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Construction, demolition and adaptation are core dynamic processes operating concurrently and continuously in cities at a range of rates and scales; from rapid comprehensive development and demolition across multiple blocks, to minor removals and additions to small-scale plots over time.

Each process generates a constantly changing amount of form and space available for different activities. The ability of urban stocks to evolve sustainability, and efficiently, relies on a number of factors including:  quality of build, adaptability of construction structural systems, the capacity to extend incrementally in; system repairability (and affordability of these repairs) , conditions of ownership and planning policy frameworks.


The move towards a circular economy also relies on demolition and renewal being precisely targeted and for buildings to be reused wherever possible.

The rate of turnover, or churn in the stock, and the lifespan of buildings, and the number, type and location of buildings built anew, adapted and demolished, has significant implications for cities both in their capacity to create conditions to flourish in socio-cultural and economic terms, and their ability to reduce energy and material flows to meet global greenhouse gas targets. Reducing demolition rates and increasing reuse for example  keeps building materials, and their associated carbon reserves, held within stocks which turn this reduces emissions, waste related extraction, and processing associated with replacement. Throwing away finite, complex and expensive resources,  that have evolved, adapted and been tested over many decades, or in some case centuried , without proper assessment, is also of increasing concern.

Colouring London's 'Dynamics' (Lifespan/History) category has been set up to allow demolitions and lifespans of London's buildings to be spatially tracked  for the first time. This is done by capturing  pairs of dates, and main land use for all historical constructions and demolitions on sites, since the first development on fields/previously unbuilt-on land. These date entries are essential to improving accuracy in urban metabolism/ long-term stock forecasting models. This is because mature stocks such as London's are relatively slow moving systems, with a c1% turnover per year. As such accurate future forecasts of spatial patterns of change, and long-term  cumulative impact of loss of buildings and the shortening/lengthening of lifespans require spatio-temporal data spanning extensive periods - i.e. over 150 years. These data are also necessary to generate visual simulations and evolution animations.


This, as in the case of our Age Category,  is designed  to be of specific interest to building historians, and those interested in building history. It is also designed to to demonstrate the the critical contribution of the humanities  to the sustainable planning agenda.


In the 'Historical construction and demolition' section, pairs of dates for estimated construction and demolition are collected.  These include  all constructions and demolitions ever built, on, or touching the current building plot. Demolition is defined as being where the  majority of the building has been destroyed. Lifespan of buildings is automatically calculated once dates are entered. 


These data are difficult and timeconsuming to collect and require investigation of of historical texts and maps identified on our 'Age' page, and for more recent buildings of planning applications available on the Planning Portal. We are currently working at the Turing Institute to look at whether any elements of this work could be automated. However to generate precise, accurate data the engagement of historians is essential.   This Category is also where construction and demolition data from the  Planning Category, for current buildings, demolished in future, will be archived.  

An example is provided below: 

                                Constructed     Demolished     Lifespan (years)

Current building:   1976                  n/a                     n/a
Earlier buildings:    1860                  1975                  115 

                                 1780                  1859                  79        

 Earliest building     1700                  1779                  79 

Plots housing Georgian and Victorian buildings may only have one 'current building' entry, where built on greenfield sites. Others, particularly in the historic centre/West End of London may have had multiple demolitions. We estimate that over five demolitions on a single site is likely to be the maximum but if an extra entry line is needed just click the plus sign next to the preceding entry to add a new line. 


For each pair of dates you can also click on the arrow to add information on original building use, sources, and web links to images and further reading. 

Colouring London is an open data platform and we can only accept data from unrestricted sources. Just use first-hand knowledge of the building wherever possible, or, check your source is open and free for third party use.

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