Sustainable approaches can be broadly classified into two categories- Program-based approach and Conservation-based approach. The program-based approach is a clean-slate architecture that focuses on integrating design strategies and sustainable technologies to maximize building performance and minimize energy consumption. In this approach, architects are generators of responsible avant-garde. However, these pristine infrastructural experiments possibly take 10-80 years to pay back for the carbon emissions during the construction process. Another one is the conservation-based approach which focuses on creating a narrative between divergent eras, styles, forms, and functions. In this approach, architects are agents of continuity actively contributing to the empathetic evolution of the cities. This approach encourages adaptive reuse rather than demolition or new construction. Adaptive reuse is a link channelizing the old with the new within the city. 

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Recycling and Collage of Windows and Doors- Collage House, Navi Mumbai- India_©S+PS Architects
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Construction Debris produced through Demolition_©U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Sustenance of Adaptive reuse

Adaptive Reuse of the abandoned streets and buildings is an architectural movement towards contentment for the existing built fabric and coexistence with the ecosystem and neighborhood. It is a mode by which buildings are recycled to inhabit transformation both inside and outside the building envelope. Adaptive reuse is not limited to heritage conservation, rather it is a renewal of the building’s vibrancy to fulfill social requisites. This allows adapting modern technology with endless versatility for people to perform activities. Adaptive reuse is a lead towards conscious and empathetic infrastructure with a constant focus on sustainability. 

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2.43km elevated rail structure- Before High Line Park_©Joel Sternfield

The sustenance of adaptive reuse is not only limited to environmental benefits but could be determined in many other aspects. Along with environmental sustainability through a reduction in carbon emissions for new construction and control over urban sprawl, recycled buildings also allow economic sustainability by obstructing the procedures required for new development, material and construction cost, etc. Existing buildings are the greenest buildings in cities and adaptive reuse saves on the building materials and resources required for new construction. Along with this, it also saves on carbon emissions, demolition waste as well as cost. This results in saving time from new infrastructure and investing it in developing new startup businesses at affordable rents which generate economy and also results in quick occupancy. Along with infrastructural solutions, it also contributes to the livelihood of residents by re-functioning the city pockets and reducing migration. Adaptive reuse of buildings prevents cluttering in city fabric and allows usage flexibility. Such reused buildings can also be termed as hidden density as it occupies what is existing and also curbs vandalism. Lastly, it is a tangible linkage to the city’s past identities and cultural heritage which is put forward with trending experiences attracting the generations towards the authentic resurgence of cities.  

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High Line Park, New York- After_©www.liro.com/projects/high-line-park/

A City’s Talking Time

The tangible city fabric is not built overnight, it happens to exist with the changing needs, changing communities, changing cultures, and leads to diverse characters of a singular city. When one strolls in the kuchas (alleys) of Shahjahanabad in Delhi, one experiences a series of notions: stepping from Haveli to Medieval Jain Temple and Muslim Mosque. This showcases the city’s overlays of cultural influences. For instance, the auspicious symbols of lotus and kalash in Hindus have their existence on the Muslim mosques and tombs of Shahjahanabad whereas the cusped arches and domes are replicated in Hindu and Jain temples. Such juxtapositions gave rise to the Indo-Islamic architectural style. This means that when the old connects to the present, it gives birth to new amalgamations which define a city’s identity. Adaptive reuse can create a revolution for such amalgamations to weave the cultural narratives limited to the thresholds of such city fabric to step out and talk of its time.  

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The monumental 360 degree panorama painted the cityscape of Delhi_©Mazhar Ali Khan, Indian Artist.

Addressing the Public good and the Common good

Along with this intangible wealth comes the monetary profits associated with the adaptive reuse of such historic structures. The public good is limited to the elite class overflowed with luxurious amenities seen in the revived Royal Havelis transformed to boutique hotels of Rajasthan. One of which is Alila Fort Bishangarh, the revival of a 230-year-old warrior fort in Jaipur by Sthapatya Architectural Design Studio. The fort was thoroughly studied and the architects attempted to fathom the old design to keep the old intact with the new. The strategic planning of the hotel’s functional and circulation areas and daylighting were majorly focused throughout the design process. Alila Fort is a blissful amalgamation of the survival and revival composed of jharokhas, Tudor, and cusped arches highlighting Jaipur Gharana architecture which is a fusion of Rajput and Mughal styles. Such an example speaks impactfully of its era and offers authentic experiences which are limited to the people visiting.  

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Alila Fort Bishangarh, Jaipur- Rajasthan addressing Public Good_©Sthapatya Design Studio

Adaptive reuse approaches in this manner overlook economic sustainability whereas revival of streets and abandoned buildings takes place to create a lively and vibrant ambiance in the city pockets purely aim for the common good and are open for all. For instance, the Sassoon Dock Art Project in Colaba, Mumbai, initiated in 2017 to strengthen the street art and rejuvenate the lost places like the docks. It was projected as a catalyst to sustain art by reaching out to the commons and breaking the barricades of the idea that art is for the elite. Sassoon Dock is one of the places in Mumbai which was occupied with the immense hustle-bustle of the Kolis; today it is just a dock without the Kolis. Such an idea of awakening art installations, was a remarkable experience for the commons in Mumbai. Such creative art communities of Sassoon Dock Art Project are benchmarks for utmost sustainable revival and adaptive reuse of the streets, buildings, and even docks.  

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The Idea of Smell- Art Installation at Sassoon Dock Art Project addressing Common Good_©Jovita Aranha

Evaluating Density and Diversity

Jane Jacobs said that “a mingling of buildings that vary in age and condition is one of the essential pre-conditions to the generation of an exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and neighborhoods”. She elaborates that city streets are an extension of public life and their growth is hindered if the old buildings are detached from the city fabric. The old buildings may not necessarily be museum pieces but most of them in their raw nature are plain and ordinary or even wrecked. She defines adaptive reuse as a catalyst between the city’s density and architectural diversity. Various businesses such as street cafes, bars, and restaurants, hawkers in the markets contribute to the economic sustenance of a city. However, they can’t afford the rents coming with new construction. Thus, it becomes vital to consider the density while demolishing the diversity. 

In a nation like India, where our cultural heritage is seen to be the prime wealth of the nation, adaptive reuse is an essential step to rejuvenate our cities and prevent gentrification. Below is an illustration of Junagadh in Gujarat which is currently experiencing gentrification due to the establishment of monoculture with the erased linkage between the past and the present. The cultural district in Junagadh is filled with ample old structures in worn-out condition. The city has immense historic and religious wealth, and if preserved, it could be a celebrated tourist spot. Cities like Junagadh have a great scope to expand new programs in an unusual setting and grant distinctive and adventurous experiences to the locals as well as tourists. It is the time to bring to life such abandoned places with conscious innovations in what we already possess.   

Junagadh’s Gentrified Evolution_©Author (Trishla Doshi)

Architecture is potentially stable to solve social and environmental concerns by avoiding demolitions and decays and letting the old be old. For instance, when a child grows, it starts adapting the family traits and goes out in the world with a set of ideologies. When exposed to situations, it starts modifying a few traits while developing self-perspective. This is shared with the elders in the family and they evolve too. Thus, the grown humans are constantly evolving with the new ones and redefining their reasons to be. The same is with the language of architecture. The notion of adaptive reuse is to give the old a reason to be. The building should express its history to the generations to come and celebrate every era by adding a little present to it. This will result in an adaptive extension of ethos with the sustainable progression of the people and cities to grow.  

References: 

  1. Mark Kessler. Sowing Seeds of Diversity: The Influence of Sustainability on Adaptive Reuse. [online]. Available at: https://www.acsa-arch.org/proceedings/Annual%20Meeting%20Proceedings/ACSA.AM.97/ACSA.AM.97.63.pdf  [Accessed date: 22 March 2022].
  2. Gensler (2020). Adaptive Reuse Strategies for a Net-Zero Future. [online]. (Last updated: 19 October 2020) Available at: https://www.gensler.com/publications/dialogue/35/adaptive-reuse-strategies-for-a-net-zero-future [Accessed date: 22 March 2022]. 
  3. Ennis Davis (2019). Ten Benefits of Adaptive Reuse. [online]. Available at: https://www.moderncities.com/article/2019-jul-ten-benefits-of-adaptive-reuse-page-2  [Accessed date: 22 March 2022]. 
  4. Mrinalini Ghadiok (2020). Alila Fort Bishangarh transformed into a striking Boutique-hotel. [online]. Available at: https://www.stirworld.com/see-features-alila-fort-bishangarh-transformed-into-a-striking-boutique-hotel  [Accessed date: 22 March 2022]. 
  5. Pankhuri Shukla. Sassoon Dock Art Project [online]. Available at: https://www.platform-mag.com/art/sassoon-dock-art-project.html [Accessed date: 22 March 2022].
  6. Jovita Aranha (2017). How 30-artists breathed new life into Mumbai’s 142-year-old Sassoon Docks. [online]. Available at: https://www.thebetterindia.com/121732/sassoon-docks-art-project/  [Accessed date: 22 March 2022]. 
Author

Trishla Doshi is a philomath designer and an architect in Mumbai. She aspires to foster cultural resurgence among people through reaching out to them sometimes in the form of words and sometimes design. She is in the constant exploration of the space between herself and her illustrative narratives breathing history.

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