It is possible that we might have heard engineers suggest refurbishing a shelf in a room using discarded wood from other furniture. It essentially promotes the idea of recycling. But this very same technique can be extended to the field of architecture wherein buildings can be entirely transformed from one purpose to another with minimal modifications. This method of reusing and repurposing in the field of architecture is called adaptive reuse or building reuse wherein old buildings are repurposed for a use other than for which it was originally built or designed. Adaptive reuse is a prospective field of study in terms of sustainability and circular economy.
To cite an illustration, we can take the example of Switzerland. Back in the 1940s, fearing Nazi invasion of the country, the Government built several underground bunkers for military use. Even today there are more than 20,000 bunkers that are spread across the region (Shahrestani, 2022). Many of these bunkers have over decades been transformed into residences and restaurants. This is adaptive reuse. The benefits emanating from such modifications for commercial use include economic, cultural, and ecological benefits. It provides a source of income, helps in the preservation of cultural and historical heritage, and also adopts an eco-friendly developmental approach that reduces the dependence on the extraction of virgin materials.
Architecture requires the need for constructions, born out of it, to be strong and durable. But, building such an architecture consumes a large amount of energy, contributing to the existing environmental concerns. It becomes even more polluting and environmentally destructive when an old building needs to be demolished to sand and dust. However, when an old building is redesigned, modified, and repurposed, it consumes a lesser amount of energy and raw material. With carbon emissions also cut down, it acts as an attractive alternative for new constructions. It does take creativity to find new purposes for existing constructions, but the benefits arising from the technique can aid in fighting the climate crisis by providing a path to building a circular economy and in achieving sustainable development.
Advantages of adaptive reuse
As mentioned above, adaptive reuse has economic, social, and ecological benefits. Since adaptive reuse is based on reusing and recycling materials, the process is cost-efficient. It saves on demolition costs, labor charges, and costs involved in procuring virgin raw materials. Secondly, the adaptive reuse technique also helps in preserving cultural heritage, especially in areas rich in historical buildings. The original architecture and culture can be preserved by making minor latent changes. In Switzerland, the bunkers are not only valued for their commercial earnings but also are known for their role in history. In fact, it is by virtue of their association with the past that also attracts tourists and travelers. Further, they also help speed up the entire construction process owing to no structural changes to be incorporated while repurposing the building. Thirdly, by slowing down ‘urban sprawl’ it reduces environmental destruction and exploitation of natural resources. Urban sprawl refers to rapid urbanization which involves procuring new lands for expanding cities to meet the demands of population growth. In other words, since it largely relies on used raw materials, it dramatically impacts the environment and prevents over-dependence on virgin materials.
The Indian jugaad
As a country, we have always managed to find multiple purposes for a single object which over the years has become a separate field of innovation called the Indian jugaad. Jugaad is a generic term applicable to any frugal innovation or engineering. This concept can be extrapolated to the field of architecture since India has its own set of records in adaptive reuse. The reason why India is rich in these adaptive reuse methods can be attributed to the rich cultural heritage and history of the country.
Some of the earliest buildings which adopted adaptive reuse were the grand palaces of Rajasthan. The Neemrana Fort built in the 15th century was converted into a luxury hotel in the 1990s (Sinha, 2019). Many such palaces which were once residences of kings, queens, and nizams, are now transformed into museums, restaurants, and hotels. The chain of luxury hotels owned by the Tata Group, the Taj Hotel, has established its hotels across the country in locations that were palaces earlier. One such palace-turned-hotel restored and owned by the Tata Group is the Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur, which once belonged to Maharana Jagat Singh, in 1746. Similarly, in Delhi, Haveli Dharampura, more than 200 years old was restored and is now a luxury heritage hotel (Sinha, 2019).
Thus, adaptive reuse has several prospects in bringing collective benefit to society. With India having adequate infrastructure and knowledge in this area, it can help meet the global targets of climate change and build a circular economy. The Budget 2022 had also highlighted the need for transforming into a circular economy, and addressing infrastructural projects to adopt adaptive reuse methodologies can help in achieving the same without compromising on economic development.
Baldwin, E. (2021, November 2). Adaptive Reuse: Rethinking Carbon, Sustainability and Social Justice. ArchDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.archdaily.com/971194/adaptive-reuse-rethinking-carbon-sustainability-and-social-justice
Experience Royalty at Heritage Palace Hotels in India – Travel Inspiration | Taj Holidays. (n.d.). Taj Hotels. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.tajhotels.com/en-in/blog/travel-inspiration/experience-royalty-at-heritage-palace-hotels-in-india/
Shahrestani, V. (2022, April 5). 16 haunting pictures of Switzerland’s secret bunkers. Time Out. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.timeout.com/switzerland/things-to-do/swiss-bunkers-tours-and-museums
Sinha, D. (2019, December 7). Check out breathtaking examples of adaptive reuse in five Indian cities. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/check-out-breathtaking-examples-of-adaptive-reuse-in-five-indian-cities/story-AuXRN4ydcDyvOEF4FFEDrK.html
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