Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage
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Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage

Concepts and Cases of an Emerging Discipline

Bie Plevoets, Koenraad Van Cleempoel

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eBook - ePub

Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage

Concepts and Cases of an Emerging Discipline

Bie Plevoets, Koenraad Van Cleempoel

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About This Book

Adaptive reuse – the process of repairing and restoring existing buildings for new or continued use – is becoming an essential part of architectural practice. As mounting demographic, economic, and ecological challenges limit opportunities for new construction, architects increasingly focus on transforming and adapting existing buildings.

This book introduces adaptive reuse as a new discipline. It provides students and professionals with the understanding and the tools they need to develop innovative and creative approaches, helping them to rethink and redesign existing buildings – a skill which is becoming more and more important. Part I outlines the history of adaptive reuse and explains the concepts and methods that lie behind new design processes and contemporary practice. Part II consists of a wide range of case studies, representing different time periods and strategies for intervention. Iconic adaptive reuse projects such as the Caixa Forum in Madrid and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are discussed alongside less famous and spontaneous transformations such as the Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin, in addition to projects from Italy, Spain, Croatia, Belgium, Poland, and the USA.

Featuring over100 high-quality color illustrations, Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage is essential reading for students and professionals in architecture, interior design, heritage conservation, and urban planning.

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Part I

Historical background1

Adaptive reuse today has become a professional practice in its own right that draws on expertise from various fields such as architecture, conservation, interior design, landscape design, planning, and engineering. However, in the past, the practice of altering existing buildings for new uses occurred spontaneously and was handled in a pragmatic way. In this chapter we describe how adaptive reuse has evolved from a user-led process to a highly specialized discipline. We first present a review of a seminal text from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century conservation theory as to their view on building adaptation and reuse. Next, we present a literature review on adaptive reuse theory that emerged from the 1970s onwards and that we have categorized into five different approaches: typological, architectural, technical, programmatic, and interior. To conclude, we present a glossary with definitions of the various terms used in relation to building adaptation and reuse.

1. Pre-nineteenth-century building reuse: spontaneous process of building adaptation

Altering existing buildings for new functions is not a new phenomenon. In the past, structurally secured buildings were adapted to fit a different need or new function without questions or problems. During the Renaissance period, ancient monuments were transformed for new uses. An example is the sixteenth-century Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome, designed by Michelangelo, that incorporated the ancient remains of the baths in the design for the basilica (case 2). During the French Revolution, religious buildings were transformed into residential, industrial, or military buildings after they had been confiscated and sold.
These interventions, however, were done in a pragmatic method, usually without heritage preservation as an intention. Instead, the driving force behind reuse was basically functional and financial (Powell, 1999). Sherban Cantacuzino, among the first authors describing the practice of adaptive reuse, explains it as follows:
Because their structure tends to outlive their function, buildings have continuously been adapted to new uses – a fact which has enabled generation after generation to derive a sense of continuity and stability from their physical surroundings. When buildings were abandoned, pilfered for materials or condemned for political reasons, the process of destruction was often slow and incomplete compared to the effect of the modern bull-dozer.
(1972, p. 263)
However, the spontaneous and pragmatic practice of adaptive reuse during this period has neither received much attention in adaptive reuse literature nor in architectural history, although in the field of urban history and planning, authors such as Aldo Rossi (1966) and Perez de Arce (1978) analysed this type of building transformation. De Arce explains that this process of use and reuse of historic structures is an important aspect of urban development as it improves the quality of a town, for which he gives three reasons. First, it is more likely that pre-existing structures are used for a prolonged period. Second, it lowers the cost in both material and social terms as it involves, respectively, recycling of materials available on site and the continuity of the normal rhythm of life. Third, it creates a sense of ‘place’ in both historical and spatial terms, in which, he states that:
a true complexity and a meaningful variety arise from the gradual accumulation of elements which confirm and reinforce the space in an incremental process. This sense of continuity is further reinforced by the intelligence of successive generations which, through trial and error, produces a type of architecture which, by being so meaningful in social terms, by being elaborated with the concurrence of so many people, becomes almost necessarily a product of great quality.
(1978, p. 237)
Through the method of drawing, de Arce illustrates in his article how exemplary buildings and sites from different periods and places have been changed throughout time. His work is extremely relevant also for the fields of conservation and architecture as it illustrates the concept of palimpsest in a concrete manner. This concept is introduced by Machado (1976) to refer to the layered history of the buildings, both in their materiality and narratives. The intangible and narrative aspect of spontaneous building transformation has been illustrated by Edward Hollis in his book The Secret Lives of Buildings (2009). In 13 stories, written in the style of a novel, Hollis describes how ancient buildings are ‘stolen, appropriated, copied, translated, simulated, restored, and prophesied’ in the course of their history.

2. Towards cultural heritage conservation: adaptive reuse

Viollet-le-Duc and Ruskin: on conservation, restoration, and building reuse

Until the eighteenth century, old buildings had been transformed for practical or economical reasons. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the concept of ‘heritage’ became important, and a focus of debate was on the means to deal with the physical remains of past epochs. Two opposing orthodoxies dominated the debate. One was the restoration movement initiated by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) in France. The other was the anti-restoration or conservation movement led by John Ruskin (1819–1900) and his student William Morris (1834–1896) in England.
An important turning point in the history of building conservation was the French Revolution (1789–1799). In this period of radical social and political upheaval, the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed; traditional ideas of monarchy, aristocracy, and religious authority were abruptly overthrown. In place of these long established concepts, the Enlightenment put forward a completely new set of principles on which the seemingly new society was based. In an attempt to address the states’ financial problems, the National Assembly declared on November 2, 1789, that all property of the Church, including buildings, parcels of lands, and works of art, were to be confiscated. Subsequently, they started selling the confiscated properties but kept many important buildings as state properties. In 1790, in the middle of the maelstrom, the Commission des Monuments was founded to set up an inventory of all national properties seen as ‘useful for the public education, of the nation’, including manuscripts, books, movable objects, and monuments. Many of the confiscated buildings that were kept as a state property were placed under the responsibility of this commission. After the revolutionary dust had settled in in 1837, the commission was divided to allow for the establishment of a separate commission responsible for historic monuments. The first chief inspector of the nineteenth century Commission des Monument Historiques was Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (Jokilehto, 1999).
As architect and chief inspector, Viollet-le-Duc was involved in numerous restoration works. Many of these works were Gothic buildings, including icons such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the castle of Pierrefonds, and the citadel of Carcassonne. His proposed interventions in dealing with the task of ‘restoration’ were often extensive; in certain instances, the interventions involved adding completely ‘new parts’ to the building, albeit ‘in the style of the original’ (Vaccaro, 1996). This approach was rooted in the nationalist zeitgeist, which saw historic buildings as national monuments that were to be restored in order to illustrate the ‘achievements of the nation’. Despite being a national movement, the influence of the restoration movement as understood and practised by Viollet-le-Duc was not limited to France. Influential architects such as George Gilbert Scott (1811–1878) in England and Pierre Cuypers (1827–1921) in The Netherlands were also supporters of this type of restoration approach. A clear indication of what it involved and why it still resonates today is evident in Viollet-le-Duc’s work and writings. His views on reuse of historic buildings are manifested in the following:
[T]he best of all ways of preserving a building is to find a use for it, and then to satisfy so well the needs dictated by that use that there will never be any further need to make any further changes in the building… . In such circumstances, the best thing to do is to try to put oneself in the place of the original architect and try to imagine what he would do if he returned to earth and was handed the same kind of programs as have been given to us. Now, this sort of proceeding requires that the restorer be in possession of all the same resources as the original master – and that he proceeds as the original master did.
(1990 [1854], pp. 222–223)
Viollet-le-Duc clearly gives a mandate for contemporary architects to alter the original building for reuse in a clear, direct, and practical method. This mandate resonates in present times as it serves as a historical precedent for contemporary physical adaptations of old buildings. In a sense, it resonates with Fred Scott’s concept of ‘sympathy’ as developed in his 2008 publication On Altering Architecture, in which he compares restoration with the translation of poetry, an act that also requires ‘sympathy’:
Translation in poetry is akin to the work of bringing a building from a past existence into the present. This carrying over of meaning in poetry is recognized as a work requiring inspiration equivalent to that of the original author and so similarly, one might come to view restoration as an art equivalent to any other related to building.
(2008, p. 80)
Despite its international and historically long-term influence, the work and theories of Viollet-le-Duc have not been free from criticism. Previous and present experts have been against the approach he promoted. John Ruskin, for example, described this kind of restoration as ‘a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed’ (Ruskin, 1849, p. 148). He also called it ‘the most total destruction which a building can suffer’ (Ruskin, 1849, p. 184). According to Ruskin:
It is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture, … Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a lie from beginning to end… . Take proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to restore them.
(pp. 184–186)
In his words, Ruskin highlights his pure conservationist philosophy, which is premised on the rejection of the destructive aspects of Viollet-le-Duc’s ‘restorations’ and on a preference for the protection, conservation, and maintenance of monuments. Ruskin’s student, Morris, founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in 1877 based on the ‘Romantic back-to-nature’ philosophy of his own circle. The SPAB saw historic buildings as unique creations by an artist in a specific historic context. For them, age contributed to the beauty of a building, and, as a result, signs of age were seen as an essential element to an object or a building. As such, these buildings should not be removed or restored but rather retained; a building’s function should also not be changed (Jokilehto, 1999). In their manifesto, they state:
It is for all these buildings, therefore, of all times and styles, that we plead, and call upon those who have to deal with them, to put Protection in the place of Restoration, to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof by such means as are obviously meant for support or covering, and show no pretence of other art, and otherwise to resist all tampering with either the fabric or ornament of the building as it stands; if it has become inconvenient for its present use, to raise another building rather than alter or enlarge the old one; in fine to treat our ancient buildings as monuments of a bygone art, created by bygone manners, that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying.
(Morris, 1977, pp. 319–321)
For the anti-restoration movement then, the building should be allowed to exist on its own terms and display its own history. It should be conserved. The differences between these two approaches had been the focus of debate throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the heart of this discussion was the difference in understanding of the concept of authenticity, although the word itself was hardly mentioned by Viollet-le-Duc, Ruskin, or Morris.

Riegl and Boito: use-value and rule books

The polemics of this situation were reframed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the Austrian art historian Alois Riegl (1858–1905) who, in 1903, was appointed general conservator of the Central Commission of Austria. In his essay Der Moderne Denkmalkultus: Sein Wesen und seine Entstehun, he ascribes the prevailing theoretical conflict to the different value system that triggered their views on monuments (1928 [1903]). By doing so, he offered the first contribution towards a profound and nuanced understanding of the notion of authenticity. Riegl distinguished different types of values, which he grouped as ‘commemorative values’, which include age-, historic-, and intentional-commemorative-value and ‘present-day values’, which include use- and art-value (newness- and relative-art-value).
For Riegl, the restoration movement supporters strived to combine newness-value (unity of style) and historic-value (originality of style). They aimed to remove all traces of natural decay and to restore every fragment of the work to create a historic entity. In contrast, Riegl suggested that supporters of the anti-restoration movement appreciated monuments exclusively for their age-value. He also suggested that the incompleteness of an artefact should be preserved as traces of natural decay to testify to the fact that a monument was not created recently but at a certain point in the past. He describes the scenario thus:
[T]he entire nineteenth-century practice of preservation rested essentially on the traditional notion of a complete amalgamation of newness-value and historic value: the aim was to remove every trace of natural decay, to restore every fragment to achieve the appearance of an integral whole. The restoration of a monument back to its original condition was the openly accepted and eagerly propagated purpose of all ration...

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Citation styles for Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage
APA 6 Citation
Plevoets, B., & Cleempoel, K. V. (2019). Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)
Chicago Citation
Plevoets, Bie, and Koenraad Van Cleempoel. (2019) 2019. Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Plevoets, B. and Cleempoel, K. V. (2019) Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Plevoets, Bie, and Koenraad Van Cleempoel. Adaptive Reuse of the Built Heritage. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.