Adaptive reuse, or adaptive re-use in architecture, is the process of repurposing buildings that have outlived their original purposes for different reasons and adapting them to receive new different uses or functions while at the same time retaining and emphasizing their historic features. As the world ages, more and more buildings with rich histories and architectural value are finding themselves in need of renovation and rejuvenation; adaptive reuse is the conscious decision to preserve the past while planning for the future.  Restoring an old building starts to be taken into consideration by governments, national and international associations as we started to feel the need for reusing the existing structures and the number advantages offered by this orientation. We take steps to bring into existence buildings of the past in the attempt to promote conservation of our National Heritage and to save neglected buildings that might otherwise be demolished while reducing urban sprawl, increasing the compactness of cities and reshaping the image of the whole in a beautifully enriched by history way. Let us not forget that this practice is also benefiting the environment by conserving natural resources and minimizing the need for new materials.

What follows are some of world’s most successful and well known adaptive-reuse structures.

  1. Elbphilharmonie Hamburg by Herzog & de Meuron.
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Elbphilharmonie in Germany by Herzog & de Meuron © Iwan Baan

The Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) is a concert hall in the HafenCity quarter of Hamburg, Germany. It is one of the largest and acoustically most advanced concert halls in the world. It is popularly nicknamed Elphi.

The project is a surelevation that sits on top of an old warehouse building (Kaispeicher A, built 1963) near the historical Speicherstadt and is designed by architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. It is the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg, with a final height of 108 meters.

  1. Convent de Sant Francesc by David Closes
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Convent de Sant Francesc in Spain by David Closes © Jordi Surroca


The intervention in the church of the convent of Sant Francesc, located in the Catalan town of Santpedor, was meant to convert the abandoned building into a cultural facility. The new additions implemented have allowed the building to be put to use as an auditorium and multipurpose cultural space.

The renovation of the building has been developed with the goal of differentiating the new added elements by using contemporary construction systems and languages​​ that differs from the original elements of this historical church. With the aim of preserving all aspects of the building’s past.

  1. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art by Heatherwick Studio
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town by Heatherwick Studio © Iwan Baan.

The museum is housed in 9,500 square metres of custom designed space, spread over nine floors, carved out of the monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex. The silo, disused since 1990, stands as a monument to the industrial past of Cape Town, at one time the tallest building in South Africa, now given new life through the transformation by Heatherwick Studio.

  1. St. Ann’s Warehouse by Marvel Architects
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York by Marvel Architects © Charcoalblue.

Situated just near the Brooklyn Bridge in the Dumbo neighborhood, the 1860 tobacco warehouse was crumbling and forgotten when St. Ann’s theater company sought to renovate it for its first permanent home. St. Ann’s, led by artistic director Susan Feldman, hired a building team that included Marvel Architects; BuroHappold Engineering; and Charcoalblue, a theater, lighting, and acoustics consultancy. The resulting 25,000-square-foot complex includes two versatile and changeable performance spaces, lobby and event areas, and a triangular garden (designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates).

  1. CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
CaixaForum in Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron © ENAR.

CaixaForum Madrid is a museum and cultural center in Paseo del Prado Madrid and It is sponsored by Caixa Bank. It was designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron converting an old power station called Central Del Mediodía, from the 1900s, incorporating the walls from the existing building with extension in both directions; above and below the existing structure. It includes galleries, administrative offices and a restaurant in the upper levels, as well as an auditorium below ground level.

  1. FRAC Dunkerque by Lacaton & Vassal
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
FRAC Dunkerque in France by Lacaton & Vassal © Philippe Ruault.

The North region FRAC is located on the site of Dunkerque port in an old boat warehouse called Halle AP2. The halle AP2 is a singular and symbolic object. Its internal volume is immense, bright, impressive. Its potential for uses is exceptional. The basic idea of the project was to implant the FRAC, as a catalyst for the new area, and also to keep the halle in its entirety.In order to achieve this concept, Lacaton & Vassal created a double of the halle, of the same dimension, attached to the existing building, on the side wihich faces the sea, and which contains the program of the FRAC.The new building juxtaposes delicately without competing nor fading. The duplication is the attentavie response to the identity of the halle.

  1. Moritzburg museum by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Moritzburg museum in Germany by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos © Dezeen.

The new intervention in the Moritzburg Castle aims at protecting the ruins that have represented it for centuries. It does so by keeping the existing building intact, and superimposing a light structure that evokes the works displayed inside. Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos’s design for enlargement is based on a single and clear architectural idea. It involves a new roof, conceived as a large folded platform, which rises and breaks to allow natural light to enter, and from which the new exhibition areas hang. The result of this operation is to free completely the floor of the ancient ruin, providing a unique space that allows a range of exhibition possibilities.

  1. CaixaForum Barcelona by Arata Isozaki
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
CaixaForum Barcelona in Spain by Arata Isozaki © Felipe Ugalde.

As part of the restoration of the old Fábrica Casaramona, as Centro Cultural de “La Fundació La Caixa”, a project, which consists of the design of a courtyard with access to the main entrance, commissioned to Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. It is situated in the basement level and is of a public character. Taking into account the original circumstances of the design, the area that corresponds with the main hall of the factory has been transformed into an exposition hall of the Fundació. Conserving the facade almost the way it is today, the basement was excavated, in order to project the main entrance together with the auditorium and the media library.

  1. Dresden’s Military History Museum by Studio Libeskind
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Dresden’s Military History Museum in Germany by Studio Libeskind © Studio Libeskind.

Libeskind’s extension to Dresden’s Military History Museum dramatically interrupts the building’s symmetry, its massive, five-story 200-ton wedge of glass, concrete and steel slicing through the center of the 135-year-old original structure. The new façade’s openness and transparency pushes through the opacity and rigidity of the existing building just as German democracy pushed aside the country’s authoritarian past.

  1. Danish national Maritime musueum by Bjarke Ingels (BIG)
Adaptive Reuse – 10 of the most significant projects around the world
Danish national Maritime museum in Denmark by Bjarke Ingels © Luca Santiago Mora.

The Danish Maritime Museum is situated in a unique historic and spatial context; between one of Denmark’s most important and famous buildings and a new ambitious cultural centre. This is the context in which the museum has proven itself with an understanding of the character of the region. Like a subterranean museum in a dry dock. Leaving the 60 year old dock walls untouched, the galleries are placed below ground and arranged in a continuous loop around the dry dock walls making the dock the centerpiece of the exhibition an open outdoor area where visitors experience the scale of ship building.


Waddah Dridi is a Tunisian architecture student in the National School of Architecture & Urbanism of Tunis (ENAU). Driven by curiosity and passionate about the multitude of scales in architecture, his approach is to freely experiment with the design possibilities in order to figure the perfect correlation involving all the parameters.

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