In times like these, when the entire Earth is in a state of pause, we humans, have gotten a chance to look back and reflect at the way in which we have been living. Coincidently, the Earth Day also happens to be celebrated within a week from World Heritage Day and thus, knowingly, or unknowingly, the topic Adaptive Reuse garners the same amount of importance under both categories. In short, looking at the amount of carbon footprint that gets generated due to building construction and related activities, we as architects, become the people at the forefront, who have a chance to shoulder the responsibility of architectural conservation and preservation by evaluating structures that could be successfully utilized for further occupancy and usage.

Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition April 2020

Category: Adaptive Re-Use As A Way Forward
Participant: Ar. Shruti Ramteerthkar
Profession: Architect
Firm: Director, ArchStreak & Assistant Professor at Dr. B.N. College of Architecture, Pune

Talking about heritage, a word that encompasses our culture, our beliefs, customs, traditions, and eventually our way of life that gets reflected into the built forms around us. Likewise, history teaches us a lot about the lifestyle of various generations and gives a brief idea about how the architecture evolved around it. Hierarchy, societal stature, economy, and location defined the nature of buildings and simultaneously planning of the surrounding areas too. Climate and the responsive nature of buildings and people living in it played a major role in the design of structural and aesthetic elements, thus retaining the character of that area and intermingling with the culture and vernacular ideology, that we have come to define now. But, then, it was just the best way of life. The techniques used, the materials used, all sourced from locally available places, the artisans at work, the style involved in arts and crafts, everything talked about authenticity and originality of the neighbourhood. Thus, buildings that have stemmed from such deep philosophy do teach us a lot about the past and offer a plethora of options that can be very beneficially utilized in current times.

In the past 100 years or so, with the onset of rapid globalization, technology and standardizing way of thought processes taking their hold on mankind, we are straying away from this abundant and enriching source of knowledge present in our older buildings and latching onto a race to build buildings in a newer and more sophisticated way without adhering to neither the past ways of efficient lifestyle nor an advanced way which would help in adapting the future trends that will seep in soon. This entire confusion will reduce to a large extent if we pause and reflect at the past and try bringing in the trend of adaptive reuse on a larger scale. Not just converting them to monuments to be observed and marvelled at by the tourists but giving them more meaning by conferring them to certain usages that will ensure their maintenance on a regular basis.

Interestingly enough, the idea of sustainability comprising of reduce, reuse, recycle, restore and replenish that has emerged in past 15 years to battle the extensive climate changes, global warming threats, changing lifestyle patterns, increased pollution levels and drastic growth in construction industry, has led architects, designers and urban planners to change their design and planning practices.  And most of these practices have adopted strategies that work on age-old principles of courtyards, heating, and ventilation so as to reduce energy consumption and planning rooms according to how it was planned earlier in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the newer building, and many more such techniques.

Similarly, adaptive reuse could be one such effective strategy that might not only lead to preserving our heritage but opening out avenues to conserve energy and utilize it in a better way. Adaptive reuse refers to redoing certain changes in the building and reutilizing the same for either a similar purpose or a different one. By keeping the original building intact and most of the existing features as they are, also if there are damages, by redesigning them in a similar pattern, we would respect the heritage and allow it to thrive in today’s times as well. By retrofitting certain parts and strengthening the structure if required, through such minimum changes and disturbances, we would be able to retain the character and use the energy in an optimum way. Instead of leaving them abandoned and demolishing these gems when they no longer serve any purpose, it is us as urban planners and designers who need to cognitively understand the relevance of their presence and do our best to rescue them from their pitiable plight and reuse them.

There are many factors involved in turning an existing old building into a useful entity in today’s competitive real estate market. With so much money, resources and land at stake, an old structure standing its chance to be utilized fully and aesthetically trying to bring back its lost grandeur in itself is a tough situation. For instance, the importance of the structure in the society that it exists and the surrounding area. For what purpose was it used earlier and how it could be useful in today’s times. If at all it needs to be converted into spaces that are according to today’s standards, will the building be able to fit into the criteria. The capital investments and returns gained from various parties involved. After remodelling will the building become an economic asset and serve as a great example for future projects, ideas, and the immediate surroundings and so on. To be able to successfully manoeuvre through all these obstacles and stand its ground on the basis of being an energy efficient solution and retain its old character, the building must face a win-win situation to be able to be reused and revived.

Emphasizing on the present situation again, with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and human beings forced to stay inside and shut off all the outdoor activities, astounding changes in nature are being seen, thus making it all the more vital to realize the impact of our encroachment upon the Earth. And surprisingly, our creations, houses, are being rendered the safest in fighting off this pandemic. Thus, it boils down to us architects in being part of a bigger game wherein having a holistic approach towards user-centric design, climate responsive design and reutilizing the existing buildings and resources which adhere to the current social fabric with a view to attempt corrections in what has gone wrong becomes all the more crucial. An approach where we are able to cater to the growing problems of scarcity of resources, a growing danger of calamities, an alarming state of strain on the current infrastructure with a response that sensitively embraces nature, other life species and organisms equally.

Through adaptive reuse of buildings, the resultant urban regeneration with a beautiful amalgamation and juxtaposition of history and contemporary, would definitely bring out a quintessential character to the neighbourhood. Especially in India, a home to so many styles of architecture, housing varied heritage in different parts of the country, promoting remodelling of our buildings will not only help to cut down on construction costs but also increase the tourist footfall. If, by converting havelis and palaces into hotels and boutiques, libraries and restaurants help in reviving the soon-to-be-dying heritage, it would give a huge impetus to Indian tourism as well as teach the newer generations to be sensitive to our past and history. Such buildings would live on to tell stories, decipher the secrets that have passed on through number of generations, talk about the rise and fall of dynasties, ensuring that when we move into the contemporary age, we take with us the enigmatic heritage with us.

The adaptive reuse of buildings would eventually lead to reviving the cultural and landscape heritage in the surrounding area, thus revitalizing the entire neighbourhood. Such neighbourhoods then would thrive due to an essence of togetherness that would stem from interactions amongst people of all ages and experiences. So to conclude, I would like to say that adaptive reuse of a single structure would lead to transforming the surroundings and eventually the human life that would be based more on culture, our history and the magical thread that binds our future with the past.

Some examples of buildings that have been beautifully refurbished and reused today:

  1. Walled City Café, Delhi: On the first floor of a 200-year-old old haveli in Old Delhi, is a café that looks out over the Jama Masjid and the sprawl of Shahjahanabad. The building has an ‘Anglo-Muslim’ ambience, with fireplaces, chimneys, and a courtyard. It is now a popular venue, especially for literary and cultural events.
  2. Rice mill, Goa: This was a project that architect and heritage conservationist Raya Shankwalker did with a view to convert an old building into a something quirky and out of the book bar space. (image 2 – source: Beautiful Homes)
  3. Factory floor to office, Mumbai: An old soap factory is now a posh office and a buzzing café, with silos and chimneys still in place to hint at their history. (image 3 – source: Hindustan Times)
  4. Raj Mahal Palace, Orchha, Rajasthan: A palace turned into a 4-star hotel just a few kilometres away from Orchha representing the grandeur and royalty of the Maharajas. (image 4 – source: I have clicked it)
  5. Figeurado Mansion, Goa: A Portuguese colonial mansion that houses the descendants of the family, has a museum in one part and a boutique hotel in another. (image 5 – source: I have clicked it)

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