nothing is more important than preserving memories — a conversation with hugo chan

The Design Story
3 min readAug 15, 2020

If you were to pinpoint the most important aspects of adaptation, what would those be?

“I think there can be so many important things when it comes to building’s adaptation. Social and cultural generally take precedence, but I would put them under this umbrella term of “sustainability”, which has environmental, a social-cultural and economic context. If the economic and environmental benefits are more straightforward, the social and cultural aspect for me is the strongest one linked to this idea that our cities and buildings embody memories — ranging from significant cultural events to personal memories about a space. ”

“Often when architects try to uncover the significance of a community, we can discover along with these beautiful stories, little jewels in our community or neighborhood. So in that sense whether or not a building has to be adapted because the law says it must, architects should try to think about it as a starting point because of these benefits — that there is a story in all of the buildings. These memories may not be monumental per se, but they are memories that allow architects to either play with it or change it. I think that’s what adaptive reuse allows for: it gives us this flexibility and allows us to not just think about architecture constantly as this obsession with iconic buildings, with newness, but rather with what is already here. Sometimes these things don’t necessarily have to be changed, all they have to do is just be polished and tidied up, then they will be made new again and made just as relevant for the 21st century and beyond.”

In your observations and experience, what have been the successful ones?

“Many of them find the perfect balance between what should be demolished and what should be kept. Then I also would ask the question, what might this project look like in 10, 20, 50 years time? Will, it still be there and if not, why will it need to be demolished or changed? Though this is a very difficult question because it’s almost like you’re trying to predict a future, but it is crucial to ask these kind of question because there are different types of obsolescence that all buildings have to accept.”