Modern Living : Old Buildings

Traditional buildings are a wonderful opportunity to create beautiful living spaces. They have features that you just can't get with modern buildings. Here are 6 of our favourite architectural qualities that can be incorporated into your design to make a unique home or work environment.


Victorian villa living room

01. Height & Light

Traditional buildings were built before electric lights were available. They needed to maximise the natural light that was available. This lead to the development of taller rooms and taller windows that could through plenty lots of light farther into the interiors of rooms. Developments in glass manufacture during the Victorian era enabled the deign and manufacturer of larger windows and bay windows become popular.

Taller ceilings create elegant and comfortable spaces. The air can rise higher and circulate easily. The acoustic feel is softer; sounds travel farther before they are reflected off the ceiling

Modern housing developments are driven by modular, offsite, manufacturing processes that dictate room dimensions. The height of a modern room is 2,400 mm, because this is the size that plasterboard is  most efficiently manufactured. Windows are smaller because electric lighting means we no longer rely on natural light and our attention is focused on energy efficiency.

The result is people in new housing developments live in dark boxes designed around factory processes rather than human needs. Low ceilings that squash down on us. The air doesn't circulate as easily, creating a hot uncomfortable layer of air at head level that can seem oppressive and sound is reflected more closely, creating a sharper less comfortable ambience. 

02. Proportion

Traditional buildings were based on classical principles of geometry. These principles were developed from an understanding of human perception, how we see and understand the world. They could explain scientifically, why some geometry appears unsettling, while other geometric shapes and spaces appear calm and refined.

Traditional architecture, was almost always based on classical geometry, to create rooms and spaces that beautifully proportioned. The are based on platonic volumes, based on an aesthetic of stability and order. There are no complex corners or angles. While the modern design philosophy is for for exciting, dynamic and edgy spaces, everyone needs a refuge at some point.

They bring a sense of calm and ordered to the building users. Rather than being distracted by their surroundings, the proportions allowed them to focus more effectively on the activities that were taking place.


georgian built in cupboard

03. Features & Details

Traditional building were hand made by master craftsmen, who took pride in their work. Many of them feature decorative details and flourishes that create visual interest.

In older properties, or buildings built for defensive, industrial or agricultural purposes, you also find strange and unusual features, that surprise and delight. The are intriguing and inspire our imagination to interpret them and conjure up stories and of the lives that created them centuries ago.

04. Shelter & Protection

Traditional buildings feature thick wall of stone, that enclose and protect the interior. This thickness gives a feeling of protection and shelter that you cant get from a modern buildings. The angled openings inside each window, spread and soften the light.

The solid masonry provides an excellent sound barrier from external noise, whether it is traffic and people, or gales and storms, further enhancing our feeling of protection

The re-assurance and safety that stone masonry offers, enhances the relaxation and calm of the interior.


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05. Breathability

Traditional buildings were hand made built from natural materials. These materials breathe and flex enabling them to keep out the weather and create a fresh and healthy environment inside. 

Breathable materials reduce the build up of moisture that encourages dust mites and mould growth, key factors associated with allergies and breathing difficulties.

06. Age & Patina

These structures were hand made, which means that they are unique. Even the bare structure has character and intrigue, we sense the touch and mark of each hand that has passed across its surface, shaped and jointed it. 


stained glass window

Common Restoration Mistakes

These architectural qualities can be elusive and hard to quantify, but there is no doubt that they offer great value to any property. This will be reflected in the price people will be willing to pay and the amount of interest there will be in your property, if you ever put it on the market. Of course, because you recognise these yourself, and appreciate the how these qualities enhance your lifestyle, I would bet your preference would be to keep the property for yourself.

Without care, attention and a good eye for architectural detail, these intangible and elusive qualities are easily lost.

  • You may be persuaded to upgrade your windows and before you realise it, a poor choice has diminished the quality of light.
  • You may be persuaded to upgrade your heating or fabric insulation, without realising the damage that can be done to the breathability of the building. Increasing the risk of dampness and creating an uncomfortable internal environment.
  • You might be persuaded to subdivide the rooms, breaking up the proportions and simple, restful elegance of the spaces. 

These mistakes will not only leave you feeling disappointed, they might also have big impact on your wallet.

Many older properties are protected and and changes have to be approved by the local planning authority. They have the legal power to force you to remove any alteration that is considered unsympathetic to the historic fabric.

On a more practical level, modern construction methods and materials are incompatible with traditional materials, they react differently to changes in temperature and weather. A great deal of damage can be caused when these materials or techniques are combined. A approach changes in the wrong way and you could end up paying three times, once to do it the wrong way, and again to remove the incorrect work and once more to do the work correctly.


The Solution

All these dangers can be avoided if you speak to an accredited conservation architect, who has the knowledge and expertise to advise you of the risk.

If you approach the project in the right way, you will save money in the long run, have a project the looks great, is easier to maintain and has an increased property value.

Our Site Audit its a great starting point.

During the audit, we will;

  • meet you on site 
  • make an outline assessment your property
  • highlight any immediate issues that may be relevant
  • discuss your budget and timetable in broad terms
  • explore opportunities for your project
  • discuss the process and procedures that should be followed to deliver the project

 When we are finished, you will have a clearer idea of;

  • the project process
  • what you commitments will be at each stage
  • how long the project is going to take

With this information, you will be better prepared to to take the next step. You will know which direction you are heading and that challenges are likely to be encountered along the way. 

Time invested in preparation and planning is the key to project success. it is the foundation that will support everything the follows. Good preparation will reduce changes later on, saving you money and ensure that you avoid get the outcome you were expecting.

MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects and principal designers working with traditional buildings throughout Scotland.

If you need independent advice give us a call ?