To quote the famous architect Daniel Libeskind, “To provide meaningful architecture is not to parody history but to articulate it.” Heritage buildings act as doors to the past and contain the essence of the ideas and beliefs of the people. They stand as symbols of the grandeur and splendor of the rulers of yore. These buildings are artworks created by accomplished architects on the canvas of earth.


Honorable Mention | RTF Essay Writing Competition April 2020

Category: Adaptive Re-Use As A Way Forward
Participant: Saisha Monga
Profession: Student
University: SPA Bhopal, India


When visiting a new place, tourists go sight-seeing. In most cases, heritage buildings are the most sought after to obtain knowledge about the particular place and its culture, and hence, boosting the local economy. With the towering skyscrapers and glass buildings, all cities seem alike now. It’s the heritage buildings that provide each city with a unique identity. For instance, the first thought that crosses the mind on the mention of Agra is the Taj Mahal or the Parthenon in the case of Athens. A major binding factor for the community, heritage buildings also provide a sense of identity to a people. In the words of John Henrik Clarke, an African – American historian, “A people’s relationship to their heritage is the same as the relationship of a child to its mother.” Heritage is a part of culture inherited from a predecessor. Heritage includes not only ancient monuments but also social spaces and historic buildings.

Due to the escalating urbanization and modernization, heritage sites were being neglected and were on the threshold of the abyss of time. Now, with a greater level of awareness, people have been sensitized towards the environmental degradation caused by their day-to-day activities. The demolition of heritage buildings is now seen as ecological waste apart from the loss of cultural heritage of a community. This has resulted in the formation of various laws and regulations implemented to protect these buildings working towards what artist and architect Satish Gujral believed in, “Form follows culture”.

Following the Agenda 21 launched in 1992 for bringing forth sustainable development, Agenda 21 for culture was documented on 8 May 2004 in Barcelona. Among the Sustainable Development Goals, the eleventh goal is to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Target 11.4 specifically aims at “Strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.” The fourth pillar which binds the three pillars of sustainable development, namely economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection, is culture. This fourth pillar is responsible for culturally sensitizing urbanization.

As per the International Data Corporation (IDC), “Smart City is a concept that integrates information and communication technology (ICT) and internet technology (IT) with sustainable development and community engagement, and works to increase the economy of the city by promoting new businesses, talents, and investments.” However, the concern for addressing the challenges of heritage management in Smart City was discussed for the first time in 2014 at the International Biennial of Art and Heritage Management in Valladolid, Spain. The theme being ‘India-Spain Co-operation in the field of Heritage Conservation and Management’, a roundtable was organized on the future of heritage in the context of Smart City. This led to the formation of the concept of ‘Smart Heritage’. The key aspect of the Smart Heritage approach is to bring about cultural heritage conservation and promote it as a unique component of each city. The factors involved in making heritage smart are its management and conservation. To contribute to this cause, INTACH Heritage Academy proposed to develop a Smart Heritage Strategic Plan (SHSP) for each city.

Any building which is considered historic is legally protected from demolition, and is under the purview of the Archeological Department of that country. So for the protection of these buildings, either of the four methods can be undertaken- Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. While preservation focuses on maintenance and repair to sustain the existing form, rehabilitation deals with repairs and additions to put the building to use. Restoration aims at accurately depicting the building as at the time it was constructed. Reconstruction depicts the appearance of a building at a particular time through new construction and form.

However, heritage buildings are often abandoned and in a dilapidated state due to changing economic and industrial practices, demographic shifts, or the increasing cost of upkeep and maintenance. Most of these buildings are no longer suited for the original function. Hence, for the building to survive, a new function must be assigned to it through a process known as ‘Adaptive Reuse’.

Adaptive reuse is essentially recycling of buildings, reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was originally designed for. This form of development usually preserves the exterior of the building and repurposes the interiors.

Studies have shown that up to 25% of the waste generated in most countries is directly attributed to building, construction, and demolition activities. Statistics reveal that building construction consumes 40% of the raw materials entering the global economy every year. About 85% of the total embodied energy in materials is used in their production and transportation. Adaptive reuse is considered to be a far better option than demolition and replacement of the building. This technique reduces the consumption of building material and resources like energy and water, and at the same time sparing the demolition and transportation cost. So, it is not only cost-effective but also environment friendly. A highly labor-intensive process, it also generates employment.

Reuse strategies can be put to use under the following categories – Installation, Insertion, and Intervention as proposed by Brookner and Stone. Installation is simply installing new elements in the existing building premises even though the new elements are not compatible with the existing building elements. However, if the new element is suited to the existing setup, it is termed as Insertion. Intervention is the complete integration of old and new elements.

If a building undergoes adaptive reuse, a meticulous study is conducted before putting the plan into action. Choice of the new function depends on building typology, location, environmental, social, and economic factors. The very first step involves identifying the typology of the building and its original function. Structural analysis is carried out and dimensions are noted. Apart from a thorough site analysis, other environmental factors include climatic conditions, wing direction, and sun path. Throughout the process, the needs of the society and budget are kept in mind. Preferably, locally available materials are used while maintaining the materials used in the original structure. The new additions should be in accordance with the existing built environment.

However, not all buildings cannot undergo adaptive reuse. Several factors are to be kept in mind before deciding if a building can undergo adaptive reuse or not. A cost – benefit analysis is essential to determine the return on investment of an adaptive reuse project. The location is a major determining factor. The building needs to be studied thoroughly, from its structural integrity and residual service life to its spatial layout. Last but most important, the ease of installing new building components to the existing built form is to be considered.

With the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the demand for mills, factories, and powerhouses rose exponentially. What followed was the great commercial building boom of the 20th century, rendering those buildings obsolete after a certain period of time. This gave birth to the movement to legally protect heritage buildings, beginning in America in the 1960s. The first step in this initiative was to convert old wooden homes into country inns and restaurants.

One of the most iconic examples of adaptive reuse is the Tate Modern, London. Today, the most visited modern art museum, it was initially the Bankside Power Station. The Turbine Hall, that once housed the main electricity generators, now serves as the main gallery of the museum. The underground 2- tunnel space below the Waterloo Station in London is now the House of Vans. Apart from the store, it boasts of a skate park, an art gallery, a cafe, bars, a cinema, and space to conduct workshops. The Green Building in Louisville, Kentucky was formerly a dry goods store. It now serves as a mixed-use commercial building comprising a gallery, event space, conference room, and office spaces. Constructed in 1929, the oldest fire station in Michigan was converted into the Foundation Hotel in 2013. The Austin electric power plant was redeveloped in 2013 into a multi-use complex, Seaholm District, with residences, offices, restaurants, a library and a hotel.

The pol houses in Ahmedabad, Gujrat,have been put to adaptive reuse. The French Haveli, constructed in 1865, was once a residence. The Haveli has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast Hotel. The courtyard walls were taken down to create an open space for a reception. The bedrooms were painted in neutral earth colors and most of the furniture was in accordance with the period the building was constructed. Apart from air conditioners in the bedrooms, the building remains naturally ventilated and lit. The original mud and lime flooring was finished with timber panels.

A recent example is of Room number 204 of the Ministry of Defence, South Block-1, New Delhi,  which was converted into a committee room. The adjoining room, 205A, was converted into a toilet and pantry while 203 into a conference hall. While the partitions between the rooms were taken down along with the jalis and flooring, the doors and windows were restored to their original design.

Buildings are an integral part of our lives which cannot be eliminated and their quality compromised upon. With the increasing demand, the need for buildings is increasing be it residential, workspace or recreational areas. Due to the lack of space, there has been a paradigm shift to a vertical sprawl now. However, the need of the hour in this field, like any other, is sustainable development. This is where adaptive reuse comes into play, creating an opportunity to use an existing space without contributing to the deterioration of the environment. Hence, adaptive reuse is a comprehensive solution to preserve the heritage, with an added advantage of enhanced utility with a hint of modernism. As architect Frank O Gehry said, “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness”.

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