Re-creating makes sense

All those who are aware of sustainability discourses are familiar with the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – a slogan developed for the economically richer nations. The fact that it is more said than done is a sad turn out of things, but in nations like India where they are practised as a lifestyle for ages, we know the value of the three words like a mantra.

However, when it comes to buildings, we appear to profess otherwise, at least during the recent decades. We would rather build new temples at huge costs, but not restore the historic ones at part of that cost. If restored, thanks to our insensitivity, we spoil the old character of the place. Ancestral homes are demolished, making way for new designs, where debris is discarded instead of reusing them.

The exception lies with carved doors, windows, columns and such elements of the historic structure which get sold in some urban context, where transportation, trading and networking facilitate. The rest of buildings from the past bite the dust.

Using materials from old buildings not only re-connects us to our past, it saves them for posterity, extending the life of a product and making it a sustainable material. Normally, reusing the old component is economical, where high costs of skilled craftsmanship are not involved. Even if the task involves skilled labour, it is worthful to reuse salvaged materials, as a lifeline for our dying skill-sets of crafting a building.

Architects tend to argue for modern architecture always, often not realising that many people out there in the society do not appreciate them. Generations may come who advocate modernity, but people who vouch by the old charm would always be there. It is unfortunate that artistic excellence in building products is waning today with craftsmen’s families shifting away due to low remuneration or lack of jobs.

Given this context, projects such as Hotel Ganges View on the Varanasi riverfront or ghat as they are locally called, are successful examples for sensitive handling of lived in, ancestral haveli turning into a heritage hotel. Not all traditional structures can be preserved forever and many of them do not deserve authentic restoration either, unless they are rare specimens of their times. As such, adaptive reuse is a viable alternative today, where the available building stock can be saved from demolition, reused intelligently, saved for posterity and of course, supported traditional crafts people. Complimenting these thoughts, heritage hotel projects also make commercial sense.

Project constraints are not a deterrent to creativity, but a reason to think fresh. Creativity lies not only in designing the new, but equally in working with the existing, which is more challenging. More importantly, re-creating by restoring, adding and altering the existing building makes tremendous green sense today, considering the costs and energy that goes to making the new.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 2:13:22 PM |

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