Recycle Wasted Architecture
By Vani Bahl | Published: 11th August 2014 06:00 AM |
Among the admirable and enjoyable sights along the sidewalks of big cities, the ingenious adaptation of old buildings for new uses is the most enduring one. A glance at the patina of the old walls of these buildings evokes nostalgia. For a moment, the stone whispers the stories of days long gone — stories of generations of people who lived in and around it. These buildings give a character to the neighbourhood, are visually pleasing and cohesive. Old buildings play an irreplaceable role in creating an image of the city — a sense of belonging.
How would it be to wake up one morning to find your neighbourhood replaced by ‘modern’ buildings? The familiar old building that you walked past every day no longer exists to offer solace. You feel like a friend has been lost and you’ve been alienated in your own home. Surrounding you are new ‘high-tech’ buildings, which are like babies — charming but with nothing to tell. Old buildings have two basic qualities, aesthetic and historical, both linked to durable cultural symbols. There must be a good mingling of buildings that vary in age and condition.
Jane Jacobs, in Life and Death of American Cities, listed the “need for aged buildings” as one of the four conditions to “generators of diversity”. Old buildings do not necessarily imply museum pieces. They need not be in an excellent and expensive state of rehabilitation. They can include plain, low-value old buildings, including rundowns.
1950s saw a massive campaign of “urban renewal” worldwide to obliterate old buildings. The planning utopians were enchanted by the idea of “socially meaningful communities”. Real communities were bulldozed to make way for the virtual. Some of the finest buildings with high ceilings, thick sound proofing, spacious halls, beautiful marble, wood and metal ornamentation delights were lost.
This changed in the 1970s. New catchwords were preserve, conserve, recycle and rehabilitate. With the passing of National and International Historic Preservation Acts, old buildings got much awaited recognition. For example, in the United States of America, Boston’s marketplace revival attracts over a million people and $80 million annually. Back home, in Rajasthan and Gujarat, several havelis and forts have been finely restored for adaptive reuse and are major tourist hubs.
In the 2010s, our renewed interest in ‘green society’ should heighten attention to the ethics of adaptive reuse as a cornerstone of sustainability. Now that the idea of recycling waste has permeated our culture, we should adopt the slogan, ‘recycle wasted architecture.’ After all, architectural residue from the past is a repository of vast physical, human, and cultural energy. Construction costs are growing and the need for adaptive reuse of old or historic buildings is not only cultural, but in today’s economic climate, a necessity.
Ironically, many attributes of historic buildings and patterns of development have been recognised as indigenous, renewable, logical responses to climate change. They are easy on fossil fuels and are being championed as “green”. But these historic, inherently sustainable models are being replaced by new energy hogs.
Statistics reveal that building construction consumes 40 per cent of the raw materials entering the global economy every year. Interestingly, about 85 per cent of the total embodied energy in materials is used in their production and transportation. Even before they reach the construction site, building materials have consumed large quantities of fossil fuels. If all hidden costs were spelled out, recycling of wasted architecture would be perceived as the only rational strategy for better management of material resources.
Adaptive reuse of historic building extends itself to reinforce the historic and cultural identity of the town within its four walls. When a building of historic merit is preserved or restored for adaptive reuse, its cultural energy is ‘recycled’, history brought back to active duty.
Razing historic buildings to plant replicas of energy wasteful skyscrapers that can function only on imported technologies is a step towards cultural assassination. Old buildings bring alive the past to be a part of the future, creating important connections through time. Conserving the past and conserving the future — are they not two sides of the same coin?