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Don't bring me down
On office tower demolitions, the promise of "upcycling", and the need to think about the inside of a building before its outside
The 2022 "World Buidling of the Year" is 46-story office tower in Sydney that underwent a massive reconstruction after standing for more than 40 years. The transformation has been hailed as a leading example of "upcycling" a building -- turning something old into something new and better than the original.
■ "Upcycling" architecture is a concept that probably has some sticking power. Demolitions are often dangerous, wasteful, and pollution-heavy. Yet there are lots of under-utilized, outdated, and even abandoned office buildings in the cities of the world. There's also just a lot of hideous postmodernism out there that looks exceptionally outdated.
■ Too often, disproportionate attention is paid to how a building will look from the outside, rather than how it will perform on the inside. This short-sightedness is chronic and practically universal; any list reviewing the "top projects" of the year (no matter the year) will feature striking exterior photography meant to impress the passerby, but the main reason a building falls into disuse or under-use isn't because of the facade -- it's because the interior fails to meet user needs, often in all-too-predictable fashion.
■ The upcycled Quay Quarter Tower has yet to prove itself in that regard. All we really know thus far is that it "has an excellent carbon story". Designing not to the expectations of awards juries but first and foremost to the needs of the actual human beings who will occupy a space doesn't always come naturally to the field of architecture.
■ But when it's done right, the results can be durable: Frank Lloyd Wright's administration building for the SC Johnson Co. remains relevant today, even though it's nearly a century old. And a building that remains useful in its original form for a century is by definition a more efficient investment than one that has to be "upcycled" after less than half a century -- much less abandoned or demolished after just a few decades.