CitySpeak XIII - Bob Dickensheet SCAD


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  • MINIMUM INTERVENTION VERSUS ADAPTIVE REUSE As Director of construction and conservation for SCAD-Hong Kong it has been my task, along with many members of the university, to transform the former magistracy building in Sham Shui Po into a campus whose educational focus will be digital media and the arts. The Savannah College of Art and Design received this building through the Development Bureaus Revitalization Scheme for Heritage Structures. Now that we have nearly completed the project, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the process has had many successes and perhaps has also many points that should be called learning experiences. After all, this project is the first of its kind under the Revitalization Scheme and so it should be expected that minor problematic issues should arise. The formula for this project has been a well thought out approach towards conservation of building, preservation of heritage and adaptive reuse, again, as outlined programmatically in the scheme. This multifunctional approach towards preservation is typical of many government supported programs that are found in the United States where there are thousands of buildings in desperate need of attention. Under similar programs in the states, a developer or owner is given tax benefits, both federal and state, that are used as an incentive to conserve important elements of the building that is being rehabilitated or adaptively re-used. It is a good example of the carrot and the stick principle. Simply, if you accept the financial benefit or tax reduction you must then meet the standards for preservation. Typically, a government representative or agency will clearly define those elements that are to be conserved and federal guidelines, such as those provided by national park service, are followed in the conservation process. This formula has worked wonderfully and saved a lot of architecture and helped to preserve many communities. It has allowed for business to thrive, jobs to be created and cultural heritage to be kept alive and relevant in a community. A building that has outlived its original use is given a new intended economic purpose through adaptive re-use. What I have just described is not minimal intervention. Minimal intervention would be a conservation term more apply applied to a cultural heritage object like something found in a museum. A western definition of minimal intervention would be defined as conserving an object to a point or condition where its deterioration is halted or arrested, like in a museum environment. This is something that is very hard to manage with a building. The effects of environment, natural deterioration of materials, public use, poor original design or construction all lead to the failure of architecture. Also, the concept of minimal intervention further reduces a buildings ability to be economically viable or sustaining. For a heritage site of great importance the minimal option is always the first choice. However, the need to economically support the site through tourism typically becomes an over ridding factor that ultimately undermines the goal of minimal intervention. UNESCO’s efforts tell the story very well. Is there a compromise?The slide presentation that has been going on behind me for the past few minutes shows buildings that have been either adaptively reused or conserved and within the conserved structures important elements have received minimal intervention. They are just a few of the 70 plus buildings that the Savannah College of Art and Design has preserved and kept alive since its founding over thirty years ago. It is a wonderful inventory of buildings that now spans three continents and almost 800 years of architecture and styles. As a group, the buildings provide a unique educational environment for almost ten thousand students. Former factories, religious structures, significant residences, outmoded public school buildings have all be adaptively reused and now continue to be a functioning part of the community and in addition they are self supporting economically. Note also, that some of the slides are of people working on these buildings. Typically, if an opportunity arises for students to benefit from participating in the restoration process the building becomes a classroom. The adaptive re-use formula has worked very well for SCAD in many different aspects.  Would adaptive re-use work in Hong Kong, I am sure that this will be a major part of today’s discussion. We, the university, feel that adaptive re-use is a very viable means of preserving buildings and heritage and look forward to the practice expanding in Hong Kong with the further refinement of programs such as the Revitalization Scheme and others. Unfortunately, the economic pressures of real estate costs combined with the needs for housing present major obstacles to the preservation of buildings.
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