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Interpretative Adaptation and Reuse as a Methodology for Heritage Building Rehabilitation and Continuity (Advert Reference: RDF22/EE/ABE/RING)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Assoc Prof Paul Ring  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The romanticisation of our social and architectural history is made solid through our sentimentality for ruins, those often un-curated artefacts that persist as analogous remnants from a time more honourable. The ruin, however, could also be an apparatus for collective conjecture, propped by a culture yet to fully shake of the legacy of Ruskin. Heritage conservation practices continue to be enshrouded in the dogma of preservation; to hold the ruin, perpetually, in a state of arrested decay and to make real the aesthetics of Ruskin’s sentimentality. For Fred Scott (2008), “the atmosphere of all preserved buildings is unavoidably instilled with the qualities of fetish”.  

Conservation methods are often primarily concerned with maintaining ruins and heritage sites for posterity, in this state of perpetual preservation. This method of pausing decay that removes all previous or future functional attributions, nudges ruins from our catalogue of buildings into the catalogue of monuments and dead things.  Does this preservation of ruins give any consideration to the contemporaneous setting within which they are now found? Is there an accidental or crafted interconnectedness with its surroundings, potential uses, and as a catalyst for a visitor or even user experience?

For heritage sites that function as tourist attractions, or situate attraction around the ruin, this focus on ruin-preservation can lead to a disconnect between the visitor and the authentic history of the site, threatening its long-term sustainability. It can also increase the maintenance burden of preserving the status quo, as the challenge of arresting decay becomes exponential with time. The fascination with Commemorative Values over Use Value (Reigl, 1903) persists today, when the potential to preserve through occupation and reuse is substantial. The ever-developing theory around adaptive reuse points to continuity through use with the potential to reduce the maintenance burden as a by-product. 

This research will develop a design methodology for adaptive reuse as a novel approach to preserving heritage ruins and estate through activated use, functional attribution and building occupation. Situated in regional heritage estates, the study will employ creative partnership strategies with charitable organisations and landowners towards an ambition to improve the viability of their heritage sites and their impact on beneficiary communities through design.

This design led research will employ inscriptive, qualitative and ethnographic research to uncover and act upon evidence towards the development of a strategic methodology that has potential to cross disciplines and engage a wider network of academic, conservation and charity practitioners. It closely aligns with Northumbria University’s Architectural Design Research Group and applications from architecture and design disciplines are welcomed. The successful candidate will work closely with key stakeholders as active participants within a community of stakeholders and will become skilled in the use of ethnographic methods, user-data analysis and design led research practice in relation to architectural design and adaptive reuse.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Associate Professor Paul Ring.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  •  Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Scott, F. (2008) On Altering Architecture New York: Routledge
Riegl, A (1903) Der Moderne Denkmalkultus: Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung Vienna: Braunmüller
Ring, P. et al (2020) Using the Past to Preserve the Future for Heritage Sites in the North East of England; Impact Cast Study. UoA 13 (Architecture, Built Environment and Planning). Northumbria University
Ring, P (2020) Rising Stars: A Creative Partnership with Northumbria University and the National Trust. Research Excellence Framework Practice-Based Design. Northumbria University
Ring, P (2019) Gibside Interventions: The National Trust. Research Excellence Framework Practice-Based Design. Northumbria University
Ring, P & Couture, A (2014) Re-imagining Gibside Hall. Northumbria University
Ring, P & Lomas, K (2012) ‘Restoration, Authenticity and Deception’, ArchiBNERP, Northumbria University, School of the Built & Natural Environment, (with Katy Lomas).
Ring, P (2007). ‘Re-Use and the Archaeology of Storytelling’, Interiors Forum Italy/IUAV – Venice: Interiors in the Re-Habitation of Existing Buildings, In: A. Cornoldi, (Ed.) Gli Interni nel Progetto Sull’Esistente, Padova, Italy: Il Poligrafo
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