For more than three decades, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have grappled with uncertainty and extinction. Abiding by their deeply rooted belief in the preservation of things they have strived to resurrect what has been left for dead. Old crumbling buildings on the brink of collapse have gained new life on their drawing boards to transform into environmentally sustainable, affordable homes.

For their unwavering efforts, the pair won the prestigious 2021 Pritzker Prize. The jury defined their work as,

“a commitment to a restorative architecture that is at once technological, innovative and ecologically responsive can be pursued without nostalgia”

                                                        – New York Times

The concept of adaptive reuse

Their philosophy fundamentally revolves around two concepts – integrating the surroundings as closely as possible and preserving history, which is commonly known as adaptive reuse architecture.

It was in 1993 that they first put their vision into practice when they redesigned a home for a family in Bordeaux, France using environment-friendly techniques on a tight budget.

Since then, Lacaton and Vassal have worked on over 30 projects adapting, reinventing, and redesigning homes and institutions to meld the past and the present seamlessly in one big continuum.

“Our design philosophy is to make buildings that are beautiful, where people feel good in them…”

Co-working spaces like WeWork are already taking steps in line with the CDC and ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) guidelines.

Restoring India’s past

Architect Vikas Dilawari would wholeheartedly agree. He recently won the first prize at the Housing Urban Development Corporation’s (HUDCO) Design Awards 2021 for his mesmerizing redesign of the 96-year-old Commissariat Building in Mumbai. A firm believer of injecting old spaces with new life, Dilawari’s heart lies in lovingly restoring buildings rather than reconstructing or demolishing them. Dilawari, like Lacatan and Vassal, joins the history, culture, and surroundings of a space while adhering to basic conservation principles effortlessly.

He believes in the same motto as Aishwarya Tipnis, a conservation architect.

“We try as much as possible to go back to our roots and work with those principles in mind.”

The Better India

Tipnis has restored everything from heritage havelis to private homes to nearly the entire town of Chandernagore near Kolkata.

The importance of adaptive reuse architecture in India

Clearly, adaptive reuse architecture is not constrained to preserving history or heritage. Instead, it’s an art form that stands at the confluence of sustainability, preservation of history by incorporating the surroundings. It’s a balanced amalgamation of social, environmental, and economic factors, which prioritizes the needs of the present by relying on the framework of the past.

In India, where urbanization is growing at lightning speeds, there is an increasing demand for utilizing space in the most optimal manner. Instead of spending valuable resources in removing already existing structures it’s economically and socially viable to enhance them, add to them. With adaptive reuse, there’s scope to transform not just heritage buildings but even community buildings and other public and private spaces into usable, sustainable areas.

Examples of adaptive reuse already abound. Take the Alembic Industrial building in Vadodara, Gujarat. Set up over a 100 years ago as a manufacturing unit, the building succumbed to the ravages of time before Karan Grover and Associates revamped it into a sleek community space housing art studios, libraries, exhibition halls, and a cafe among other things. The firm preserved many of the building’s unique features like arches, riveted roof trusses, and its rafters to lend a modern industrial look.

Another inspiring example is the Calcutta Bungalow, which is reminiscent of Colonial Bengal. Passionately restored by a team of conservation architects and heritage enthusiasts this 20th century building stands tall welcoming travelers in its new avatar as a B&B. Made of completely upcycled and reclaimed parts, the building is a beautiful blend of vintage and modern.

Like Lacaton and Vassal, we have a few champions of change in India. We have architects like Dilawari and Tipnis, and many more who are striving to make buildings beautiful, where people feel good in them. Are you part of them?

About the author:
Sayantan Gupta
Director & Co-Founder
Square One Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

A graduate in architecture, Sayantan is an avid reader, reluctant writer and passionate about travelling and sports. His favourite topics while reading are design, architecture and current affairs; though business drives him to read books on management and economics, just to stay in the league.

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