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Does the mismatched symbolic requalification matters in the conservation of industrial heritage ?

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10:00 AM, Tuesday 30 Aug 2022 (20 minutes)
The rapid transformation of industrial remains has undergone for the past 20 years within the context of China, which can be attributed to de-industrialisation and industrial relocation. Though the 2000s witnessed a great deal of demolition of obsolete industrial remains, it has become a trend of active conservation of industrial heritage through official investigation, inventory, and inscription at local and national levels in the past 5 years. Industrial buildings, structures, and sites are authorised officially at a very fast rate, followed by functional and symbolic requalification through reuse and interpretation of the remaining physical obsolescence, which is primarily impacted by political and economic thinking to strengthen national identity and promote urban regeneration. As a result, there are misinterpretation and overinterpretation of the industrial past that is attached to specific industrial remains by interested parties who can alter not only the tangibility of industrial heritage that is presumed important, but also its symbolic meaning. This random alternation partially leads to problems, for example, some newly inscribed industrial heritage remains in decay, while others experience the second cycle of decay and even end with a complete demolition. This article aims to examine the mismatch between industrial physical evidence and its symbolic meaning, including its role and to what extent it results in the above-mentioned problems. The study takes Hanyang iron and steel works in Wuhan, China as an example to analyse in detail hoping to make this story of wider relevance. This case was constructed in the 1890s, the late Qing Dynasty, as the site of China’s first modern iron-and steelworks. However, the original site of Hanyang iron and steel works were torn down in the 1930s, and a later newly built one in the 1950s was inscribed in the first batch of the national industrial heritages in 2017 to present Chinese industrial culture and achieve fundamental regeneration. In other words, it is a mismatch between its tangible remains and intangible symbolic meanings. The newly built one was misinterpreted to represent the symbolisation of the original one. This mismatch, to a certain extent, has contributed to the ruination of Hanyang iron and steel works for 10 years, despite several unsuccessful conservation and regeneration projects. This study will apply the dynamic analysis of stakeholders, semi-structured interviews, fieldworks, historical satellite maps, and a qualitative content analysis such as events, journals, and news to examine a series of fundamental questions such as; who actively creates or alters this mismatch based on what values, and what is the impact of this mismatch on the conservation of industrial heritage in terms of spatial forms, conservation methods, and re-use functions. Besides, a longitudinal view is applied, beginning with the processes of de-industrialisation, the concomitant heritagisation of industrial remains, and the evolution of heritage authorisation and transformation. Therefore, this study will make contributions in three ways. First, the role of mismatched symbolic requalification in industrial heritage conservation. Second, multiple rounds of interaction between changing networks of stakeholders will be recognised in the process of symbolic requalification, uncovering their shifting perceptions and values towards industrial heritage especially its intangible symbolic meaning attached to intangibility. Finally,it will open up discussion as to how best to manage industrial heritage in a process of wider economic and social change.

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