MARCH 2023

Towards an understanding of adaptive reuse architecture

Mariam is a recent architecture graduate currently working as an architect in India. To rethink and reconsider the aspects of architecture and urban fabric and to strive not towards excellence but a collective essential is what motivates her work. The collective being an intersection between art, architecture, history, literature, and cultur She seeks to further her education with a masters in Urban studies.


Adaptive reuse architecture has had conflicting arguments regarding its role, existence, and efficiency. One such conflict is between the designer’s vision and the user’s needs. The use of any design for anything other than its intended use has been contested for the integrity of architecture itself. Although there is a need for discourse in this assertion, there resides a constant opposition in the evolution of any architecture. The same goes for a growing city especially a historic one, with its architecture shrouded behind the curtains of growth, development, and the espousing of modern life. Despite the raising constructive scrutiny towards this embrace of modern life, there still lingers a fallacy pertaining to the promises of modern life. The argument that regards this fallacy to be one of sunk costs however is facing its scrutiny.  This is especially true for uses that are of commercial nature, defined by their revenue generation. This eventually results in a binary that lacks constructiveness towards the advancement of the field of adaptive reuse architecture. This can be picked up easily from several arguments, be it the CIAM’s regarding of cities destroyed by war as opportunities for an unshackling from a cramped past or be it the readily available examples that witnessed the retrofitting of designed space to accommodate changing needs. Although we are far past the scenarios of war-torn cities, there still exist the centers of historic cities, that are subjected to the changes that have resulted from our changing lifestyles. Urban centers of historical cities, apart from being the commercial pot of the greater city to which it belongs, are also the regions that exhibit a diversity of architectural styles with a composition made of contrasting old and new. Studies of such historical cities have yielded an acknowledgment of the conflict between the two. A deconstruction of this binary to enable the emergence of the numerous possibilities from the spectrum that exists between the two will lead to a non-zero sum game which will enable the advancement of adaptive reuse architecture in a way that is in accordance with the growth of the historic city. One major criticism from the mid-20th century towards the inchoate paradigm of adaptive reuse architecture was about the nostalgia that was carried along with the drive for the reuse of these historic architectural styles. This can be discerned from the criticisms towards the reinhabiting of Ponte Vecchio and the ensuing rebuilding of the region that surrounded the bridge. However, such criticisms subdued with the discourse that arose during the late 20th century with polemics that discussed the need for an understanding of the diverse nuances of urban life rather than a blind adherence to the glorification of the metropolis. These arguments can be regarded as the ones that laid the steps for an urban design framework that would later evolve into something that is inclusive of the idea of adaptive reuse. A discourse is significantly needed since an inclination towards any one of the contesting sides can only be superficial and unyielding. With that acknowledged, the further approach is towards a contemplation of the inadvertently occurring adaptive reuse, that carries on without any oversight of either the original designer or any other designer. In order for an establishment of constructive discourse regarding these conflicting interests, there needs to be an understanding of the role played by adaptive reuse architecture in the weaving of the tapestry of the urban form. One of the incipient moves toward such an understanding is to analyze the viability of such adapted spaces and the subsequent influences these spaces have on the region to which they belong. This region encompasses the micro-scale and mesoscale fragments of the urban environment. As many as three major elements that contribute to the form of a prototypical urban region can be enumerated. These include the urban plot, the urban block, and the street. The ways in which the adapted architecture influences these elements provide for an exhibition of the significance that adaptive reuse can have in the regeneration of the historic center into the polis that is expected to support modern life. An intramural study of such inadvertently adapted architecture has yielded a distinctive relationship between form and function. The conflict between the two is an ongoing one with regard to what holds a greater position during the design process. Adapted architecture witnesses a reciprocal influence between the architecture and the function of the building. This is especially true of the examples that are adapted for new uses without the oversight of a designer and are carried out by the immediate use of the space. Compromises are made along both sides to bring forth the most viable functioning of the space. This will prove to be useful with an accomplished understanding that would push our current pedagogy to move past the integrity of either the architecture or the function alone. The most immediate step in this journey may be towards the integrity of the place in question rather than the many fragments of it. Although there is a considerably exponential diversification in the definition of architecture to include the perceptual imagery among many more, there is also this need for the rejection of the association of architecture with monumentality and the manipulation of perception to create such monuments. The other fight adaptive reuse has to put up with is one between reused architecture and rebuilt architecture. This is the scenario for the urban centers where the milieu is dominated by spaces of commercial land use. The option to reuse is overlooked with the spaces that are valued for their revenue generation capabilities. Although the wave of rapid growth can be held responsible for this, a lack of discussion and discourse on the idea should also be taken into consideration. The prevailing economic condition might be the one forcing the overlook of the need for the evolution of the paradigm. But growth can only be achieved when the idea of adaptive reuse is regarded to be a part of the reciprocal contributions between place and man.


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