Can old buildings faithfully transmit social meaning? Conservation studies have taught us for decades that buildings are valuable for their historical substance and symbolic value gradually acquired with time. Drawing on an Actor-Network-Theory-inspired perspective to tackle buildings, this article questions the philosophy of preservation studies and their definitions of building and agency.Following the process of renovation of the 17th century Alte Aula in Vienna, I explore its dynamics and unpredictable drifts. Renovating is not about transforming a passive and subservient object; it rather offers an experimental situation in which one can witness the building recalcitrance, i.e., its capacity to manifest itself as disobedient as possible to the protocol of renovation, to resist the attempts of control and to ‘surprise’ its makers. A building is, I argue here, a complex mediator that skilfully redistributes the agency among human and non- human participants in renovation, provokes contextual mutations and transforms social meanings.