Adding contrast makes
old buildings new again.


Putting old buildings to new uses requires adding parts and remodeling existing ones. If done well, the resulting formal contrasts can produce stunning results. This Victorian industrial building in Sheffield, Great Britain (photo), for example, was topped with an addition that provides a modern contrast.

With its pillars and arches, the former market hall in Alcañiz (photo) in Spain's Aragonia region reminds the viewer of a church's interior. Since markets are no longer held, a new use had to be found for the old building. Today it functions as a kindergarten and educational center. Because they respect history, architects Miquel Mariné Núñez and César Rueda Boné left the hall's substance untouched. Instead they decided to position the improvements in the existing space. The two-story construction made of steel and laminated wood can be removed without leaving any traces if the building's purpose should change again. The new rooms are located directly behind the hall's entry. You enter them through a lobby, at the end of which wooden doors open to provide a view of the width and height of the historic building.

Downright adventurous is the history of the water tower that was converted into a luxurious domicile. From a distance, the tower, which was London's building when it was erected in 1867, looks almost grand. Upon closer inspection, however, the buyers found 2,000 dead pigeons inside. The birds had also carried seeds into the building, and the resulting plant roots had afflicted serious damage to the brickwork. The new owners were not discouraged by the exploding renovation costs, however, and continued to tackle the project. Today the tower is a large living space with three bedrooms, four baths and a fitness room. An elevator takes residents and guests up to the eighth floor, where a cast-iron tank, which once held three million liters of water, today features windows with a panoramic view of the entire city. And while they were at it, the owners decided to add a two-story expansion next door in which floor-to-ceiling windows, a large kitchen and a roof terrace provide an airy and open living space.

The former manor house in the center of Maidstone, a town in Kent, England, has been used as a museum for 150 years. Since the collections, which range from Japanese ceramics to models of dinosaurs, kept growing, the building had been renovated and expanded several times in the past. The latest addition, the east wing (photo), was designed by London architect Hugh Broughton and is distinctly modern. Covered in shingles made of a copper alloy, the new structures come across as golden jewel boxes – precious, elegant and modern. They were cut and installed on-site by craftsmen and form a link to the artful exhibits inside the building. Behind the fancy facade lurk complex design solutions, because the architect had to bring light into the galleries with large areas of glass as well as accommodate coat checks, storage areas and restrooms.

Medialab-Prado in Madrid brings together the arts, science, technology and society in general. As would be appropriate for an institution focused on creativity, it found a futuristic solutions for an old building. The former sawmill from the 1920s, was itself quite progressive in its day with one of the first reinforced-concrete designs in Spain. Architects Langarita-Navarro integrated a light-weight construction into the halls (photo) that provides a strong visual contrast to the old facility. The architects also decided to place particularly strong accents in traffic areas such as staircases and hallways by setting them apart with colorful epoxy floors. In addition, the translucent walls in these areas light up in changing colors.

To move the historical substance to the forefront, modern components must sometimes take a back seat – but without pretending to be something they're not. Based on this approach, architects Churtichaga + Quadra-Salcedo designed the lobby of a hundred-year-old slaughterhouse (photo) in Madrid, Spain. The building is used as a cinema, sound stage and archive today. Only the bright red door provides a point of orientation in the huge space. To push the historical brickwork to the forefront, the floor and wall panels are a uniform gray. That way, the walls with their formations, layers and openings discreetly communicate the story of the former industrial structure. Only for the entrance did the architects decide to make a major modification. They cut a broad opening into the wall and made the section above it "float".

To convert the heavily damaged Saint Francis Convent Church (photo) in Santpedor near Barcelona into an auditorium, architect David Closes developed a concept that respects the fabric of the old structure. The basic idea: Don't restore what's broken, and make modern additions clearly recognizable as such. As a result, holes in the roof were not closed up, but filled in with windows. This flooded the formerly dark space with daylight, giving it a totally new atmosphere. In contrast to this conservative approach, the modern additions signal already from a distance that the building has been given a new purpose. The attached staircase gives visitors access to the central nave and to the first floor with its historic passageway above the side chapels.

Christian Tröster

Cineteca Matadero

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