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The reuse of Cultural Built Heritage – Economic & Energy needs!

Adaptive reuse is the option for prolonging the life of cultural built heritage. It is a process by which structurally sound older buildings are adapted for economically viable uses, writes Binumol Tom, Professor and Head, Department of Architecture, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Government Engineering College, Kottayam.

Cultural Built Heritage (CBH) covers a wide array of isolated objects, such as archaeological sites, ancient monuments (buildings which remain in whole or ruins), individual buildings or groups of traditional or vernacular nature, streets and ways connecting the groups, places surrounded by buildings, objects such as single standing, columns, statues etc. Or it could extend to whole areas, be they ones which in themselves have a heritage value or having no such value, are nonetheless of importance because they are surrounding or near by part of Cultural Built Heritage. Theory of Conservation is based on the understanding that the natural and cultural heritage of this planet are limited and are being eroded at an alarming rate, not due to natural causes of decay but more due to man-made destruction and negligence.

According to John Ruskin, “They belong to those who built them and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us”. The conservation philosophy is built around the understanding that, architectural or natural heritage, that we – the people of the present – inherit and like with any other form of inheritance, we hold just the rights of enjoyment and not that of destruction. It is our bounden duty to preserve and up-keep the valuable property and hand it over safely to the next generation – in the same form and context as we received it.

In reuse projects, the easiest is conversion of buildings to cater to the function of museums. This usually calls for less intervention and is widely accepted. There are many cases available all over the world. In India, palaces get converted as museums and even havelis. A few examples to mention are the City palace in Jaipur, city palace museum in Udaipur, Padmanabhapuram Palace in Thackalay, Chowmahal palace in Hyderabad, Umaid Bhawan palace museum etc.

To preserve a building, it has to be put to constant use. The original use is always the best use for conserving any historic built structure. But this may be impossible sometimes as the original use of the building is no longer in demand. Hence, we may have to find a use compatible to the original one, so that the built structure will not get affected badly. Though it may not align with the philosophy of Ruskin, adaptive reuse is the option for prolonging the life of such cultural built heritage. It is a process by which structurally sound older buildings are developed/adapted for economically viable new uses in view of the interest of the public. Depending upon the value associated with the building, alterations and additions may be acceptable where they are essential to continued use, or where they are culturally desirable, or where the conservation of the place cannot otherwise be achieved.

Any change, however, should be minimum necessary and should not reduce the cultural heritage value of the place. Any conditions and alterations should be compatible with original fabric but should be sufficiently distinct that they can be read as new work.

Adaptation or Rehabilitation means modifying a historic place with old buildings to suit it to a new compatible use, involving the least possible loss of cultural heritage value. In a very true sense the adaptation process should involve a use as close as possible to the original so as to ensure minimum intervention and the proportion of development should be kept relatively low. This is predominantly applied in cases of revitalization of heritage zones or areas.

There are many benefits for adaptive reuse. Social and Cultural benefits of adaptive reuse are the most commonly discussed benefits in the field of Conservation. Historic buildings mostly bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization, which is living or has disappeared and are examples of traditional human settlements or land-use patterns, which are representative of a culture (or cultures). Saving these resources through adaptation or rehabilitation has social and cultural benefits. Social, in that the people and towns keep their identity; cultural, in that artistic, architectural, archaeological and documentary values can be preserved both for their intrinsic value and their contribution to the identity of the town.

One of the main ethics of Conservation is that the conservation of a place of cultural heritage value, which is also the existing building stock, is at times reused for serving a socially, culturally or economically useful purpose

Environmental benefits – Less waste disposal…. Less pollution

Construction and demolition wastes are heavy, having high density, often bulky and occupy considerable storage space either on the road or communal waste, which is as well, stacked on roads especially in large projects, resulting in traffic congestion and disruption. It constitutes about 10 – 20% of the municipal solid waste excluding the large construction projects. It is estimated that the construction industry in India generates about 10-12 million tons of waste annually where as the total solid waste generated by 300 million Indians is 38 million tones per year. That means almost one third of the total solid waste generated is by the construction industry. Projections for building material requirement of the housing sector indicate a shortage of aggregates to the extent of about 55,000 million Cu. m. An additional 750 million Cu. m. aggregates would be required for achieving the targets of the road sector. In India about 50% of waste (esp. concrete and masonry waste) from construction and demolition activities are not being currently recycled. All waste disposals – land filling, incineration, deep well injection – is polluting because “disposal” means dispersal into the environment. Once wastes are created, they cannot be contained or controlled because of the scientific laws of matter and energy.

The inevitable result of our reliance upon waste treatment and disposal systems has been an unrelenting build up of toxic synthetic materials in humans and other forms of life worldwide. In view of environmental concern one can work out a superior waste reduction goal, which is to minimize overuse of resources and waste generated from construction, renovation and demolition of buildings through effective re-use strategy.

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