Transformation, as in renewing the purposes and structures of old buildings, is part of the business-strategy at AART architects. When preserving cultural history, architecture creates a social impact, with the final result often being even less expensive than building from scratch.
AART architects is behind Norway’s cultural flagship (the Viking Age Museum in Oslo), the largest high school in Sweden (Hedda Anderssongymnasiet in Lund) and probably the most economic shared-offices building in Denmark (Pakhusene in Aarhus), in which the company resides themselves. All in all, AART architects is involved in developing more than one million square metres in Scandinavia at this point. All this activity has seen the company significantly increase its turnover, which increased by 39% last year to DKK 147 million.
Part of this growing turnover is contributed from their newly founded transformation unit, which is led by architect Mikkel Seier Christoffersen:
“We do a great deal of transformation and renewals, which have contributed to this growth. As one of very few companies involved in this field, we here at AART believe transformation is an important part of the architectural industry, one that not only requires skilled staff, but that is also of great value due to the social impact it can have”.
And the numbers speak for themselves. The number of sites with completely new buildings structured from the ground up is stalling. While at the same time, the number of transformations and renewals has been relatively stable, albeit with a tendency of showing a small increase in number (2.5% increase in Denmark, but expected to double this in 2019):
“This development supports what our unit believes in: That by transforming rather than removing and starting all over, we support the history, the culture, and improve the social impact of the building in a community”.
The latest transformation project Mikkel Seier Christoffersen has been involved in was an old school centred in Denmark’s second largest city: Aarhus. The school was too small for its growing number of students. A new school had to be built, but instead of tearing down the old school, a new purpose for the building was created.
“The school had been there for almost a century, gathering people from all sorts of cultures and traditions. We assisted by transforming the place into a flexible cultural and activity house, which worked well for the community, as reflected by people’s views as I very often run into people for whom this building has meant a great deal and they are delighted to still be able to pass by the building and to use it again for new purposes. But most importantly, it has assisted them to preserve their histories, their memories, and their experiences”.
Mikkel Seier Christoffersen is well aware of the fact that spreadsheet managers and the economists have a tendency to argue against the ROI of transformation, but he will not go down without a fight.
“First, financial calculations nowadays are not the only account we need to look at. The climate is another important one we need to take into consideration and in this regard, most transformation projects are done by competent people who aim to leave a lower CO2 footprint than the project would have done if built from scratch. Second, many of our transformation projects actually end up with a lower price per square metre than a lot of new projects.
The aim for 2019 and 2020 is for AART to responsible for more transformation projects, all the way from idea and concept to manifestation, with several of them preferably being within the council housing sector.
“Our unit exists not only because of our professional craftsmanship and understanding of how to take on and complete projects like this, but also because of our cultural understanding and knowhow. A great deal of what was built in the council housing sector during the ‘50s, ‘60s and even up to the ‘80s have lost their original purpose, but we know how to shuffle the cards to meet the new demands of flexibility”, says Mikkel Seier Christoffersen as he points towards the evolving role of architects to take part in creating fulfilling spaces focused on community, activities and wellbeing as a growing trend in the industry.