Adaptive Reuse: The Alembic Factory, Vadodara

What is Adaptive Reuse?

Adaptive reuse is an ingenious idea of repurposing or refurbishing buildings that have become obsolete for their original purpose. An old building undergoes tweaking to suit a new role while retaining most of its features, structure, and accompaniments.

Image: Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney
  • Adaptive Reuse is the perfect sustainable way to breathe a new life into an old structure.
  • An architecture revival of classical architecture tweaking it to some modern usage is the smarter way to embellish architecture.

Why Adaptive reuse? Trash to treasure!

  • The cost of tearing down a building; the monetary cost as well as the environmental cost can actually be huge!
  • However, Adaptive Reuse of Architecture breathes new life into an old structure, giving it a new purpose and occupants. This saves the old owner as well as the new occupants time, money, and environmental footprint.
  • However, in India, this is mostly restricts to Heritage structuresand expensive old buildings.
  • In an attempt to retain the architectural history of the city, adaptive reuse fuses the old building with a new function and preserves the city’s identity.
Image: Beech Mill, Bury
  • Reuse of industrial buildings can also be an alternative to save operational and expensive commercial costs in a building.
  • It can prevent many old age buildings to demolish or decay and participate in the revival of urban regeneration.
  • Adaptive reuse of common buildings can also save the source of land in urban areas, which is scarce in most major cities around the world.

Adaptive Reuse of Architecture is the near-to-perfect way possible to transform Classical Architectural buildings into modern contemporary usage. Therefore, we would like to showcase one of the best examples of Architectural Conservation in India- the Alembic Industries, Vadodara.

The history behind Alembic:

The Alembic factory is a place that has seen it all. It was once the place emitting heavy chemical fumes. However, now it functions as an industrial borne art gallery. This century-old distillery, a mirror to the city’s corporate and business history, now brews art for new artists and caters to an art connoisseurs’ delight.

  • In the early 1900s, TK Gajjar, chemist and professor, scientist Koti Bhasker and entrepreneur Bhailal D Amin laid the foundation of this distillery.
  • This distillery then went on to become the country’s oldest pharmaceutical company, witnessing its exponential growth through the first and second world wars.
  • It traveled through its ventures from making glassware, ayurvedic products, chemicals, to setting up a phosgene plant.
  • It was once India’s first plant to manufacture polypropylene staple fiber and then to its rechristening of ACWCL moniker in 1999 to Alembic Limited.
  • Alembic Group has been a corporate promoter of Indian art since the 1950s.

Why Alembic for Adaptive Reuse?

  • Established in 1907, Alembic Industries spread over a site of approximately 92 acres of land in Vadodara, Gujarat.
  • Alembic manufactured products ranging from glassware to tinctures, spirits, dry ice, to ethyl chloride over time and got famous.
  • However, over this span of 110 years, various parts of the campus got rendered useless due to the ever changing industrial technology.
  • This urged the owners to call for a new master plan for the entire campus which had a few office buildings, manufacturing units, retail units and recreational facilities.
  • BDP Khandekar is carrying out the master-planning of the campus.
  • Also, due to technological advancements the industry campus housed a lot of obsolete machinery, which when looked at, portrays a chronological timeline of Alembic Industries.
  • This notion led the owners to feel the requirement of an Industry campus to display the whole history of the industry.

Spatial Planning:

  •  The master plan marks the building in highlight, which includes a museum, artist studios, and exhibition encompassing a restaurant, a gym and a few retail outlets.
  • Karan Grover and Associates carried the architectural re-adaptation for the Alembic Museum, and My Space Studio of the recreational hub.
  • For the adaptive reuse of the campus, different blocks got assigned different functions:
  • Block 1 and 2 act as the Alembic Museum.
  • Exhibition Zone, both permanent and temporary display take over the Block 3.
  • Block 4 and 5 for Space Studios.

Materials and Main Features:

The material choice is highly sensitive while redesigning a building for adaptive reuse. Generally, the preferred materials are similar to the materials used earlier, to retrieve the building material cost too. This also justifies the adaptive reuse of the building from its core.

  • Masonry with lime plaster to match the earlier used techniques.
  • The architectural purpose was to approach this is as a sculpture and maintain the true spirit of the building in terms of materials and the physical quality of the space.
  • The only new architectural elements are new partition walls in between studio spaces.
  • Arches are the main character of the existing building here.
  • The revival of many blocked arches due to industrial requirements marks the actual adaptation of the old structure.
  •  The thickness of the main load-bearing walls averages at 0.45m and provides the interior with excellent insulation.
  • The peel-off plaster is used to showcase the modern yet classic industrial built space.

Roof as the main element:

  • The design of the roof is one of its kinds in this industrial building.
  • It is actualy one of the features that catches everyone’s attention.
  • Instead of being welded roof triesses are actually riveted. Moreover, they are still in great condition.
  • However, tweaking of some Mangalore tiles has to be done which are the existing roof material.
  • These terracotta tiles are battered and will have to be removed. New Mangalore tiles will be installed with added insulation above the top-chord of the truss.
  • Purlins and rafters of the existing trusses will remain exposed to provide a raw industrial look.

This is one such example to explain Adaptive Industrial Reuse in India.

And it’s a long journey to adapt this practice for many clients.