Façadism: The Practice of Constructing Modern Buildings Behind Historic Frontages

facadism (Image: Alex Maisuradze, cc-sa-3.0)

Façadism refers to the practice of maintaining the front walls of an historical building while demolishing its internal structure, roof and less notable external walls to make room for a newer building that satisfies current demand and specifications.

While some of these developments are sympathetic to the original host structure, others stand several floors taller and boast what are intended to be neutral reflective walls. As such, façadism is seen by many as a compromise between preservation and demolition.

facadism-2 (Image: Philippe Alèscc-sa-3.0)

In most cases, the facade remains intact and a platform is constructed behind it for the new building to sit on. But one early example of façadism, in the 1930s, saw the face of a bank moved to the University of Melbourne where it was superimposed onto another existing structure known as the Old Commerce building (below, top).


facadism-3 (Images: Robert MerkelBiatch; public domain)

In fact, Melbourne may be seen as influential in its use of façadism. The city developed a policy in the 1990s of rescuing entrance-ways, decorative roof edges and facades to ensure at least 10 metres of a building’s front be kept intact to retain context. But several reportedly poor examples of the practice has led to council to rethink this policy in recent years.


facadism-6 (Image: Olahus1, cc-sa-3.0; Humero Simpson, public domain)

Meanwhile, cities like Toronto, Brisbane and Sydney have adopted the practice as a solution to saving an area’s heritage whilst embracing its modernisation. Conversely, cities such as Paris do not embrace façadism, preferring to renovate and preserve older landmarks, often at greater monetary expense, guided by article 7 of the Venice Charter.

facadism-7 (Image: Rmeskill, public domain)

Many books and essays have been written to debate façadism’s position in maintaining heritage as well as the possibility that the practice undermines architectural innovation.


facadism-9 (Images: Uploader (top, bottom), public domain)

While it has been held responsible for some arguably ugly mergers of old and new, other beautiful but decaying structures, such as Greengate House in London, have been restored to their former glory through façadism, turning around years of neglect and re-purposing them to meet 21st century requirements. Find out more about Greengate House here.

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