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Dutch approach for redevelopment of Russian industrial heritage?

As expert in the field of adaptive re-use Mei was part of a one-week masterclass in Kazan, Russia. In this masterclass young Russian architects and urban designers were introduced to the integral approach for redeveloping historical industrial areas, on the basis of two local case studies: a soap factory and a bathhouse.

In Russia it is not yet common to make use of the so called ‘integral method’. In Europe this approach has been used successfully for years. Russian architects mainly focus upon the aesthetical appearance of a building: the facade and shape of the building. Often the facade is neatly restored, while the design and structure of the building are completely changed. Usually only one part of the history of the building is taken as a starting point, for example the original design. The building is then restored to this specific (original) time.

The integral approach differs from this method because the entire building and its history are analysed and taken into consideration – from the first till the last user. In the first phase of a project the heritage is carefully analysed. What makes the building beautiful and special? Also, the history, the life the building has had, is of great importance. What has happened with the building over time, what was it used for, which emotions does it evoke and how did and does the building relate to its context? In redevelopment it is as important to restore the visible architectonic elements are important as it is to show and work with the different layers of time. This way it is possible to revitalise a building in the modern city. The building gains a new purpose while its historical significance is preserved.

After a few days of intensively studying this integral approach, one of the students stated: “I have never looked at this building this way. I only saw a desolate and contaminated area, which evoked negative emotions. Now I know the story of the building. I can see how it can be a source of inspiration for the entire neighbourhood.”

In theory this integral approach sounds clear and easy, but a successful application of this method requires years of training. International expert play an important role in the redevelopment of Russian industrial heritage, specifically in the initial conceptual phase, where thinking out-of-the-box leads to new and qualitative solutions.

Mei is involved in various redevelopment projects in Russia, such as the Silk Factory in Naro Fominsk. The team is often approached to speak at conferences and forums. Since 2019 Mei is part of the Expert Council of Industrial Heritage in Russia.

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