As parking lots and vacant properties quickly vanish from the downtown cores of major global cities, property developers are increasingly being forced to look at plots of land that are already occupied by existing structures. Some of these structures may be historic in nature, or feature a built form in keeping with the general urban fabric of the neighbourhood. While municipal heritage preservation bodies often seek to maintain these structures wherever possible, their continuing use may prove to be financially impractical and unworkable for the developer and their plans for the site as the existing building may simply not easily be brought up to today's standards. In an attempt to find a middle ground, developers office institute a practice known as 'facadism', which refers to the preservation of only the outside walls of a building while a new structure is erected behind and/or above it.
Developers may be required in the agreement with the municipality to retain the facades of existing historical structures on the property as a condition of development approval. This is often the case in cities like Toronto and Brisbane, but other municipalities around the world, including Paris, generally discourage the practice. The facades are typically kept for aesthetic reasons while their interiors are demolished, or just gutted but entirely repurposed.
Facadism is often viewed as a compromise between the desires of developers and the local community. Heritage preservationists argue that the architectural integrity of the building is lost when only the facade is conserved, likening the exercise to urban vandalism. But as cities have faced mounting development pressure, the use of this partial preservation of buildings has only become more commonplace.
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From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, ran an occasional series of articles under the heading Explainer. Each one took a concept from Urban Planning, Architecture, Construction, or other topics that often wind up in our publications, and presented an in depth look at it. It's time to revisit (and update where necessary) those articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We are publishing or updating and republishing Explainer on a weekly basis. This article is an update to one originally published in 2016.
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