Re-using heritage buildings for creative, cultural and innovative businesses

Introduction

Prof. Jon Fairburn, Prof. Carola Boehm and Prof. Jess Power work togther on interdisciplinary issues including creative cultures, innovation and new business models. If you are interested in these issues the three professors are running an ERASMUS Staff international week 20-24th January 2020 to discuss linking creative cultures to business. Details on the link

They have recently submitted a large (several million euros) bid to examine the re-use of heritage buildings by creative and innovative industries in four second order cities across Europe.

Jess Power has a particular interest in the new materials and techniques that are being used in the textiles industry. Here she provides a report in what she found in one of our partner cities on the bid.

Prof Jess Power

Re-purposing space is something that Municipio de Guimaraes (District Council of Guimaraes, Portugal) does with sensitivity and grace. Guimaraes, the 13th largest city in Portugal, is a story of success – it has transformed into a modern contemporary city whilst retaining its cultural heritage and identity.

The area in the Northern region of Portugal remained largely untouched with only natural evolution occurring within the city’s architecture until the 1970s. This is clearly evident in the adaption and modification of buildings throughout the ages. This rich tapestry of period evolution is demonstrated beautifully in the building of Largo de Sao Francisco (once a convert/monastery) now used as a hospital. Some parts of this building date back to 1255 (Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Guimaraes
Figure 1 – Guimaraes

Historically Portugal had one of the strongest textile industries in Europe. The Guimaraes region was known specifically for its high-quality produce and craftmanship within Textiles and Leather.  Whilst the leather trade has diminished in this region, the textile industry continues to be significant to Portuguese economy. It boasts to be the largest non-food manufacturing area in terms of export, accounting for about 9% of the country’s output.  

The textile cluster (CITEVE) of the northern region of Guimaraes is known as the “cradle of the nation” providing a rich cultural heritage particularly in the trade of leather. Whilst the region moved on from leather production with the advent of industrialization, evidence of the importance of this trade and the value to its identity and “place” is evident throughout the city. Historic water baths (Figure 2) are woven into the landscape of the area and wooden tanning drums (originally used in leather processing) provide historical features and a sense of identity within modern repurposed spaces.

Figure 2 Water baths
Figure 2 Water baths

Guimaraes, like many other industrialised European regions, has witnessed a steady decline in manufacturing, primarily due to cheaper imports from elsewhere. Like other locations around the globe, this decline has resulted in the abandonment of buildings rich in cultural heritage. Often these sites historically provided a sense of place and culture and the loss has impacted on the region’s identity.   These abandoned buildings, if left for significant periods, fall into disrepair and in the worst cases local councils have no alternative but to demolish them to enable new regeneration to occur, resulting in buildings of historical relevance being lost and the region losing strong threads of its cultural identity.  Guimaraes has been ahead of the game in-terms-of capturing the cultural wealth of its textile heritage, to bring a new lease of life to the area.  During the 1970s the district council began projects, which sensitively brought to life abandoned buildings and unused space around the city.

The repurposing began at the heart of the city with the re-design of the main square (Praca de Sao Tiago). Nowadays, specific areas are clearly defined for transport, domestic living and enterprises and community gatherings. This has brought a new lease of life to the heart of the city, with a vibrant café culture housing a strong sense of belonging to locals and visitors alike. Domestic accommodation is scattered around the square, fenced between small enterprises. 

Figure 3 - Praca de Sao Tiago Main Square
Figure 3 – Praca de Sao Tiago Main Square

A key focus of the re-generation was to encapsulate local culture without stifling innovation. One incentive employed was to offer the domestic properties free cable connection to eliminate unsightly TV aerials and satellite dishes enabling the square to retain the historical features. Guimaraes was one of the first European cities to offer free Wi-Fi in a large central outdoor space. This resulted in the medieval square retaining its authentic identity, even today homes have laundry flapping on balconies.

Further to
this the district council in partnership with the local community developed
walkways which followed the natural flow of water throughout the city. Slabs of
granite and stone cover the waterways making paths which flow into the river “Ave”
which splits the area right in two.  

Figure 4 - Beneath water flows to the Ave
Figure 4 – Beneath water flows to the Ave

Many of the repurposed sites are unused tanneries (linked to the historical leather trade), the features of each site have been lovingly restored to their original state. Below (Figure 5) is the local Science Innovation Building where young people can engage with the latest technology including: artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. Inside innovation is brimming, the exterior in contrast, would not misplaced in a period Western movie.

Figure 5 Science centre
Figure 5 Science centre

The University has re-purposed other decarded buildings, the Design Innovation Centre takes the heritage of the building and transforms them into modern learning spaces.

Figure 6  - Innovation centre
Figure 6 – Innovation centre

This is what makes Guimaraes attractive to young and old alike and earned it the title of European City of Culture in 2012, following on from its earlier listing (2001) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is no wonder that the area remains so attractive to young people (who form over 30% of the local population). Many of these attend the University of Minho and our partners on the bid include several academics working at the Centre for Textile Science and Technology who early this year were involved with the 2nd International textile Design Conference “Textiles, Identity and Innovation”.

The youth hostel (Figure 7) provides an authentic example of re-purposing at its best and is a model that can and should be used across other towns and cities throughout Europe.

Figure 7 - Youth Hostel
Figure 7 – Youth Hostel

Working with international partners we aim to change historic sites of mass employment and mass production into new sites of co-created, co-managed production and consumption, it is the intension that the consortium will be leading on embedding new types of co-ownership, co-implementation and co-production via new technologies and business models and applying these to deep historic heritage-rich creative clusters and networks in order to innovate and increase productivity of specifically SMEs, bringing new economic activities to these historic areas and create economic resilience.  

Figure 8 - Prof Jess Power (4th from left) with local partners in Guimaraes
Figure 8 – Prof Jess Power (4th from left) with local partners in Guimaraes

If you are interested in these issues the three professors are running an ERASMUS Staff international week 20-24th January 2020 to discuss linking creative cultures to business. Details on the link

Jess can be emailed at eliza.power@staffs.ac.uk , she tweets @Jess_Power_

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