The blogger at Spitalfields Life has launched a tirade against what he calls "facadism," the habit of demolishing historic buildings but preserving their facades. I have seen this a few times in Washington but apparently it is very common in London.
The process is weird to watch.
The facade is separated from the rest of the structure – using pneumatic chisels, if the building is brick – and then encased in steel girders.
A massive facade like this one is generally left in place, but a smaller one may actually be trucked across the lot and then brought back and re-attached once the structure behind is finished.
Sometimes the result is not even attached to the building behind, but stands freely like this one.
I am ambivalent. Yes, it would be better if the whole old building could be preserved, but sometimes that is not really an option; it just costs too much to rehab any but the most valuable old structures. Yes, re-attaching the facade to a new structure is fake. But consider what the street front of this thing would probably have looked like if the old facade had not been put back in pace. I walked by a false facade of row houses in Washington every day for a month before I even noticed that they were attached to a big glass building looming behind. So I say, better this than nothing.