When is it okay to demolish an old building?

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For many years, there has been heated debate in Glasgow over the city’s architectural heritage. While many buildings have been demolished over the 20th century, recent projects in the last few years have polarised many.

Most recently, Glasgow City Council approved a planning application to demolish the Finnieston brass foundry in the west end, a 19th century artefact from the city’s ship building era. Another planning application to build a residential development in its place is still pending.

Credit: Glasgow Evening Times

There has still been backlash against the council’s decision to greenlight the foundry’s demolition, which is only the latest in an ongoing conversation about Glasgow’s built environment.

Is it ever okay to demolish an old building or should all buildings above a certain age be preserved?

Regarding the council’s demolition approval, Paul Sweeney, a Labour MSP for Glasgow, said: “As far as I am concerned, allowing the demolition of the brass foundry in Finnieston is architectural and cultural vandalism. There is no justification whatsoever for demolishing the building just to replace it with a heartless, copy and paste residential development.

“In recent years, Glasgow’s architectural heritage has been pummelled. From the devastation of the fires at the Glasgow School of Art to destruction of the cupolas at the old Victoria Infirmary in Battlefield, protecting and preserving our heritage clearly has not been a priority.”

The Finnieston Brass Foundry, 1968. Credit: John R Hume/Canmore.org.uk

Last year, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public body that oversees historic sites in Scotland, assessed that the Finnieston brass foundry did not meet the criteria for listing, which would have protected the building from demolition.

A spokesperson from HES said: “While it remains recognisable as an altered later 19th century industrial building, its substantial alteration, both externally and internally, has resulted in a loss of architectural character. The building has also largely lost its industrial context and setting.”

A report by HES on the brass foundry said the building did not have “special architectural or historic
interest.”

Regarding HES’s assessment, Paul Sweeney said on Twitter: “It’s frustrating that @HistEnvScot rejected an application to list the last brass foundry in Glasgow, preventing demolition for generic flats. The unique industrial heritage of Finnieston is being destroyed so developers can cash in on the property market.”

Cameron Swanson, 26 and a member of Paisley Community Trust, runs the Facebook page Paisley Buildings which he originally set up to highlight abandoned and derelict buildings in Paisley to try to encourage Renfrewshire Council to act on them. “Now it’s just really a sort of celebration…of the heritage in Paisley and the architecture,” he said. He has also been trying to set up a built heritage group to preserve Paisley’s buildings.

A ghost sign on Wellmeadow Street in the west end of Paisley. Credit: Tareq Selim

“It’s a similar story across the west of Scotland and probably wider to be honest. A lot of these great buildings are devalued in a sense because of modern additions and modifications to them. So, it’s almost as if it’s with each of these modifications, the building becomes less valuable. But the core building still remains.”

 

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