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Adapting historic buildings for educational uses

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Refurbishment of old heritage buildings requires sensitivity to historic detail, proper planning and clarity about their future new functions.  Many renovated historic buildings are seen as a key factor for the local tourism development. At the same time there are also examples of heritage buildings transformed for serving other purposes. In this article you will discover three examples of how, after a process of transformation, buildings of historic value provide a space for education, skills development and learning. In particular, the examples showcase:

  • A former bath in Romania converted into a centre for environmental education
  • A castle in Romania opening its doors for a summer school for students in heritage conservation
  • An old farm in Italy functioning as an eco-museum that provides labs for children and students and raises awareness about local culture and traditions

These examples have been identified by three Interreg Europe projects (EPICAH, INNOCASTLE and CRinMA) as part of the interregional learning and exchange process. 

Transforming a heritage building into a cross-border centre for environmental education and air quality monitoring (Romania), EPICAH project

The former bath dating from 1901 and located in the largest park (the Rome Garden) of the  city of Satu Mare is serving a new purpose, following a refurbishment which led to the conversion of the heritage building into an Environmental Education and Air Quality Monitoring Centre. Specifically, the building has been adapted for education on environmental topics for schoolchildren as well as for the professional training of teachers. After the refurbishment, the building includes classrooms for environmental education, a laboratory with hi-tech equipment, a showroom and a conference room with facilities for conferences, courses, seminars and meetings.

There is also a possibility to exchange and collaborate with environmental specialists. The children learn more about nature protection through the programmes 'Eco-School' and 'Schools for a Green Future'. The modern laboratory for air quality monitoring, as well as the bio-monitoring which was a pioneering activity in the country, are essential features of the facility.

'The future generations are meant to pay more attention to the environment, as the quality of life in Satu Mare Municipality and in the cross-border area depends on them, while the representatives of the local public authorities have created the necessary premises for this evolution by rehabilitating this symbolic building of the city' highlighted Adriana Lenghel, the manager of the project. 

The project facilitated the establishment of partnerships between stakeholders across the borders and strengthened the environment protection in the cross-border area between Romania and Ukraine. The interconnection of the Romanian air quality monitoring network with the accidental pollution warning in the Halmeu border area can serve as a good example for other border regions. 

Building before and after renovation

Before and after the renovation. Source: Satu Mare municipality

Further information is available here.

ARCHÉ Summer School: bringing together students and trainers for heritage conservation, (Romania), INNOCASTLE project

Many of the historic estates in Romania are not maintained properly as the private owners rarely have the capacity and funds to implement restoration works. At the same time, university students in heritage conservation also lack opportunities to gain practical experience in the field. In this context and through the continuous collaboration with the owners of the Teleki estate, in 2016 ARCHÉ and the Teleki Castle Association launched the Summer school at the castle. The ARCHÉ Association is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that carries out research, conservation, enhancement and promotion of cultural heritage. It has started its activities in 2008 with the online archive monumenteuitate.org, which is an unofficial inventory of over 1000 castles, manors and estates in Romania.

The Summer school aimed at creating a basis for the future restoration project and management plan of the estate and at offering students the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary environment. In addition, the students have the chance to gain knowledge and practical experience on how to start, lead and implement conservation measures on built heritage. Around 20 students from various universities and fields gather annually in the castle to work for 10 days. 


Photo credit: Innocastle project

In 2019, all the materials developed within the Summer School were offered to the architecture office in charge of creating the feasibility study for the restoration works. Since 2019, the Summer School has been organised at another estate, and it is planned to expand to other two sites in the following years.

The Summer school has been successful, and this is illustrated by the returning students, and the new students joining the initiative. Another sign of success comes from the fact that studies made during the summer school have been integrated into the conservation plans for the castle. ARCHÉ Summer School is also an inspiring solution for the Innocastle project partners who have shown interest in this practice during their study visit to Romania.

'We believe that such approaches contribute significantly to improving the quality of interventions on cultural heritage because they familiarise students and young professionals with tools such as master plans for interventions, interpretation plans and management plans. Moreover, they promote in-depth multidisciplinary research, negotiation between conservation and transformation and value-enhancing reuse' noted Raluca Barbulescu, president of the ARCHÉ Association.

Further information is available here.

A new life for an old farm: an eco-museum offering a space to learn about local culture and traditions (Italy), CRinMA project

The Ecomuseum of terraces is located in Cortemilia village in the Italian region of Piedmont. It is located in a building that used to be an old farm, managed by monks who produced olive oil. Nowadays the building is restored and transformed into a permanent laboratory and hostel for students and visitors. In spring and summer, learning labs for children and students are organized in the eco-museum to reveal the culture and traditions of the Alta Langa mountain area.

The young people learn how to prepare typical local food and restore drystone walls and rural buildings. In November 2018 the art of making terraces in dry stone have been recognized as UNESCO immaterial heritage. The practice has been included in the Action plan for the Cross-border Cooperation Programme Interreg VA Poland-Slovakia 2014-2020 developed under CRinMA project. It serves as an inspiration for preparing a Position paper for cultural projects in Interreg VA Poland – Slovakia 2021- 2027.

Further information is available here

What can other regions and cities learn from the above presented experiences?

The three examples illustrate the potential of heritage buildings for alternative use in the domains of education and skills development. They can serve as an inspiration for other stakeholders and public bodies across Europe looking for novel ways for using heritage buildings. The innovativeness of these examples is in the idea of elaborating a new function of the renovated building serving educational objectives and skills development. What the examples of the Centre in Satu Mare and the eco-museum also have in common is that in both cases the focus is on awareness raising of schoolchildren on topics that are closely related to the local context. The experience and the approach of ARCHÉ Summer School illustrates how to create win-win opportunities for both university students, who can develop their skills, and the owners of the historic estates who can benefit from the expertise and advice at a relatively low cost.