providing useful services to communities, particularly old manor houses, old factories and similar.

We would all be the better for it moving forward.


Tim Butler
Tim Butler

Chartered Surveyor, Auctioneer and Valuer, Tim Butler