"One of the first jobs that I had when I left university was to survey farm buildings that were going to be converted into homes. It was dirty, smelly, glorious work. I might have been standing ankle deep in manure, but each day I got to dream of possibilities. To mentally expose the gems that time and decay had hidden, and then to visualize a future where they would form the bedrock of the new.
In a recent conversation about church replanting I was struck by how much of what we were talking about related to that old job. So here are a few thoughts on renovating buildings that speak into the process of replanting.
1. Clearly see what is– The first step is to discern and call out what is strong, beautiful, full of latent life; and also what is weak, ugly and decaying. And don’t rush! A hasty survey almost always leads to unpleasant surprises down the line.
2. Clearly envision what can be - The job of the architect is to prophetically envision what can be. In doing so they create a compelling vision of the future that sees the old as an asset to be leveraged rather than a liability to be discarded.
3. Honor the old while bringing in the new – The very best conversions celebrate and honor what is good in the old by the introduction of the new. Honoring sometimes will mean complementing the old, but sometimes it will mean contrasting with it. Both are equally valid options, the question is what will best serve the purpose it will fulfill.
4. Recognize that bringing life means bringing death – renovation and replanting involve creative destruction. Part of the path to bringing new life is bringing about the death of aspects of the old that are no longer needed. That process is inherently messy.
5. Plan carefully how to introduce change - Possibly the worst day I had at the office was when our builders undermined the foundations of the existing building they worked on. It went from being a beautiful 18th century shop to a pile of rubble in 20 minutes. Renovating brings risk and how and when to bring in change needs careful thought. Sometimes time has to be invested in stabilizing and strengthening what is there before what is new is brought in.
6. Be patient – Related to planning is patience. Some things simply cannot be rushed as frustrating as that might be.
7. Understand that it is costlier, messier and takes longer – The cost of converting an existing building is on average 25-75% greater in terms of money, effort and time than building new. Neither replanting nor building conversion is an easy option.
So if it is that demanding, why bother?
When a building is converted well it is greater than either the old or the new. There is something compelling about the dance between the two: the settled richness of history and the restless vibrancy of the new combining to create something greater than their component parts. Synergy is an overused (and often misused) word at the moment. But synergy is what makes renovating exciting and worthwhile. I would argue it is also what makes replanting worthwhile."
What a great visual!