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Adaptive Reuse aids Recovery

I think that the current approach to the adaptive re-use of buildings as a peacebuilding initiative suffers from many of the same assumptions that threaten the legitimacy of the liberal peace processes in general.

Therefore, I see the adaptive re-use of culturally significant buildings as a fractal component of the liberal peacebuilding conundrum which needs to be explored in the hope a remedy can be found at a fractal level. Then this component part can be amplified to inform future alterations in the process at a larger more general governmental level of policy and politics.

So.... If conflict is characterized by destruction, then post-conflict can be characterized by waste. Sites sit vacant and neighbourhoods rot in wait of much needed investment. The infrastructure of war – bunkers, compounds, gabions – brimming with negative connotations, rust over, too heavy and expensive to move out of view. Finding new use for these remains seems an obvious course of action. But these artefacts are often either loaded with stigma or their reuse carries a controversial political intention. Thus the real challenge in reviving the wastelands of war lies in the careful design of new meaning and fair politics. Before that goals is reached, 'peacebuilding' intervention should be restructured, looking beyond its own mandate to what its enduring legacy might be (A. Oosterman, 2010)

To those involved in Transition, Stabilisation and Recovery, the adaptive re-use of buildings is an engaging, dynamic and sustainable approach to breathing new life and meaning into notable, abandoned or misused buildings whilst having a meaningful impact on the local context and beyond. At the core of an adaptive re-use process is a new architectural reinterpretation, often used to enhance, develop and sometimes reiterate a building’s embodied values. In its simplest form, the adaptive re-use of a culturally important building requires the structural or spatial manipulation of an existing structure in order to change its program (use) whilst being sympathetic to its past social significances in order to enhance or develop a new cultural role in society. According to Kerr, “the most successful adaptive reuse projects are those that best respect and retain the building’s cultural significance and add a contemporary layer that provides value for the future” (Kerr, 2004).

Every building over time, develops positive or negative cultural values as society attributes memory and meaning to material and form. This contributes to a sense of civic ownership and connection. Lynch argues that “the mere sight of a building - a former home, an old trysting spot, or a hated work place – can be an instant memory-jerker. Equally the sheer familiarity of a street, an unconscious sense of a particular degree of enclosure, its sunny side, a familiar turn, can create a rootedness in a place and an affiliation with the local and its community”( Kevin lynch, 1960 as cited by, Bevan page 26, 2016). Although controversially Goodman argues that "Buildings seldom have 'meaning' in any obvious or simple way: they are just there. …. they 'do not describe, recount, depict or portray'. They are neither like novels, plays or operas, which narrate, nor like paintings or sculptures that can represent. Buildings occupy space” (Hirst, 2005 p190; Goodman and Elgin, 1988 p32). However, Ruskin and Bevan characterise the majority of those involved in social redevelopment, when they argue that, “buildings gather meaning to them by their everyday function, by their presence in the townscape and by their form. They can have meaning attached to them as structures or sometimes, simply act as containers of meaning and history” (Bevan, 2016 p26) and that, “(...) the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity” (Ruskin, Wheeler and Whiteley, 1992 p11). Moreover, there are a number of particular buildings that cultivate an important and meaningful combination of values that amplifies their cultural significance within society. To help define a building’s significance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) have collectively developed a suite of considerations which highlights a number of key values and their essential criteria, ranging from a building’s ‘Age and Rarity Value’ to its ‘Symbolic Value’. These are the culturally important buildings that have the greatest social impact when re-used effectively.

A Modern Adaptive Re-use Approach

Adaptive re-use is by no means a new occurrence; buildings have been re-used reflecting cultural fluctuations, throughout history. The Baths of Diocletian in Rome [fig 2] for example,fell into disuse in the sixth century after the Goths invaded. However, “in 1561 Pope Pius IV entrusted Michelangelo Buonarotti with the task” of ‘adaptively re-using’ the baths whilst incorporating the ‘Santa Maria degli Angeli Church’ [fig 3] within the ruins of the ancient bath complex, thus reinterpreting the building’s past cultural significance to promote the country’s strengthening commitment to Catholicism (Ermengem, 2016).

Fig 2

Fig 3

In the past, building alterations like the ‘Santa Maria degli Angeli Church’ have been singular and opportunistic compared to the twentieth century where the practice has become more widespread and systematic. Today culturally significant buildings find themselves ‘centre stage’, cast as identity defining characters in national building narratives. According to Postiglione and Bassanelli “the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 marked a decisive cultural break in the manner in which we look back at the past, opening the season of commemoration: the memento- the renewed and strengthened remembrance urged by the death of the survivors of the second world war – set itself as the renewed imperative of ‘Never Again’ which is reflected in the numerous memorials and museums built to commemorate those tears of horror” (Bassanelli and Postiglione, 2013). Likewise, Macdonald suggests that “[h]istory has been gathered up and presented as heritage of a meaningful past that should be remembered and more and more buildings and other sites have been called on to act as witnesses of the past” (Macdonald, 2009 p01)

In the last 25 years, architectural ‘adaptive re-use’ has continued to evolve from an approach to conserve and rework historic buildings sustainably, to a sophisticated modern process of architectural interventions used to underpin urban regeneration programmes, environmental initiatives and the promotion of national identities in post-conflict nations. Stone suggests that “a building can retain a remembrance of the former function and value; it has a memory of its previous purpose engrained within its very structure. The exploitation and development of this can create a composite of meaning and consequence. The inherent qualities of the place and its surroundings, combined with the anticipation of the future use, can produce a multi-layered complexity that is impossible to replicate in a new building” (Stone, 2005). An evolution underpinned by iterations of the principles introduced by pioneers in the 1950s such as Alison and Peter Smithson with their so called “as found’ approach”, as they found themselves “ [o]pposing the prevailing top-down strategies in town planning at the time, the ‘as found’ principle, exploited the tactical advantages of bottom-up approaches in comprehending and experiencing the city. The city was proclaimed a dynamic place of change and transformation; a stage for the informal interplay between the past, the present and the yet to come” (Klanten and Feireiss, 2009 p03-04). However it is Stewart Brand’s re-use of Winston Churchill’s quote in 1943, “First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us,” which he made whilst addressing the nation with regards re-building the Houses of Parliament after their destruction during the Second World War, that has come to endorse the notion of modern adaptive re-use in that “First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again-ad infinitum” (Brand, 1994 p03).

Adaptive Re-use, a Fractal Component of the Liberal Peace Process

During the last 10 years, there has been an increased interest in shaping and re-shaping the built heritage as an approach to peacebuilding within post-conflict communities in transition from a negative to a positive peace. Lombaerde and Foqué suggest that “we are increasingly conscious of the role that our heritage plays in improving the sense of identity and integrity of individuals and societies” (Lombaerde and Foqué, page 89. 2009), and as a result Bevan argues that “[t]he virtue of a built record to this method of ideological production lies in the apparent permanence of brick and stone. Buildings and shared spaces can be a location in which different groups come together through shared experience; collective identities are forged and traditions invented. It is architecture’s very impression of fixity that makes its manipulation such a persuasive tool” (Bevan 2016 p24). Echoing Hannah Arendt’s observation that “[t]he reality and reliability of the human world rests primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they are produced” (Arendt and Canovan 2012 p96)

Working with the perceived permanency of architecture in post-conflict conditions is an approach in response to what Barakat suggests are “changes in the nature of war from interstate rivalries to internal instabilities and civil conflict which have radically altered our perception of reconstruction and the role of the architect in post war recovery processes” (Barakat, 2010). However, this contemporary approach to peacebuilding suffers from a varied and conflicting set of methods. There is an obvious divide between the occasional projects realised by ‘architect-poets’ who welcome local stake-holder contributions, well-honed intuition and a personally driven interest, and others who deliver projects which damage and confuse the historic fabric in their eagerness to meet budget, political agendas and client demands. Architects that develop the site with a lack of vision and little understanding of peacebuilding principles (Spirindonis, Voyatzaki and Hay 2010 p175). According to Charlesworth, “[y]ou quite often have a manmade disaster of war, then there is the political disaster afterwards of incompetence and then there is the third disaster: the design disaster. Architects rarely know about reconstruction in terms of psychological reconstruction, they tend to go for the classic heritage approach, by rebuilding what-it-was-where-it-was, or they use funky 3D fly-in software, which has nothing to with the architectural context” (Charlesworth and Oosterman 2010 p25). A condition augmented by a worrying trend known as ‘Trauma Glam’ described by Hyde as “the current interest architects have with operating in zones of post-conflict as an experimental laboratory”. Moreover, Hyde continues, there “seems to be a basic tension between architects working to re-establish basic services and infrastructure, and architects working to re-establish identity and community”(Hyde, 2010 p28). Hay suggests that, more often than not, “architects and designers see their responsibility towards significant buildings in anthropomorphic terms - as performing surgery, breathing new life into and restoring the soul and heart of culturally significant buildings. These are dynamic and dogged acts which require the building to adopt a submissive role, to remain prone while work is visited upon it...Anthropomorphising the building in terms of voice and memory however, reverses this relationship, if only in the short-term, the act of listening enables the building to become an agent in its own reinvention and the designer has to work hard to hear what is said” (Spirindonis, Voyatzaki and Hay, 2010). Lederach echoes the importance of listening as he “Constantly found that most essential is hearing and engaging the struggling, sometimes lost, voices of identity within the loud static of the conflictive environment” (Lederach, 2003 p55.). Hence, Barakat argues that “[i]t is imperative that a new definition of the architect is offered and that skills are taught in enabling community survival and supporting local coping strategies”. ….. A greater understanding of recovery processes, skills like empathy, understanding and diplomacy will be central to training generations of conflict sensitive architects (Barakat, 2010 p22). Furthermore, Hyde states that “unless we re-evaluate architecture’s contribution based upon impact rather than image, the ability of the discipline to achieve social good will be crippled” (Hyde, 2010 p29).

Currently then, the peacebuilding approach to architecture and in particular the methodology relating to the modification of cultural specific buildings is fundamentally flawed and as a result, struggles to engage local communities and poorly addresses issues of trauma and post-conflict emotional entanglement. An institutionalised approach which currently signifies interventions seen as elite driven, politically manipulated that impose a synthesise of western- style values, promoting poor local participation and ownership as argued by theorist such as Selby, Mac Ginty, Hoffman and Richmond earlier in this paper but also recognises the merits of a pro-liberal peace argument of timely and sincere plans for institutional infrastructure prior to liberalisation by Roland Paris. As a result, this architectural approach accurately reflects the critique of the liberal peace process in general and amplifies the problems of using template-style international peace interventions, labelled as an “Ikea Peace” process by Mac Ginty.

Therefore by creating an architectural based microcosm of the liberal peace approach where an ‘adaptive reuse’ of architecture is used as a vehicle for peacebuilding. We can create a fractal component of the liberal peace process which acknowledges McDowell and Braniff’s suggestion that “space and place …. are never neutral, they are socially constructed and will always embody political power, values and symbols, and, moreover, these will be contested between different voices and interpreters” (McDowell and Braniff, 2014 p.5-6).



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