From restoration to sustainable urban conservation
On restoration and reuse of historic structures
Different approaches have been adopted at various times for the conservation of urban heritage and historical buildings, most of which have attempted to reconnect the historical context of a given place with its people and their socio-cultural values. These approaches may vary and sometimes contradict each other, but each is supported by implicit and explicit motivations.1 This chapter debates key aspects of these approaches and highlights the theoretical views supporting them through examples in the non-Western context (Khan, 2015). Although the concept of preserving historical structures and built heritage can be traced back to the early 19th century, it gained further recognition and application in the 20th century. This recognition was due to the global political conflicts of the two world wars, which resulted in the destruction of historical buildings and heritage sites as well as whole cities like Dresden, Germany, and Coventry, England. The classification of conservation approaches includes restoration with uniformity (in which certain architectural elements are eliminated and new features introduced to create a uniform appearance) and the more authentic urban conservation.
Restoration with uniformity was used extensively by Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), one of the best restoration architects and theorists of his time. Viollet-le-Duc believed in restoring the whole building in one predominating style, while integrating and neutralising other parts of the building. In so doing, he radically introduced new shapes and forms that had never been part of the original building. According to Viollet-le- Duc, “to restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, nor to repair, nor to build it; it means to re-establish it in a finished state, which may in fact, never have actually existed at any given time” (Viollet-le-Duc, 1990:195). This approach prevailed in Europe and, in 1904, was recognised as a basic design principle at the Sixth International Congress of Architects (Locke, 1904:344). With the goal of improving the building by creating a unified style, many parts of the original buildings were demolished and replaced by new forms and new styles, with little respect paid to the authenticity and purpose of the original building.
As the appearance of many valued and admired historical buildings changed, a strong reaction against the creation of stylistic unity began to spread. This resulted in the anti-restoration movement, which emphasised the authenticity and historical values of old and ancient structures; it considered ancient monuments as valuable records of history. According to George Gilbert Scott, an architect who promoted the revival of English Gothic (1811-1878), “every old building has an historic value, and it should be remembered that this is gone when its authenticity is destroyed” (Masden, 1976:125). John Ruskin (1819-1900), the acclaimed pioneer of romanticism, supported these views and believed in keeping state ancient monuments as they were, claiming, “it is impossible, as impossible to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture” (Ruskin, 1886:185). Ruskin viewed restoration as a lie from beginning to end; it is “the most deconstruction which a building can suffer; a destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered; a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed” (Ruskin, 1886:196).
Inspired by such writings, the anti-restoration movement rallied to preserve historic structures in their authentic state, without any alterations. In this approach, the dimension of time is significant, and thus minimal interventions are applied in order to slow down or prevent further deterioration. Accordingly, the conservation process focuses on renovating only the decayed parts of historical buildings. Certain buildings deemed of great historical value were preserved in isolation from their urban context (Menon, 1989). This was seen as irrelevant. However, after the Second World War two different ways of dealing with historical places began to emerge: the modernist approaches of the architectural school and the acts of removal and demolition of the modernist planning school (Steinberg, 1996). Thus, historical buildings were not viewed as assets but rather as impediments to modern urban development.
During the 1950s and 1960s, as a response to outraged criticism against these two cavalier methods of dealing with historic sites, attitudes began to change. The conservation process dramatically shifted; it became more holistic, thus instead of preserving single structures it promoted the conservation of entire urban fabrics. In this new approach, referred to as urban rehabilitation, historic parts of cities are reused in new creative ways (Dix, 1987). Rather than protecting historical buildings in isolation or preserving old parts, urban rehabilitation focuses on renovating old urban tissue by preserving certain authentic functions in conjunction with introducing new ones that are deemed necessary. Such an approach is motivated by the belief that cities should adapt to change, otherwise they will die. Supporting this view, Cantacuzino explains, “in order to keep something alive it may be necessary to infuse new life into it” (Cantacuzino, 1990:14). The new life does not necessarily exclude demolition or reconstruction, and in many cases, it requires the reuse of historic areas in innovative and functional ways. Therefore, the rehabilitation approach aims at adapting the built heritage to incorporate contemporary social and economic needs.
Another approach to conservation emerged in the 1960s; this involved the adaptation and reuse of historic buildings. Known as built heritage revitalisation, this stratagem was supported by the World Heritage Convention of 1972, which shifted the concept of conservation towards the adaptive reuse of the built heritage for new purposes and functions that would better fit the contemporary requirements of economic vitality, mainly tourism and commerce. This approach aims at safeguarding heritage sites and ensuring their economic and social continuity by using them for tourism development and commercial use. Alfred Van Huyck (1990) notes that there must be some concessions and always “a price to be paid in the adaptation of historic buildings in terms of their historic value, form and function” (Van Huyck, 1990:51). However, he further argues that in many cases adaptation is the only practical way to maintain certain structures’ historic and cultural significance.
Some significant historical structures or entire sites are often seen as a source of national identity and pride. As a response to various forces, such as colonisation, modernisation, and globalisation, many countries in Asia, the subcontinent, and the Indo-Pacific, including the Islamic world, seek to reclaim and protect their heritage from decay and disuse. Various conservation approaches were thus adopted, including the restoration of monuments, conservation as anti-restoration, adaptive reuse, and urban rehabilitation and revitalisation. Significantly, however, the re-creation of stylistic unity did not spread much beyond Europe. Many of these projects have been recognised by various conservation and heritage organisations for their positive impact on reconnecting people with their historical past and their built heritage, as well as providing project ownership and a better quality of life for local communities.
The restoration of monuments is always connected with structures that are deemed of great historical importance and which usually reflect a certain historical era. Some ancient monuments go back to the early founding of some cities; these thus represent the successive civilisations that have contributed to their built heritage. Such monuments can be large compounds, such as the pyramids of Giza, Egypt, the Nabatean limestone carved structures of Petra, Jordan, or the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya. These historical sites are regarded as records of history and clearly represent the importance of conservation, in which no changes, alterations, or additions are allowed. Although these examples are greatly appreciated as historical testimonies, some people controversially view them as dead cities that have no real connection with contemporary societies. The restoration of monuments also includes smaller structures, which are often religious buildings or palaces located within central locations; some examples are the Salah Al- Din Citadel, in Aleppo, Syria (now seriously damaged by the war); the A1 Qaraouiyine Mosque, Morocco; the Nagaur Fort, in Rajasthan, India; and
Rustam Basha Caravanserai in Turkey. These historical buildings are considered important symbols of cultural identity; they are preserved in isolation from their urban context and the socio-economic state of the inhabitants.
Whether a whole city or a portion of it is targeted for the rehabilitation and preservation of its architectural heritage, rehabilitation here is perceived in a holistic urban approach rather than on an individual building’s scale. Examples of this approach includes the rehabilitation of Hebron Old Town, Palestine; the Hafsia Quarter in the Medina of Tunis, Tunisia; and the walled city of Nicosia, Cyprus. Although cultural significance is important in the rehabilitation of such structures, fulfilling the present needs of the residents and engaging the local community is given equal value. Thus, rehabilitation for adaptive reuse strives to strike a balance between the archaeological and aesthetic values of the built heritage, on one hand, and the socio-economic and socio-cultural values of the people on the other (Mahdy, 2017:98).
According to Tiesdell et al., the
revitalisation of historic urban quarters involves two processes, which inevitably conflict: the rehabilitation of buildings and areas which seeks to accommodate the consequences of economic change, and preservation which seeks to limit change and to protect the character of historic buildings and areas.
(Tiesdell et ah, 1996:166)
Hence, rehabilitation is primarily linked to heritage revitalisation, which considers built heritage as national resources that should be preserved and utilised to achieve sustainable urban development. This approach is supported by the view that historical structures were built to fulfil the needs of the people under certain circumstances. For these structures to remain viable, as circumstances and needs change, they need to be transformed to accommodate new purposes, uses, and functions for residents and stakeholders alike.