Revitalization And Adaptive Re-Use In Rural Context

Revitalization and adaptive reuse are fast-growing to become popular sustainable developmental techniques to serve both the city and society as the need to reduce our carbon footprint becomes increasingly apparent. In big urban centers, there is an enormous substantive potential and financial resources for conducting revitalization programs of abandoned areas. Small towns and villages, however, typically lack both substantive support and the necessary resources to prepare an adequate analysis for revitalization works. As a result, in small towns and villages, only the most essential revitalization works are carried out related to infrastructure and public spaces. Typically focusing on road access and availability of basic amenities such as electricity, water, healthcare, etc. Complex revitalization involving historical heritage, cultural revival, and detailed design solutions often take the back burner in favor of lowering costs for public procurement. As a result, abandoned villages, small towns, and rural communities are a largely untapped source of potential development and future scope.

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Abandoned Roghudi Village, Calabria, Italy_©Italian Ways Mag, 2014.

Addressing Urbanization

The growing population boom has resulted in the subsequent economic shift towards cities as opportune centers. Mass migration from rural to urban communities has resulted in many villages worldwide suffering from severe problems of depopulation and decline. Such villages are assets, which make a significant and highly varied contribution to the rural building stock, landscape character, and local distinctiveness of an area. Their future is increasingly dependent on finding them a new compatible use, preferably following a conversion scheme able to retain as much of the agricultural character of the buildings as possible. It is first necessary to carry out specific, detailed, and accurate knowledge activities aiming to identify the typological, formal, structural, and material characters and the significance of any site under consideration. 

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Rural Urban Migration_©Int. Water Management Institute

Let’s take a look at a few instances where adaptive reuse of a village have been implemented:

Xiananshen Village Adaptive Re-Use Project

To tackle the problem of village abandonment in China, national and local governments, third-party organizations, and villagers started to work as leading forces and sponsors to conduct rural revitalization. After identifying the best way to improve the existing village environment, local and national governments and sponsors kickstarted an initiative to revive industrial structure, local economy, and better integration between urban and rural areas. An excellent example of the initiative launched in 2017, is the adaptive reuse of Xiananshen village, on the mountain in Lishui city, southern Zhejiang. Blessed with an overabundance of idyllic natural beauty, the historic Xiananshen village has a picturesque-irregular layout and is home to vernacular architecture made of mud walls built on pebbles and pillar-supported wooden structures. Its prime location close to the city center also contributes to its high potential as an attractive site to consider for adaptive reuse.

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Xiananshen Village and the City, Aerial View_©Zhouyan Wu

Implementing Changes In Xiananshen

Villagers started to migrate out of Xiananshen village twenty years ago, searching for a better livelihood. To protect and regenerate the village, the local government appointed the Lianzhong industry group as the sponsor to help revitalize the Xiananshan village. Care was taken to protect the historical heritage and existing layout of the village: all houses, regardless of existing condition and dilapidation, were rented out from the remaining villagers and restored by applying local materials and tectonic techniques. Infrastructure and existing utility services were also improved. The older area has been adapted to attract visitors and tourists by converting a section of the vernacular hoses into a boutique hotel, two cafés, a library, an exhibition hall, a store selling agricultural products from local farmers, two restaurants, a meeting hall in the village, and visitors can access all public areas freely. Lianzhong Group also introduced a new cooperative mode called ‘historic village plus crowd innovation’. This would serve to boost existing employment rates by providing the village as a sharing platform for entrepreneurs and businesses to launch both online and offline businesses.

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Restoration of Street, Before and After_©Zhouyan Wu

The model allows farmers to maintain a steady income by working for these enterprises during slack farming season and keeps them off the brink of poverty. Initiatives were also offered to lure designers in to renovate old houses via competitions and publicity and in this way help to make the revitalization personal to the community.

Securing Room For Future Growth And Economic Potential: Borgo Lupa Case Study

Similarly, when considering other abandoned village revitalization projects, several other governments and organizations have also taken steps to ensure room for future economic growth and stability in the restored villages. For instance, when considering the revitalization of the rural area of Borgo Lupo in Sicily, Italy, it was necessary to factor in the degradation wrecked because of proximity to C.A.R.A, Europe’s largest Refugee center.

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Social Farming Initiative Model for Borgo Lupa_©Raffaele Rubens Iudica

Elements of inclusion, solidarity, and establishment of new agricultural production systems to renew a relationship with plants, animals, nature, and families, to help couples, parents, children, migrants, disadvantaged, underprivileged, was the forefront of design strategy used. “Social Farming Initiative” was implemented to provide opportunities for land workers to offer alternative services to widen and differentiate their activities and their role in society. Affordable housing for young families along with family planning and vocational training on rehabilitation, animal husbandry, agriculture, and horticultural therapy among others, was set up in close vicinity of the main village complex. Existing infrastructure was modified to make it more sustainable-buildings, when possible, were adapted into small and medium-sized apartments fitted with passive cooling features (solar control, thermal insulation, and internal gain control) and rooftop Photovoltaic panels. Prices for produce were regulated and mandated throughout the village and each villager was given a portion of land allowing self-sufficiency via food production. In this way, problems of inequity, social accountability, access to basic amenities, and cultural integrity were addressed and accommodated.

Variations in Adaptive Re-Use Strategy Implemented: Checiny and Bodzentyn Case Study

Since each area and village is unique in its own right, adaptive reuse strategies may differ even in the same country. For instance, the village of Chęciny, 15 km west of Kielce, located at the northern side of the broad hill in Poland, was plagued with infrastructural problems in the village center. This discouraged tourists from staying at the site’s main attraction-the castle. Bodzentyn was another such abandoned village with a rich history in Poland, abundant in landscape value, and historical heritage sites. Both villages had vastly differing revitalization strategies despite having similarities in historical context and core issues. Checiny blossomed upon refurbishment of the market squares and adjoining streets which in turn helped to rebuild and promote the unique historical and cultural assets of the village. In contrast, Bodzentyn flourished when existing economic and heritage protection laws were re-evaluated alongside the infrastructural changes.

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Bodzentyn Palace Restoration Plan_©Malgorzata Doroz-Turek
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Checiny Castle Restored and Relit via Streelamps_©Malgorzata Doroz-Turek

Determining the Success of Adaptive Re-Use of Abandoned Villages

In this way, adaptive reuse of abandoned villages is predominantly incumbent on the revitalization and the adaptive use of existing cultural heritage to improve living standards. The task should be inclusive by design, involving not only decisions made by the authorities but also that of local communities. It is also crucial to take in the substantive support of specialists and experts to determine the most viable course of action to implement within a cultural landscape. The biggest hurdle to adaptive reuse of abandoned villages remains the lack of legal accreditation to local groups engaged within such projects outside of immediate government activity. Ultimately, awareness and a growing sensitivity to acknowledge and take advantage of existing resources are needed to revitalize the ignored rural sector and address the rise of village abandonment and imbalance of resources.

Xiananshen Village Revitalized_©Zhouyan Wu

References:

  1. Cardaci, A. and Versaci, A., 2022. [online] ResearchGate.net. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318988177_Adaptive_reuse_for_social_agriculture_a_sustainable_approach_for_the_recovery_of_abandoned_villages_in_Sicily> [Accessed 23 January 2022].
  2. Ccsg.hku.hk. 2022. Village Houses Adaptive Reuse. [online] Available at: <https://ccsg.hku.hk/forestvillage/village-houses-adaptive-reuse> [Accessed 23 January 2022].
  3. Doroz-Turek, M., 2022. Revitalization of Small Towns and The Adaptive Reuse of its Cultural Heritage. [online] ResearchGate.net. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331308331_Revitalization_of_Small_Towns_and_The_Adaptive_Reuse_of_its_Cultural_Heritage> [Accessed 23 January 2022].
  4. Wu, Z., 2022. Adaptive Reuse of Peri-Urban Villages: Rural Revitalization in Xiananshan Village, Zhejiang – Urban Research Table. [online] Urban Research Table. Available at: <https://urbanresearchtable.com/adaptive-reuse-of-peri-urban-villages-rural-revitalization-in-xiananshan-village-zhejiang/> [Accessed 23 January 2022].
Author

A self proclaimed literary geek, Aiman Shahid has a soft spot for all things archeological. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she is currently surviving her third year as a student of architecture at N.C.A. She hopes to make her fellow architects feel less at sea ,one article at a time.

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