Genius loci restored: the challenge of adaptive re-use

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The underlying concept of Genius Loci or sense of place embodies a particular kind of historical knowledge and lived experience that can subjectively be made available through a place ‘being there’ at specific events or activities and can recover the tangible and intangible elements that give a place meaning and value and induce emotional engagement. In current heritage discourse the term refers to a distinctive sense of place, the atmosphere and character of a site, including its physical and symbolic values– its spirit of place.
Through case-studies of adaptive reuse of significant sites this paper considers distinct philosophical approaches to these particular places to consider whether their true authenticity which conveys the spirit of place are sufficiently identified and used as a critical tool to define the conservation philosophies and priorities for preserving these significant cultural heritage assets. Opportunities and limits for the adaptive reuse of redundant buildings and their associated relict landscapes are investigated and defined in the context of the challenge of capturing and safeguarding their essential spirit of place during the conservation process.
Although adaptive reuse usually refers to finding a new purpose for defunct sites the adopted methodologies for establishing conservation priorities might be applied to situations where the transmission of material and immaterial values, including the collective memories and social meaning embedded in the tangible and intangible cultural heritage for their respective communities is desirable.
The paper concludes that in the adaptive reuse of heritage with symbolic value due consideration must be given to respecting its value and significance while being aware that strategic sustainable development practice is an increasingly important aspect of conservation projects. The case studies discussed demonstrate that the principles, physical, intellectual and digital interpretation and degree of intervention required for keeping alive and transmitting the spirit of place to new audiences must acknowledge that all buildings are not suitable candidates for adaptation. Consideration of places that need to change are site specific but if the matrix of complex values is approached with understanding and sensitivity the conservation process can be positive and provide new experiential value and create new narratives for individuals and society. The German concept of ‘Industriekultur‘ which conflates two distinct notions of culture - historical reconstruction and to the sites themselves as defacto manifestations of German cultural history that carry meaning and significance may be a way of resolving these tensions, particularly in relation to redundant industrial complexes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConservation/Adaptation
Subtitle of host publicationKeeping alive the spirit of the place: Adaptive re-use of heritage with symbolic values
EditorsD Fiorani, L Kealy, S.F. Musso
Place of PublicationBelgium
PublisherEuropean Association for Architectural Education
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-2-930301-65-5
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2017

Publication series

NameEAAE Transactions on Architectural Education
PublisherEuropean Association for Architectural Education


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