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Heritage Modernization And New Identity: Reframing Architecture Through The Human-Self

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‘What is architecture’? This question concludes many different answers. Architecture can be defined as both the process and product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or any other structures. It is a very broad and humanistic field that is at the same time technical and artistic. It requires a certain sensibility to arts, aesthetics and social understanding.

In order to know the truth about “what architecture is” and its impact on human, its evolution throughout the ages must be studied. In the first place, architecture began as a need (Antiquity). Early humans needed places to protect themselves against natural phenomena such as sun, rain, storms, etc. or against and other humans. In other words, architecture was considered as a shelter.

Next, architecture moved to a functional stage. Buildings were constructed to help develop a particular function. This stage has evolved in time, including what is called “economic reflection”. Later, sustainability came as an emerging new paradigm in architecture seeking to minimize the negative environmental impact on buildings by favorizing energy efficiency, material use and space management within a larger ecosystem. It came as a new type of architecture that harmonizes with the environment.

But, over time, most architecture became plain soulless and random. Today buildings are constructed in a continuous and boring way (e.g. imitation of western architecture…) as extruded boxes that are not related to the context and have no impact on their users, or even any objective other than meeting a particular function. The issue at hand is not simply the “modern box” aesthetic, it is also that these structures lack an authentic connection to cultures and contexts in which they exist. This, in turn, leaves us feeling disconnected, isolated and longing for true connections to each other and our communities. This stage is one of the most important problems facing architecture today (Logothetis, 2017).

Today, rapid urbanization, real estate speculation, and booming of mega projects are increasingly transforming the urban fabric of our cities and changing their social and economic structure. This is what contributes to the dilemma concerned with the loss of traditional references, and sense of identity, which is one of the most important problems facing architecture today.

Thus, what makes an inclusive and responsive architecture, and how context can contribute to its identity? The answer is not in the buildings acting as stand-alone elements detached from everything around. It is not about star architects who tend to implement their visions discarding the main question: for whom are they designing, and where? In what context? “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans”. Janes Jacobs.

It is us, architects, citizens, humans, more specifically it is our self-reflection on what we build that gives this specification, this subjectivity, activates urban spaces, and reinforce the identity of place. Identity is strongly connected to the context, it is not only about the physical space, but also the social place. The process of identification is faithfully related to the space where it takes place. However, it leads to the creation of “symbolic spaces” instead of approving conventional ones. Identity should serve the purpose of a distinctive place in which social structures are challenged by the communities (Khademi, 2014). What makes a special place is not only throughout groups of individuals who share a common outlook, but also through familiar performative repertoires that are expressive and embodied like ritual processes, where common values motivations and interests form the spirit of a place in a society.

It is also the self that reflects the general social taste that has become part of the artist taste. Art does not reflect the truth as it is, but it reflects it as seen by the artist and by the spectators. It is subjective; therefore, the pieces of art differ from each other according to the characteristics and views of their owners and users. Similar to the different fields of arts, it is also in architecture this notion no longer serves and reflects our context, heritage and belonging, in an artistic approach.

Thus, what relation exists between art and architecture in that matter? Architecture is major subject of art work. It is when in physical space, imagination would transform it into fantasies of visual languages that are familiar enough to enter into, yet can offer another spatial experience. This vision originates from cultures and contexts, that its people should be aware of and preserve its foundations, because this what represents a unique and contextual identity. This is lost when citizens are deeply immersed in the cultures of others, when affected by the trend of globalization, they lose their very specific civilizational existence, and this is exactly what is happening in our cities.

Cultures and civilizations are mostly concerned with history, tradition and memory of space. It is people’s practices and uses that shape spatial meanings in territories. Today, this subject became passive and irrelevant to all architectural works, which urges the need to reconsider this subject and shed the lights on.

As Jane Jacobs said: “We expect too much of new buildings, and too little of ourselves.” We can design the best buildings, streets, public spaces, etc., but they are nothing without users. If human-self and its context are better understood, these buildings, streets, and even cities can be managed in a more strategic way to optimize attractiveness and improve their economies.

The human self to perform, it needs a context that is meaningful, that holds memories, in which this self can relate to. This brings traditional architecture and heritage into play, where subject of modernization and regeneration are mostly concerned. This does not mean to look at tradition and imitate it or even restore old architecture as it is, but it is to add the finest that art can bring into architecture, without discarding its traditional unique characteristics that makes it so specific to the story of its context.

Today’s historical contexts are facing the contemporary trends of new constructions causing cultural heritage that was once crucial to an urban identity to vanish. Thus, how to recall and re-center the discourse of heritage through the self? What meanings does heritage have in the context of the new societies and what architecture form can empower the legacy of self?

Therefore, the problematic of this research lies in knowing how architecture can stand as inclusive artistic tool to rethink heritage through the human self and what intervention procedures shall be taken to achieve an economically and socially a healthy environment in the study context? ‘We do not have to live in the novelty of a bright future any more than we must hide behind reassuring pastiches of the past. We must live in a perpetually evolving present, motivated by the possibilities of change, with the baggage of the past and the experience as a safeguard’ (Chipperfield, …).

Based on the above statement, how to face the different types of intervention forms including restoration, and rehabilitation? some questions must be asked: How can an old city be revived through modern architectural interventions on a neighborhood scale? Where does the self-stand in this type of architecture? How to improve these human selves on the personal level and society level? And finally, how the outcome shall be a sensitive and inclusive tool that respond to the social and cultural need which current architecture do not address?

The purpose of this study is to rethink regeneration through a modern design approach in an old neighborhood within a heritage setting, based on a social, cultural and economic strategy. The architecture will initiate from a contextual and a human self-centered approach, to retrieve the missing identity or what is called “our architecture”.

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Heritage and the built environment

In order to define the traditional city, the built heritage must be defined first. To begin with, heritage could be anything valued by previous generations and is still treasured today, it is defined in the national planning policy as “A building, monument, location, place, zone or landscape that is identified as having a degree of importance that deserves consideration for planning decisions, as being part of heritage” (reference).

The Built heritage consists of all aspects of the man-made historic environment, it can be buildings, places of worship, cemeteries, monuments, built infrastructure, or a piece of land, inherited or not through generations that constitute part of the city’s culture. It may exist in the countryside, cities or suburbs, and is mainly manifested in the traditional city. The built heritage is one of the most important city’s cultural assets, where it constitutes the physical proof of its cultural development and it describes the origins and informs the understanding of people’s identity. It defines a sense of place, an identity for a community. It contributes to feelings of belonging, with community pride and confidence.

Built heritage is not only about buildings and monuments of exceptional value, but also includes small modest vernacular buildings that embody other equally important historical, social or even archaeological values rendering them as significant. Heritage can excite curiosity about the past and enrich daily lives. Many heritage buildings uses were not functional when they were built. The richness of places and people’s attachment to them grows from their everyday use. This heritage presents an active, living cultural resource with social meaning, they are ingredients of collective sentiments, of the feeling that ‘this is people’s place’.

Traditional city, its elements and its problems

The traditional city differs from the modern city by the nature of its spaces, materials, buildings, markets…etc. These differences result from variations in population densities and urban developments, which have changed today the concept of the city and the way of living in it.

Today, most modern cities have witnessed urban transformations of their historical image. Their surviving traditional assets integrate with the developing role of the modern city, thus, form a source of attraction for tourists and investors, which promotes the city’s economic growth.

However, nowadays, traditional cities undergo different challenges due the modern context, in which they are located, some of these problems are:

  • Environmental problems: Water pollution, air pollution caused by various means of transport, plus noise pollution caused by traffic.
  • Social problems: With the growing social polarization, the degree of social adaption depends on the economic conditions of the urban center, on one hand, and on the individual’s adaptability on the other.
  • Service problems: Location and accessibility of traditional cores constitute a major element in reaching out services in the city. Despite the increase and pressure of demand on services in the cities most established projects fail in a short time to meet the actual need of the population.
  • Infringements: In the face of accelerated urban growth in developing countries and the phenomenon of displacement, many encroachments arise on the outskirts of cities without adherence to any laws and regulations, mentioning the irregularities on heritage buildings such as the concrete floors extension.

Society, culture and identity

Identity is a common constituent that brings together a group of people and identifies them. There are therefore many types of identities such as national identity, religious identity…etc. Human beings form a variety of societies, languages, religions and customs, where different identities take shapes, in which people play different roles. Nevertheless, identities are personalized, where they differ from one person to another.

Every person according to his/her tendencies is determined by his/ her identity. Thus, a person with a nationalist tendency feels that the language forms his own identity, where he belongs to societies that speak this same language. When an Arab, for example, lives in European countries, he feels disconnected, due to linguistic, cultural, and urban differences. This constitutes an obstacle against adaptation and communication. Individuals and communities are related in a constant mutual dependency; on one hand the specific behavior of individuals give the community its cultural boundaries and identity, on the other hand, the normative standards of the community regulate the practices of individual and groups within it.

Culture is part of a society; it when the individual positions himself within his environment and his community. In this case, it provides orientation, stability and creates identities. Reflecting this on Buildings and monuments, these cultural objects do not possess a meaning by themselves, they literally are what people make of them and what they see in them. For that reason, cultural objects give a society a sense of stability, duration and lasting values, something that many human beings long for, especially in times of growing uncertainties. Cultural objects like heritage buildings frequently are an expression of achievement, prosperity and success.

Architectural interventions and the revival of old city’s spaces

Interventions strategies

Humanity witnessed during the current century many destructive wars that ruined the urban and human heritage. With the disappearance of many traditional buildings during the Second World War, man began to realize the importance of preserving urban heritage from annihilation, adding to the impact of time and effect of natural corrosion, such as earthquakes and floods, on cities’ traditional legacy.

The human impact was bigger, the technology affected the provision of rapid urban development methods and the disappearance of many traditional buildings and archaeological areas to offer some space for new roads, public and large industrial projects. From here arise the importance of intervening on heritage sites to preserve and revive them. Thus, it is essential to look and learn from different methods of intervention, the most important of which are:

  • Preservation: Where the change in the heritage is critical, some changes are allowed like adding some materials that are not visible to preserve the condition of the building. The removal or alteration of the original use of the building is not permitted, because the main objective is to keep the building in its original form.
  • Conservation: Such like the addition of supporting materials that maintain the structure of the building as it is, to ensure its continuity and non-damage.
  • Repair: It is the process of treating damage or defects of the building that actually occurred or is about to occur. Repairs could be in the form of crack repair, insulation works…etc., which aims to improve the general appearance of the building. However, the repair of damage may lead to greater risks if the treatment is delayed, where repair is a periodic work that must be followed regularly to maintain and protect the building.
  • Restoration: Returning the building to its original state by rebuilding what was demolished, or repairing it as the situation requires. This method is applied on individual cases of historical buildings that were exposed to deformation or amendment.
  • Reconstruction: This method includes rebuilding traditional buildings, as they were built in the past.
  • Reuse, reconversion, adaptation and rehabilitation: Re-use operations are considered one of the modern directions for intervention in the traditional city, it is related to improving the current situation of the building through light, medium or heavy interventions. It highlights the historical value of the region and its natural and environmental constituents.

The concept of revival: It is based on the introduction of contemporary or new architecture in historical environments. Adding to the above, other types and methods of interventions are considered, such as improvements in public spaces such as new squares, streets, or infrastructure, which may also significantly affect the historical meaning of a given environment.

Levels of Preservation

The preservation levels vary according to the size and type of the architectural heritage and its importance as follows:

  • Preserving the heritage items: It is when museums preserve the artifacts and archeological items after restoration and treatment in a scientific manner that guarantees their survival and safety.
  • Preserving a single building: Such as restoration and renovation of heritage buildings by turning them into touristic attractions, or by adapting them through new functions.
  • Preserving a group of buildings: It is when a set of adjacent buildings are preserved together as a group, where their heritage value reflects the importance of each building individually.
  • Preserving an urban corridor: When a group of heritage buildings demarks the connection between one area and another on either side of a path or road.
  • Preserving a heritage area: This includes buildings, heritage corridors, urban cores, etc. where countries have used the means and mechanism to implement protective legislations through schemes and regulations, assessed through organizational and technical measures.

Pros and cons of architectural interventions

The success rate of modern architectural interventions varies with the extent to which the local community accepts this modern architecture and the relative degree of meeting the needs of society.

One of the most important positive effects of architectural interventions is the desired goal which is reviving the city through the development of the economy, leading to the obtainment of sustainable development. Whereas, negative effects of such interventions are found in the distortion of heritage and the inadvertent removal of identity.

As a result, intervening on a local heritage should be part of a manifestation of planning principles and generalized design strategies that integrates urban cultures and communities. Thus, Inclusion of the attributes that people want to preserve, adapt, rehabilitate, or even reconstruct, might lead to missing opportunities to produce specific image. Careful approaches to existing historical or traditional structures provide a sense of continuity, comprehensibility, meaningfulness, and coherence. Placemaking practices advocate for more sustaining, organized complexity, and reconciling new urban communities within adaptive places full of character and identity.

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Heritage Modernization And New Identity: Reframing Architecture Through The Human-Self. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Heritage Modernization And New Identity: Reframing Architecture Through The Human-Self.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Heritage Modernization And New Identity: Reframing Architecture Through The Human-Self. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2023].
Heritage Modernization And New Identity: Reframing Architecture Through The Human-Self [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 May 24]. Available from:
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