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Sustainable development - the value of preserving old buildings

For developers who come by an old and dilapidated property, the age-old question is whether to demolish and build something new on site, or refurbish and retrofit. 

Unfortunately, high property values and geographical constraints in Gibraltar often give way to the former. Whether the decision is taken to demolish a building completely or retain its facade and gut it internally (which has become a popular option near Gibraltar’s Main Street), the result is an unprecedented loss of heritage, the extent of which will likely only be appreciated by future generations when the materials and workmanship used within these buildings has become a rarity. 

Decisions to demolish are often flanked by excuses to the tone of 'it's beyond repair' or 'it is the only way to make the development viable'. The latter excuse usually means - it is the best way to make the highest short term financial return. 

However, it does not have to be this way.  Many old buildings have been sympathetically restored and retrofitted locally and there is a growing wave of sympathetic development. Given the economic, environmental and historic advantages, I would say it is a step in the right direction!

These buildings have often stood for well over 100 years, and are in fact rarely 'beyond repair'. It is up to us to recognise that they can take much more if allowed to do so, and to employ methods to bring them up to date in terms of user comforts. This is the greenest form of construction and it is the plain old buildings which we would not look at twice which would provide the most benefit by maintaining and restoring. 

Besides the value of the economic investment in the existing building stock, there is the obvious historical and cultural value that buildings have in their neighborhoods and communities. Think about the lost building arts and craftsmanship, the materials that we can’t get any more, and the history that an old building represents:  some of those things cannot be measured. But measuring— and, therefore— proving value is what gets people’s attention. So we keep trying to find ways to make the business case, whether it is for historic preservation or sustainability. Or, preferably, both (together).

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