Book Chapter

Architectural regeneration and its theoretical context


Cycles of decline and rejuvenation, and the adaptation and re-use of buildings, have been common constants of the built environment throughout the history of human settlement. The more formalised practices of building conservation and regeneration on the other hand are an outcome of movements that emerged in the nineteenth century, which were informed by theoretical standpoints that were products of the post-Enlightenment positivist, rational and romantic outlooks (Gelernter 1995). Some of these theories and standpoints continue to inform interventions in the built environment, while others have been eclipsed by alternative worldviews and environmental realities. Architectural regeneration as a notion and as a distinct discipline emerges from a number of those concurrent, symbiotic, complementary and sometimes conflicting theories. The purpose of this chapter is to position architectural regeneration into its theoretical context and to demonstrate how it continues to be informed by a range of contemporary philosophies. Worldwide, laws, policy and guidance concerning the protection and conservation of historic buildings have come to be based on a set of principles that have emerged from an international conservation movement that can be traced back to Eurocentric philosophies of the nineteenth century (Jokilehto 1999). The design of the urban realm, buildings and interiors meanwhile are regularly discussed and critiqued in the context of prevalent design theories which in the latter half of the twentieth century were deliberately separated from theories pertaining to the conservation of historic buildings. The processes of adaptive re-use, which architectural regeneration encompasses, can be seen simultaneously as part of the collective theoretical frameworks of conservation and design, and also outside of them. Although ‘architects have led the conservation world in matters of principles and philosophy’ (Muñoz Viñas 2011: 71), they have also been instrumental in de-coupling conservation from design. Architectural regeneration has emerged in this middle ground between conservation and architectural design. At the same time, the broader realm of regeneration is often positioned in the domain of policy, spatial planning and economic development. Growing environmental concerns and climate change awareness are driving innovation in multiple arenas, including urban planning and building design. The current environmental crisis has become one of the key drivers for making better use of existing resources as well as for buildings to adapt to respond to new realities (Leatherbarrow and Wesley 2018). Starting from the latter part of the twentieth century there have been an increasing number of publications on the subject of adaptive re-use. Nonetheless, a shared and accepted vocabulary and definition of what adaptive reuse is, and what it involves, remains ambiguous, with various terminologies and definitions prevailing (Plevoets and Van Cleempoel 2013: 13). The same ambiguity applies to regeneration more generally. One of the earliest books on the subject of re-use is Sherban Cantacuzino’s New Uses for Old Buildings, published in 1975. The content, as that of many others that have been published since, is prescriptive and focuses on potential new uses linked to building typologies. Many of the volumes that have followed have remained technical (Eley and Worthington 1984; Highfield 1987) and heavily depend on case studies that are used to exemplify the processes, practicalities and design potential of re-use (Austin et al. 1988; Larkham 2000; Morrison and Waterson 2019). A new perspective was introduced by Stewart Brand in his book How Buildings Learn, published in 1997, where the value of built-in flexibility is upheld as a characteristic conducive to easy adaptability and a long use-span for buildings. There remains, however, a theoretical vacuum framing the subject, which this chapter intends to redress. The chapter consists of two sections. In the first section we examine the various theories within which architectural regeneration is contextualised, and the second proposes a number of key principles that inform the processes of architectural regeneration.

Attached files


Orbaşlı, Aylin
Vellinga, Marcel

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Architecture


Year of publication: 2020
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-01-24

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Related resources

This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Architectural regeneration and its theoretical context
This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Architectural Regeneration [ISBN: 9781119340331] / edited by Aylin Orbasli, Marcel Vellinga (Wiley, 2020).


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