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Teaching adaptive reuse

Daniel Burn

Senior Associate,


Dan is an integral part of our residential and commercial teams, with over 15 years of experience designing and delivering office, education and housing projects.

Dan also leads ‘Studio FBA’, our postgraduate research studio at Newcastle University, and has been a visiting critic at The University of Bath and the University of East London.

Teaching Adaptive Reuse Studio Fba Harry Groom Insight Faulknerbrowns Architects Lh
Harry Groom's thesis project 'The Wallsend Minewater Collective'

Last September, we began another academic year leading a postgraduate studio at Newcastle University, with a ‘new from old’ theme focusing firmly on retrofit.

This year’s theme is apparently timely; one in eight architecture students are taught nothing about retrofit, according to research published by the Architects’ Journal at the end of 2022…

Our studio ‘Material Change’ is now in its fifth year and sets a new brief each time, taking the climate crisis as its central challenge. We often work with local sites, and this year myself, Irina Korneychuk and Danka Stefan have set a brief for students to consider the reuse and transformation of existing buildings in the North East.

Teaching Adaptive Reuse Civic Centre Retrofit Insight Faulknerbrowns Architects L
Practice retrofit examples: Newcastle Civic Centre

As the name suggests, material research is also a key element of our briefs. Together with students, we have worked with specialists to understand local material supply chains, methods of timber construction and material design for low energy in use. Each year, we collaborate with other practices and consultants, including Webb Yates Engineers and sustainable design specialists Max Fordham, through building visits, workshops and guest talks. We also share online check-ins with Paul Rigby and the FaulknerBrowns team in Canada. A recent study trip to Vancouver provided the opportunity to meet in person, alongside workshops to discuss mass timber with Aspect Structural Engineers.

Recent study trips including Vancouver, London and Kielder Forest

As practicing architects, we can learn as much from this process as, we hope, students learn from us. The chance to collaborate like this in a rigorous academic environment is a key motivation for us, and 15 architects and designers from FaulknerBrowns have now supported more than 70 students via the studio. Discussing materials and retrofit projects outside the realms of our everyday work is a welcome reminder to continually challenge and develop our understanding of sustainable design practices.

Teaching Adaptive Reuse Studio Fba Zara Rawson Insight Faulknerbrowns Architects L
Zara Rawson's exploration of architectural salvage, selected for the AJ Student Prize

The increasing popularity of apprenticeships suggests that students also value and benefit from a closer relationship with practicing architects. As both the RIBA and ARB look to tackle education reform, we hope to see renewed emphasis on this type of collaboration.

Sharing practical experience of retrofit projects with students will help to introduce the real-world constraints and challenges into the often abstract world of architectural education. Perhaps more importantly, this approach can remind both students and practicing architects of the level of teamwork and co-operation required to tackle the retrofit, reuse and adaption of our existing building stock.