According to a recent report by Architects’ Journal, it’s actually more environmentally friendly to upgrade energy-inefficient structures than to flatten them. Their new campaign argues that so much carbon is emitted in the construction of buildings that in order to fight climate change, we should focus on renovation rather than demolition. With that in mind, here are some of the capital’s most successful conversion projects, proving that you can breathe new life into old buildings.
The most iconic recycled structure in London is probably the Southbank’s towering Tate Modern. Located in the former Bankside Power station, the art gallery’s turbine hall houses regular immersive installations, while its converted chimneys are a statement piece in themselves.
You don’t get much more inventive than The Vaults. This subversive and subterranean theatre space makes use of a network of disused railway arches under Waterloo station, and serves as a fitting underground home for the alternative arts scene and eponymous annual fringe festival.
If you’re a keen climber, you have most likely heard of The Castle climbing centre, which is the most visited premises of its kind in the UK. Though the venue gets its name from its fortress-like appearance, the unforgettable building was in fact originally a Victorian water pumping station.
Independent cinemas often have the best settings, but Genesis cinema has a particularly rich history. Set up back in 1848 as a pub, the building also spent time as a music hall, then a theatre – its stage hosting none other than the legendary Charlie Chaplin – before becoming a cinema in 1912.
Certainly among London’s quirkiest converted spaces, WC is – as the name suggests – located in a former toilet. The 100-year-old water closet underneath Clapham common is now a somewhat classier affair, home to Wine and Charcuterie, though it still boasts tiled walls and frosted glass.
Word on the Water
Though it’s not strictly a building, Word on the Water is a pioneer of eco-friendly inner-city renovation. This Dutch-barge-turned-bookshop floats on the Regent’s Canal Towpath in King’s Cross, and as well as shelving new and second-hand titles, hosts book releases, readings, live music and poetry slams.
Where better to show food the reverence it deserves than in a Grade-I-listed deconsecrated church? Mercato Mayfair food market has revived heritage site St Mark’s into a thriving cultural hub, the five-million-pound restoration project reviving the building after decades of private use.
While it’s not unusual to stay in fun converted properties with the rise of Airbnb, few have as rich a history as Clink 78. This affordable hostel is situated in a former courthouse, the same building in which Charles Dickens worked as a scribe and where band The Clash famously stood trial in 1978.
Shepherd’s Bush Pavillion
For a more upmarket accommodation, look no further than the Shepherd’s Bush Pavillion. This four-star hotel, formerly a grade-II-listed Art Deco Cinema, was redesigned back in 2014, but retains the building’s main architectural features, such as its impressive brick façade and grand foyer.
Battersea Power Station
Like the Tate, the striking silhouette of Battersea Power Station is part of the London skyline. For years, the future of the structure was debated, but with Chelsea’s stadium plans sadly falling through, the landmark has instead been renovated as a space for shops, eateries, flats and offices.