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Welcome to the Working with Heritage series!

Since the impact in 2007-08 of the recession the construction industry has seen an increased volume of work in the re-use of existing buildings. The challenges of developing such buildings, and in particular within the heritage sector, are wide-ranging and nuanced among the many professionals involved.

A range of heritage building experts have shared their thoughts exclusively with Progressive Heritage. Each have responded to the same 5 questions and these will be shared over the coming weeks.

Architect, David Birkett of David Birkett Architect and Historic Building Conservationist, kicks the series off….

Qualified in 1967 David has run his own conservation practice from Wallingford since 1981 and sealed his specialism with a post graduate Diploma in Historic Building from the Architectural Association 1989-91. David is an Accredited Member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation and Treasurer of its South Branch. David is also a Fellow and Past President of the Society of Architectural Illustration which has provided a creative outlet in the illustrating of architecture and public transport for the trainspotter in him!

David’s website, soon to be launched, is http://www.birkettarchitecture.co.uk.

David Birkett

David Birkett

 1.   In the context of the re-use of heritage buildings has your work changed since the 2007-08 recession, and if so how?

‘No!  I was working on a 21st century commercial world news room conversion which made use of an historic mansion set in the heart of a country park; the pattern of my work has held steady since.’


2.  What challenges do you commonly find when working on a re-use project?

‘The client’s idea of what they want and how much they underestimate the amount of funds they will need to raise to complete the project.The more ‘henchmen’ a client has the worse the finished product, this is particularly true when agreeing the interior design of domestic properties.
I still find it amazing how many buildings end up with remarkably surprising blazes – smaller contractors should be carefully selected.
How sophisticated their taste is and whether it could potentially undermine future business.
Giving the project, what clients call, ‘wow’ – always subjective!’

3.  What do you believe are the positives in the re-use of buildings?

  • ‘Retaining the continuity of a community
  • Recycling of fabric and the saving of prime energy
  • Sliding a new use into a seemingly inappropriate structure.’

4.  What would you advise the owner of a heritage building poised for development to consider before starting a project?

  • ‘Think how long the proposed use will remain viable.
  • Long term maintenance costs esp the replacement of specialised items deemed worthy of retention.
  • Is there a further generation of use possible for the building and its potential to increase or at least maintain its basic capital value as a deflation proof asset.’

    Caversham Park

    News Room


5.With the benefit of a crystal ball what will be the main impact(s) upon your work on heritage buildings in the next 5-10 years?

‘On a hope basis, with the continuing demise of the existing built heritage, the remaining stock will be valued and reused rather than being removed and replaced by a building of a likely shorter life.This last view is expressed as it seems that new buildings are likely to join the queue of buildings of this era for early demolition; there ARE many buildings  of 20 years or younger that are already being removed or inappropriately and badly being converted into flats. This appears to be the latest craze, maybe other crazes will follow.’ 

Since working with David early in my career his commitment and energy to his practice in heritage has been a constant source of inspiration to me. I am delighted he has taken the time to take part in the Working with Heritage series and to share his thoughts with you. 

Thank you David!

‘Follow’ this blog to ensure you don’t miss next week’s interview with the Building Surveyor.