‚ÄėEmpathy Architecture‚Äô is a concept defined by the Northumberland and Newcastle Society

The need for an Empathy Architecture concept emerged from our sentiment in reviewing planning applications where developers often show a lack of sympathy for heritage and cultural identity through bland and inappropriate building designs.

The focus on short term financial gain seems to drive planning applications in many cases, rather than a considered approach where good design complements the existing environment.

All too often the Society reviews applications where proposed developments will clearly have a negative visual impact and it is difficult to understand why their promoters have not considered a more empathetic design.

Empathy architecture is not just about how a building affects its environment today, it is as much about sustainability and value for money in the longer term.

Good design will endure because it adds to the visual environment in time becoming part of an area’s attraction whereas ill thought out bland buildings have the reverse effect. In the domestic housing market character properties almost without exception attract a price premium because they are so appealing.

The reality is we all need to consider making better use of existing buildings in city centres given not only the colossal challenges facing traditional urban based business but critically the need to better use finite natural resources.

As a Society, we want to dispel the perception that renovation represents poor value for money in comparison with demolition and reconstruction. When the UK Government-sponsored Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission published its ‚ÄėLiving with Beauty‚Äô report in January 2020, it specifically highlighted this issue.

‚ÄėLiving with Beauty‚Äô expanded on this point through reference to the current inconsistent, environmentally flawed and illogical VAT taxation policy that actively favours demolition of structurally sound buildings over their renovation and reuse.

Innovative conservation incorporating good design and using quality materials may cost more in the short term but these costs are invariably insignificant in the real estate value of the completed building. An empathetic approach is much more likely to receive early planning approval and therefore reduce developers’ submission costs where these often involve complex multiple revisions to inappropriate plans. There is a clear financial benefit to developers in getting an earlier return on their investment rather than having to maintain and fund vacant buildings during drawn out planning processes with uncertain outcomes.

The decline in the urban retail industry has and will continue to leave many character commercial buildings vacant thus presenting a generational opportunity to substantially alleviate housing shortages and in doing so reenergise city and town centres. There are many fine examples of innovative, sympathetic design being incorporated into existing vacant buildings where the outstanding original character architecture has been respected, protected and enhanced.

The Society’s aim is to promote and embed the concept of ‚ÄėEmpathy Architecture‚Äô where good design that respects existing heritage architecture and the local environment is always a primary consideration in planning applications and a cornerstone of desirable urban planning and development-

Some examples of Empathy Architecture

Image of Haymarket University buildings
Haymarket Newcastle University buildings and Crows Nest Public House
Image of Building at corner of Strawberry Place and Leazes Park Road
Building at corner of Strawberry Place and Leazes Park Road
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