Adaptive Reusage: The Alembic Factory, Vadodara, Gujarat

What is Adaptive Reuse?

Adaptive reuse is an ingenious idea of repurposing or refurbishing buildings that have become obsolete for their original function. An old building is tweaked and redesigned to suit a newer role while still retaining most of its features, structure, or 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 environment cost can be huge!
  • However, Adaptive Reuse Architecture, breathes new life into a structure, giving it a new purpose and occupants, saves the people and the city a lot of time, money, and environmental footprint.
  • This is, however, mostly restricted to Heritage structures or expensive old buildings which are now abandoned in India.
  • 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 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.
  • The source of land which is scarce in various cities in larger parts of the world can be saved through adaptive reuse of buildings.

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

History behind Alembic:

The Alembic factory is a place that has seen it all. Once a place full of heavy chemical fumes, now it is transformed into an industrial borne art gallery. The century-old distillery, a mirror to the city’s corporate and business history, now brews art much for new artists and an art connoisseurs’ delight.
  • In the early 1900s, TK Gajjar, chemist and professor, scientist Koti Bhasker and entrepreneur Bhailal D Amin had 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 travelled 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.

How alembic was selected for industrial adaptive reuse?
  • Established in 1907, Alembic Industries is one site of approximately 92 acres of land in Vadodara, Gujarat.
  • It was better known for growing products manufactured over these years range from glassware to tinctures, spirits, dry ice, ethyl chloride.
  • However over this span of 110 years, parts of components have been rendered useless due to the ever Industrial production technology.
  • This urged the clients to call for a new master plan for the entire campus which into Inclusive of a few office buildings, manufacturing units, retail units and recreational facilities.
  •  The master-planning of the campus is being carried out by BDP.Khandekar, an architectural practice from the Netherlands.
  • Also due to technological advancements the industry campus houses a lot of obsolete machinery which when looked at in portrays a chronological timeline of Alembic Industries.
  • This notion led the clients 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 as which includes a museum, artist studios and exhibition will encompass a restaurant, a gym and a few retail outlets.
  • The space within is meant to serve the Alembic Museum, art studios, display and exhibition space with ancillary spaces for a library, AV room, and a café.
  • Karan Grover and Associates carried the architectural re-adaptation for the Alembic Museum, and My Space Studio of the recreational hub.
  •  The functional spaces were distributed into various blocks for the adaptive reuse of the building highlighted as follows:
  • Block1 and Block 2 was chosen to be the Alembic Museum.
  • Block 3 for Exhibition Zone both permanent and temporary display.
  • Block 4 and Block 5 for Space Studios.

MATERIALS and elements:

The materials’ choice is highly sensitive while redesigning a building of adaptive use. 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 and building material reuse.
  • Our architectural purpose was to approach this is a sculpture is to 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 of the arches by opening them which were blocked due to certain industrial usage marks the feature of industrial adaptive reuse.
  •  The thickness of the main load-bearing walls averages at 0.45m and provides the interior with excellent insulation. The finish of the walls was still at the concept finalization phase.
  • 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 kind elements in this industrial building.
  • Some features originally depicted which still catches the eye of a user. That’s the beauty of classical architecture and where trash becomes a treasure.
  • The trusses are riveted as opposed to being welded and are still in great condition.
  • Out of which very few require strengthening. The 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.

The age of modernization has reduced the value of our heritage and environment. We all can keep our efforts to learn from this global pandemic that building using the least resources is possible and make this a habit as much as we can.