Introduction to the publication 'Herbestemming in Nederland; nieuw gebruik van stad en land' (adaptive re-use in urban and rural areas in the Netherlands)NAi Publishers, 2011.
Marinke Steenhuis en Paul Meurs
Unoccupied buildings mean that there is room for new usage. This often results in surprising combinations, such as a school or living quarters in a factory complex, a shop in a church or a recreation area in a military line. Adaptive re-use is of all times. In the distant past, it often had to do with changes of power; buildings and structures remained, but the use of them and the symbolism changed. The Aya Sophia, for example, was built in Istanbul around 540 as a church. After the conquest of the city by the Turks in 1453, it was adapted for re-use as a mosque. In the case of the cathedral of Sevilla it went exactly the other way around; after the Moors had been driven out of Spain in 1248, the mosque became a catholic church.
In the days of Napoleon, Amsterdam City Hall on Dam Square in the Netherlands became a royal palace. After the age of chivalry, numerous castles were converted to luxurious country houses. Later on, military inventions unintentionally also became a stimulant for adaptive re-use, because they rendered defensive works useless and thus redundant. After the ramparts around the cities had lost their military function at the end of the nineteenth century, many of them were converted to boulevards, bordered by public parks and exclusive residential areas. The cities and villages were modernised, layer by layer, in the course of an age-long process. Old building materials, obsolete buildings or changed urban structures were adapted to new usage in a way that was as clever as it was self-evident. At some time over the past century and a half, the self-evidence of re-use was lost. The rate at which growth and social changes took place did not allow modern industrial cities to grow organically on the basis of former structures. A whole new logic of planning and building came into being based on growth, innovation, standardisation and increase in scale. Building was synonymous with new development. Builders found a location and selected an architect, who proceeded to make a design on the basis of the required function and his own ideas. Lack of occupancy generally heralded demolition and new development. In this way, complete districts and landscapes were reconstructed. The opportunities offered by redevelopment went unnoticed and – with a building industry exclusively focused on new development – were dismissed as being idealistic, prohibitively priced and therefore unrealistic. Hoog Catharijne became the logical answer to the question of how the centre of Utrecht should be adapted to the wishes and requirements of modern man. Only major monuments received special treatment. These became the exceptions in the self-renewing cities, which were frequently adapted for re-use as museums or chic offices.
When society turned out to be less makeable than had been thought, discontent about the large scale demolition in the inner cities increased. It was a time of reflection, not only with the environment discussion based on the influential 1972 Club of Rome report ‘The Limits to Growth’, but also in the world of monuments, 1975 being Monument Year. Citizens championed their existing cities, as became apparent not only from the riots in the Amsterdam Nieuwmarkt area at the time of the construction of the metro, but also from the urban regeneration of Bergkwartier in Deventer and Stokstraat in Maastricht. Within one generation a response came to the postwar movement away from the inner cities to apartments and through-room houses in the suburbs: back to the city. The reconstruction mania turned into the realisation that living and working in existing buildings was also an option. Left and right found each other in the preservation of the quality of life and the small scale of inner cities and the surrounding areas. Thanks to the urban renewal grant system and the Monuments Act, the urban regeneration societies, the squatters movement and private individuals with a dream, the aspiration could be turned into reality. In the search for special places to live old warehouses, empty schools and abandoned storage barns for bulbs and tobacco came into the picture - even though it took some do-it-yourselfers years of their lives to turn these into residential palaces. In 1978, architect Dolf de Maar went one step further when he bought the empty Martinus Church in Utrecht and wen to live in the rectory with his family. He parked his vintage cars in the church and rented out the remaining space for cultural activities. Dutch comedians Van Kooten and De Bie used the church in their sketches as the Sint Jodocus Church in Juinen. At the end of the eighties, De Maar became a self-appointed project developer and sold 48 apartments which had been realized in the church complex, which he then sold (photo 1). During this period there were other examples of pioneers in the field of adaptive re-use of monumental and non-monumental buildings. The entrepreneur Hennie van der Most in the province of Overijssel bought the postwar hospital in Almelo and opened the Preston Palace hotel there in 1988. In 1992, the old main post office behind the Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam was converted to the Magna Plaza shopping palace (photo 2), commissioned by the Swedish real estate magnate Lars Magnusson. In the eighties, neighbourhood resistance and the squatters movement played a key role in the adaptive re-use of two pavilions on the site of Wilhelmina Gasthuis in Amsterdam-West. However, adaptive re-uses of this nature remained incidental - organised by daredevils breaking new ground.
An urgent assignment
The church in Juinen, the hospital in Almelo and the Amsterdam examples are the forerunners of a currently topical development. The difference with thirty years ago is that lack of occupancy has reached epidemic proportions and that large scale demolition is no longer a foregone conclusion for politicians, nor for the population. Transformation and adaptive re-use of buildings and areas is one of the most important national assignments in the coming years. Considerable economic and social changes are a major cause of the lack of occupancy. The lifting of religious and sociopolitical barriers, the end of the makeability ideal and the transition to a service economy have resulted in a totally different living and working environment. Some seven million square meters of office space is vacant, Defence is doing away with sites and barracks, churches are massively emptying, factory sites and port areas are abandoned and in rural areas agriculture is no longer the obvious function. Add to this the population shrinkage on the edges of the Netherlands and it will become clear that the building assignment has changed to a conversion assignment. Initially, the building trade persevered in its reflex of demolishing and building, even in the shrinking areas. The financial crisis in 2008 made it painfully clear that this is not going to work. In the building trade, the point is no longer to create supply but to respond to demand. And that demand has everything to do with the new economic relationships now predominant in the Netherlands. Fewer large and multinational companies, more self-employed working together in networks and always online. On the housing market buyers can take their pick, while prices are falling. A different approach is called for in the building sector: from growth to shrinkage, from new development to re-use, from readymade to made to measure, and from increasing scales back to the human scale. If conversion instead of new development has become the reality, this means that in the existing cities and villages there are opportunities that would not present themselves in the case of demolition.
Adaptive re-use starts by bringing together supply and demand, an initiator and an existing location. Because the existing situation will never measure up exactly to a new function, adjustment and integration will always be required. The location must be adjusted to new users and functions, and vice versa. The point is not to press on regardless, but to provide tailor-made solutions. The design should be functional and practical, it must remain affordable and meet all the legal requirements and regulations. Over the past years, authorities and corporations have frequently led the way in the field of adaptive re-use. In general this concerned large scale projects and the realisation of public buildings on abandoned industrial sites. The so-called unprofitable top (the project deficit) was accepted (and eliminated through subsidies) for the sake of the social profit: more cultural diversity, attracting richer households and upgrading the social environment. This logic was also followed in the case of the cruise ship SS Rotterdam, a housing corporation project with the objective of revitalising the Katendrecht district. As a result of the enormous cost overrun in respect of this project, the image was created of unprofitable investments per definition as being money thrown down the drain. However, as long as there is a balance between the project deficit and its effect on the city and society, this kind of approach is still desperately needed to launch improvements of cities or villages.
25 examples of adaptive re-use in urban and rural areas By citing 25 examples of adaptive re-use projects, this book gives an impression of the many ways in which obsolete buildings, areas and landscapes can be made suitable for new usage. The examples illustrate the consequences of changes on the office market, in defence and the church, on industrial sites and in agricultural areas. Some projects were completed years ago, while others are still in preparation, such as the rope factory (Touwfabriek) in Oudewater (project 11) and the museum farm ‘Farmyard 29’ (Museumboerderij ‘Erf 29’) on Kampereiland (project 22). Examples of redevelopment of large factory sites are the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam (project 1), the DRU in Ulft (project 7) and the NDSM wharf in Amsterdam (project 15). The sequence can easily be extended by, for example, the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam, the Stork site in Hengelo or the Light factory in Eindhoven, which was awarded the Gulden Fenix – the award for the best renovation and transformation projects (photos 3 and 4). Churches adapted for re-use are, for example, the Majella Church in Amsterdam (project 8) and the Jacobus Church in Utrecht (project 14). Here again there are numerous other examples, such as the book store in the Dominicanen Church in Maastricht (photo 5) and the museological redesign of the Laurens Church in Rotterdam.
Now that it has become more difficult to find financing, adaptive re-use should comply, even more than before, with the laws of the market economy. In Dordrecht, the initiators of Hotel New York in Rotterdam have realised a hotel with public restaurant in the former water supply complex, whereby the cisterns were transformed into an enormous garden (project 10). Funnily enough, the current financial restrictions are also leading to new approaches, with a building or an area not being delivered spic and span in the first instance, but with room for temporary usage and new ways of programming. Without far-reaching reconstruction, each floor of the Volkskrant building in Amsterdam houses a cleverly programmed mix of young and experienced entrepreneurs, cultural and commercial companies and crafts and service professions (project 23). In the process of refurbishing the tram workshop in Winschoten, the theatre even took its heating along (project 17). Adaptive re-use is often associated with empty buildings, but it is an issue on the level of landscape and urban planning too. In 2006, at the initiative of the Natural Monuments Trust (Natuurmonumenten), the island of Tiengemeten changed its allocation from ‘agriculture’ to ‘new nature’. The visitors centre is housed in a former farm, and a route set out for tourists introduces them to various atmospheres: wilderness, wealth and wistfulness (photo 6). The curious history of the formerly closed prison village of Veenhuizen (project 6) in the province of Drenthe became the motor for regional development. Delfzijl (project 13) was one of the first municipalities to regard depopulation as a challenge and to re-invent itself as an urban village.
Getting used to adaptive re-use
Apart from the need to find alternative funding models, the roles in the world of design and realisation have been thoroughly shaken up, which means that parties involved will have to adapt to a new reality. Builders, architects, monument care and the public have no choice but to depart from their traditional roles. Developing parties cannot fall back on the standard approach, when they were at all times aware of where they stood, also from a financial point of view. Now, however, they will have to invest in a quest with an uncertain outcome and the risk of setbacks. Architects are getting used to making a design based on an existing context, each time requiring a specific approach. The projects in this book show a wide variation of design attitudes. In some adaptive re-use projects the new architecture is very prominently represented, for example in the St. Jozef Monastery in Deventer (project 21) or in the flour factory (Meelfabriek) in Leiden (project 2, not yet implemented). In other projects the intervention is hardly visible and the building adapted for re-use presents itself in its pure, original form. The third approach is that of convergence, whereby the architecture of the intervention creates new quality resulting from the merger of the existing situation and the addition. Whereas thirty years ago most architects when confronted with design assignments in an existing context were capable of doing little else but place contrasting, often glass extensions against the existing structure, these days the challenge of adaptive re-use is regarded as a valuable architectural assignment in its own right. Leafing through professional journals and annuals, it is interesting to note that architects of repute all over the world are engaged in adaptive re-use projects – and that they can show themselves highly compliant with regard to an existing situation. The architect of an adaptive re-use project is the organiser of a complicated process and a servant of the building, according to architects André van Stigt and Robert Winkel in this book. Their most important objective is to find solutions for the technical, structural and functional adjustments required. Their creativity where adaptive re-use projects are concerned lies mainly in meeting the numerous budgets, rules and regulations, which are mostly still based on new developments. Here lies a task for the government. For the sake of legal certainty, security and the coordination of what is happening in cities, villages and rural areas, the building trade is quite rightly laid down in well-defined frameworks. However, adaptive re-use demands less rigid zoning plans and a different set of rules (no standard solutions, but laying down objectives). Even monument care needs to adjust its way of thinking. It is remarkable that a number of monuments adapted for re-use which are included in this book were rejected by monument care. It is at times difficult to accept that adaptive re-use of monuments brings with it new meanings that might affect monumental elements. Monument care should learn to move along with developments, without relinquishing control of the soul of the object or location. Finally there is the role played by the public, which is diverse and based on a variety of interests, motives and ideals. It is striking that citizens are getting more and more strongly involved in the processes, and as a consequence also take and are given responsibilities in order to achieve success. Like chameleons, squatters turn into project developers, objectors into framework developers and demolishers into adaptive re-use developers. It is the necessary final step towards an integral approach to adaptive re-use, when specialists, policy makers and other parties concerned will be working in collaboration, each with their own responsibility and knowledge. In a society where authenticity is the new mass product, the demand for locations and buildings with character and history is growing. Starting from the new development reflex, the response to the demand for authenticity is to suggest a trace of history. Newly built historical towns, newly built thirties houses – nothing wrong with it, but the simple necessity to start re-using the existing city gives us the opportunity to provide a real made to measure product. Living and working in areas and houses with a love for the location, exactly the way the users want it, cities with surprises and historical stratification. So what are we waiting for?