• Richard Davignon

“Should I Build or Should I Renovate?”

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Redevelopment vs. real innovation, what is the difference? While working simultaneously on new infill developments and significant renovations of existing homes in Calgarys’ core neighbourhoods a polarizing discussion in our studio has erupted. Our designers and architects are feverishly advocating for the virtues of each. Let’s be clear, we are not talking about estate home projects, we are talking about your typical property – 50’ wide and 120’ in length – located in established communities where redevelopment/new-builds are common. But is redevelopment really the only choice to get something new?


“The home typically benefits from great functional kitchens and bathrooms where space has become a larger focus…”


When we are asked to subdivide a property and design anew, the shop gets to develop new plan ideas, elaborate a new architectural language, and we think about the latest technology and the current trends. However, the desire is almost always to maximize the development on the property to be able to maximize revenue and lessen the impact of the initial lot cost. Consistently, the homes become vertical to accommodate the desired square footage while having the largest possible garage. The preference for the main floor plan to be open is quite understandable given the diminished footprint of the home. The functions of the home become isolated by storeys. Invariably, the amount of outdoor “fresh air” yard space becomes defacto, the most compromised space. The home typically benefits from great functional kitchens and bathrooms where space has become a larger focus, ceilings can be tall but essentially these fresh new homes are variations of each other. Very rarely is such a redevelopment brave enough to attempt something really outside the box.

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Interestingly, in the process of renovation, many of these constraints are alleviated. The floor plans are nostalgic but less familiar. They remain horizontal with most of the rooms and functions in close proximity to each other, not separated by storeys. The spaces tend to dialogue with each other and do not have to be completely open to one another as there is ample room to play. The renovated home also tends to benefit from a generous back yard space with mature growth that needs cleaning and organization rather than years to manifest. The work tends to be in the reconfiguration of the main plan to better respond to current lifestyles. This is where the real challenge presents itself as owners are prepared to go to great expense to replace and outfit the home with up-to-date specifications and technologies and increase the size of the featured areas such as the kitchen and washrooms. To make this feasible, real innovation is required and a pulse on what will result in the best value for the money spent. What we feel good about is that these projects are not about immediate return on investment but there is an element of social sustainability when the owners resides in the home for a longer period of time…

…but we are losing an opportunity to densify.

And so the argument goes. What is more important; to promote effective urban development and the customizable benefits of new architecture; or to dig deeper and find impressive ways to re-invest in what exists to love it again for the long term? Which is more socially sustainable? What is your best return?

Will you build or will you renovate?

-Richard Davignon