The Challenges of Historic and Listed Buildings

Firstly, as a company we are very grateful to visit some beautiful historic and listed buildings that warrant national and international acclaim. We also love working in this fantastic locations and tackling the complicated problems that for the most part centuries old buildings can throw at us. We all know that they can be tricky to deal with whether you're the building's owner, a construction management company or even a lift engineering business like us. In this following article we're going to look at the challenges that can present themselves when working in a historic or listed buildings and how we can overcome them.

Removal or Alteration of a Building

It's all well and good being asked to come to site to measure and provide a quotation for a lift for a historic or listed building. However due to listings even getting a lift into position can prove challenging. Unlike normal buildings where you could simply remove part of a wall or make a small change, do that on a listed building and you'll have hell to pay for it. Sometimes this can be good as it allows us to use our creative side to design and develop a lift that has to overcome this tricky obstacle. We do love working in historic and listed buildings and designing lifts that seamlessly blend into the surrounding aesthetics.

Pub Lift Installation

Pub Lift Installation - Top floor of the lift at the Dancing Man Brewery showing glass lift shaft.

Pub Lift Installation - Ground Floor

Pub Lift Installation - Ground Floor lift access in Grade 1 listed building.

National Theatre Lift Interior

Passenger Lift at the National Theatre

Finding Something Unexpected

These are the issues that can stop your project before it's even got started or put the start date back by several months or even years. In buildings that are several hundreds of years old you should expect to find something of historic importance but it is always a surprise when they appear. The "surprises" can vary from a secretive Jacobean era priest hole that needs to be preserved or even bones of a 11th Century monk. Excavation is a very important part of the initial building process especially when lifts require a pit below the floor level. Churches seem to have the greatest risk of presenting surprises due to the age and the quantity of people being buried in the building or in the grounds. You always have your fingers crossed when you get a phone call from the site management company when you know they've just excavated where the lift is supposedly going. 

Sizes and Awkwardness

We've had lifts delivered to tiny areas or put into very small spaces but listed buildings can be another kettle of fish. The simple task of moving the lift from where it was delivered to where it is actually going to be can take hours to navigate tiny passageways. We are usually one of the last trades on site as the builders have laid our structure, the plasterers have already done their job and the decorators are splashing the walls with paint so we are up against a time constraint. This combined with a difficult to navigate site means it can extend lift installation. In order to make it more manageable and easier to move around site we can have our lifts delivered in smaller parts however that can extend the process of installation.

Electrical issues

For the most part publicly owned historic or listed buildings are fairly well covered with modern wiring found around the whole of the building. However in private projects the story can be the polar opposite. I live in a Grade II listed house and know the difficulties of trying to modernise even basic features. A lot of the privately owned listed buildings that we have had a pleasure of working on are from 18th Century or before and sometimes it seems like their wiring is also from these times. The majority of our lifts run off single phase 240V actuators and so are easy to connect to the mains and are energy efficient. However in some listed buildings even this can prove difficult. Every single listed site that we visit is unique and poses its own challenges and part of the fun of the job is tackling these issues and adding more skills to our repertoire.

Lifts at the York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal Lift

Matching Aesthetics

Ok so this isn't really issue and we love creating lifts that are "hidden" in plain sight but some designs can be more difficult than others. In the past we've had to use the exact same materials or original suppliers. For example at the National Theatre on London's Southbank we had to have the ceiling anodised bronze, it was done by the same company that anodised the original ceiling in 1976, we even used the same original carpet from 1971 on the lift's floor. For more about that particular project click here. Historic and listed buildings provide us the opportunity to create a very high specification of product which we love doing, being able to put all our skills on show is why we're in this business. To give you an example of what the work we're currently undertaking is that we're retrofitting an 1850s lift into a modern lift, using the same rosewood panelling and even the same Victorian lift curtain. We love creating unique lifts that are tailor made to the highest standards and quality.

For more information about our projects in historic and listed buildings click here and to see photos of our lifts in historic and listed buildings click here

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