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Post-Conflict Recovery: We Need to Talk About The Adaptive Re-use of Place

Adaptively reusing socially significant buildings is an effective peacebuilding and recovery practice, it develops places as valuable catalysts for cultural and socioeconomic recovery. However, if done poorly it can exacerbate a fragile condition and further erode a community’s sense of belonging, place and identity.

So, would a bespoke document which outlines post-conflict peacebuilding, adaptive reuse, design and theory be valuable? Would it be helpful to have a document that offers basic-practice toolkits, and ways to work with conservation values, whilst identifying a way to help limit climate change? Would it interest you to read how this can work in line with a Liberal peacebuilding framework and the United Nations' sustainable development goals?

A document like this would help guide an organisation or community group keen to address buildings with social significance. It could be printed (or shared otherwise) in multiple languages and for free.

If you are part of a donor org this doc would be helpful whilst you are looking for new ways of funding and delivering humanitarian assistance, or should you need help deciding what to fund, or how to choose the most relevant partner or site. Perhaps you need some help figuring out how to better finance humanitarian operations that deal with the built environment and climate issues. You may find a document like this useful to underpin project guidance, evaluation and support.

Adaptive reuse within a peacebuilding context is not a one size fits all practice. Working with places and people in complicated circumstances must be conducted in a sensitive and considerate manner with a firm focus on maintaining contextual integrity and authenticity.

It makes sense that an approach is required that recognises professional principles and practice whilst acknowledging the importance of memories, meaning and trauma to which these places resonate. It is essential to understand how these particular places relate to one another and the people they serve locally. An approach is needed that allows the place we work with, a voice in the process of sensitively developing existing values whilst introducing and promoting new ones, values which would be peacebuilding, social-economic, educational, and cultural in orientation.

Naturally, the adaptive reuse of elements of the built environment is an essential and sensible response to upheaval and trauma whilst protecting culturally or socially significant buildings.

First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again-ad infinitum”. Brand,1994, page3

The advantages of re-using existing built heritage can’t be underestimated. Done successfully, the alteration and re-use of a culturally or socially significant building will encourage further regeneration within the local context, attracting added interest from leisure, education, tourism, retail and other initiatives. Done unsuccessfully, it will cost people and their places, erode meaning, and authenticity, and even add to a sense of dislocation or in some cases stimulate social ills such as violence and division.

Adaptive reuse makes moral and economic sense, for example, without the need for new transport and logistical support networks, the costs are relatively low and the travel options are well established. The local area can enjoy a new lease of productive life, building on (if fragile) an existing sense of place, history and community.

Currently, the humanitarian sector, local authorities, scholars, architects, engineers and conservation specialists need help - There is an obvious struggle which allows for a mixed and often haphazard approach to the ‘alteration’ and ‘re-use’ of places in a post-conflict context.

There seems to be a divide between the projects conceived and realised by well-funded professionals who can call on a well-honed intuition and ingenuity focused through a peacebuilding lens. And projects, which are delivered cheaply by misguided, dated, institutionalised or opportunistic actors that confuse the local humanitarian objective, often unintentionally in an eagerness to move on quickly or naively believing the project is straightforwardly conservation or architectural in nature.

Developing a site with a lack of vision, with little understanding of the conflict and its impact, contemporary conservation principles and scant awareness of ‘everyday’ peacebuilding will no doubt, ‘end in tears’.

To address this haphazard approach to adaptive reuse within precarious places a reuse methodology and toolkit are required.

I have written a detailed document and together we can develop it to help guide INGOs, NGOs, Communities, Governments, Engineers, Project managers, Builders, Architects etc.

There is a need for a robust and effective strategy to share. An approach built on many years of practice, quantitative and qualitative research, and the analyses of a great many case studies (image2).

A document which combines strategy, theory, method, details and a design toolkit that will inform the adaptive reuse of places reliably. Importantly, it will mean there is a body of knowledge easily tailored to become a project reference or knowledge transfer document, accessible to the public and professional practices alike.

I feel that sharing a documented approach (image3), will help improve this type of humanitarian intervention and help address the risks associated with the hit-and-miss culture of adaptive projects in precarious communities, ultimately helping people shape their buildings, so their places help shape communities once again…

Image 2

Image 3


Image 1. Title Image (click)

Image 2. Diagrammatic Path to The Adaptive Reuse Document (thus far)

Image 3. Table of contents (thus far)


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