There is no greener option when life cycle and embodied carbon are taken into account than reusing an existing structure. There are compelling arguments to consider existing structures, even for those who are just learning about carbon and climate change. Adaptive reuse can take many different forms, from protecting cultural heritage to repurposing abandoned buildings to benefit local economies. Building lifespan extension is a sustainable strategy with positive social and financial effects.
Multiple forms of adaptive reuse exist. Adaptive reuse in architecture refers to repurposing an existing building for a new purpose, such as converting abandoned buildings into offices, schools, parks, or apartments.
Repurposing existing buildings – positive change
The benefits of adaptive reuse come in two flavors. Preserving part or all of an existing building’s structure saves energy that would otherwise be used to tear down the old structure and replace it with brand-new components. Additionally, our clients’ businesses benefit from this environmentally friendly design strategy. Repurposing an old, historic building into a contemporary, healthy workplace contributes to the development of a dynamic, forward-thinking workplace culture that places a premium on talent attraction and retention. This leads to a distinctive corporate identity that distinguishes the organization.
The idea of repurposing is highly effective in single-building workplaces and has an equally significant impact on campuses and cities. We have seen the beneficial effects that such design processes can have on people, businesses, and communities based on three different scales through the revitalization of charming infrastructures of various sizes.
Architectural Adaptive Reuse Types
Historic buildings can be saved through both adaptive reuse and preservation, but the two methods differ. The goal of adaptive reuse is to put an old structure or location to new uses; this method is frequently seen as a middle ground between preservation and demolition. Historic preservation upholds the current shape and integrity of a building.
Being able to use modern, energy-efficient architectural materials while still paying homage to the building’s history is one of the main advantages of adaptive reuse over historic preservation. This strategy reduces a building’s carbon footprint while enhancing performance.
Integrating entails building around an existing structure and maintaining it while enclosing it inside a new structure. The transformation of Denmark‘s Jaegersborg Water Tower into student housing by Dorte Mandrup is one striking illustration of integration.
By its very nature, adaptive reuse implies renovation. Adaptive reuse denotes a shift in use, whereas renovation is typically restricted to making minor repairs and finishing touches while maintaining a structure’s original function.
Most adaptive reused projects concentrate on buildings, and some of the most creative ones turn unused infrastructure into community amenities. The High Line in New York City is a well-known example of adaptive reuse in infrastructure.
Facadism is an urban design strategy that involves keeping a building’s exterior but tearing down most of the interior to make way for a more contemporary building. A facadectomy is the procedure, which preserves the streetscape view but is costly because the facade, which is typically made of delicate historical materials, needs to be supported and protected while being built, during the process.
Utilizing the urban void
This elevated park concept, which was created for the urban environment, strengthens people’s ties to nature and extends individual well-being to a city-wide scale. We imagined a sustainable infrastructure that incorporates movement and greenery from two iconic features of New York City: Central Park and The High Line. We were inspired by history and culture.
This elevated garden would offer an accessible public space for nearby building occupants and visitors while promoting the use of public transport, revitalizing the iconic Park Avenue thanks to extraordinary, large-scale architecture.
Environmental Benefits of Reusing Abandoned Buildings
Smart land-use planning
By making use of existing buildings, less new land development is required. Existing structures already have sewage, utility, and transportation connections to the neighbourhood, which lowers infrastructure costs. By facilitating easier access to their locations and the areas surrounding them, they offer a chance to enhance the neighbourhood. Communities near The Beat now have access to newly developed cafes, green space, bike lanes, and more enticing pedestrian pathways that lead to the area’s existing multimodal transportation hub.
Although tearing down a building is rarely inexpensive, it is possible to do a lot of retrofitting and reuse on a tight budget. Reuse makes financial sense for some clients. Building operators are compelled to invest in upgrades to efficient systems if energy costs are skyrocketing, especially if energy systems are nearing the end of their useful lives. Since we can quickly model the payback time for these upgrades against business-as-usual energy usage thanks to advances in digital technology, we can make an informed choice.
Utility efficiency, accessibility, and resiliency
Only a portion of the current levels of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide can be attributed to existing buildings. They do, however, possess the secret to its reversal and mitigation. Existing structures must comply with current codes when we give them new uses. This presents an opportunity for us to improve equipment and fixture efficiency, equipment hardening and raising, resilience, and equity, as well as improvements to support universal access.
Many owners prefer that their buildings remain open during significant upgrades if a major renovation or replacement is not feasible. Some building types—hospitals, clinics, recreation centres, civic structures, and homes with a social housing component—must continue to operate as much as possible, even during a significant renovation. We must plan retrofitting and renovations in stages in order to keep the business running.
Tax credits and incentives
In some areas, generous tax credits incentivise builders to take on the risks of renovating structures with historic significance for contemporary use. This is frequently the only way for such structures to become profitable.
Budget-conscious, practical clients can schedule renovations over several budget cycles to gradually transform their structure. The phased approach enables delaying capital expenditures.
Embodied carbon and waste
According to research by the nonprofit organization Architecture 2030, 39% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the building materials and construction industry. The operational emissions (used in lighting, heating, and cooling buildings) account for 28% of the 39%, while embodied carbon emissions account for the remaining 11%. By extending the useful life of already-installed materials, particularly those with long-life durability and high embodied energy, like steel and concrete, the reuse of existing buildings offers customers a great opportunity to reduce these emissions.
Memory, urban fabric continuity, and creative juxtaposition
Buildings still standing are essential to preserving a place’s history and its residents’ memories. They are preserved in their physical form. The collective memories and experiences of the neighborhood are also preserved. We frequently picture “very” old buildings or historically significant structures when we think of preservation. However, every structure merits a second (or third) chance.
The Advantages of Adaptive Reuse
The benefits of adaptive reuse are extensive, encompassing social, economic, and environmental advantages.
- Master Planning
- Lower construction costs
- Speeds up construction
- Popular with the community
By fusing historical elements from the past with adaptive and sustainable design principles, revitalizing old spaces offers client organizations exceptional opportunities to foster a distinctive workplace culture. Modern workplaces have the potential to transform into transformative tools that support the productivity and health of people, businesses, and global communities when they are designed with the needs of people and the planet at their core. Reusing buildings enables historical preservation while also making efficient use of them. If done well, the adaptive reuse of historic buildings can contribute to the development of a sustainable and wholesome community.
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What is adaptive reuse architecture and why it’s important – 2023 (no date) MasterClass. Available at: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/adaptive-reuse-architecture-guide (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
(No date) Recycle your building: 8 reasons to consider adaptive reuse … – stantec. Available at: https://www.stantec.com/en/ideas/recycle-your-building-8-reasons-to-consider-adaptive-reuse-retrofitting (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
Save, P. and Chinurkar, K. (2022) Adaptive reuse: Adding life to the abandoned heritage structures, The Design Gesture. Available at: https://thedesigngesture.com/adaptive-reuse/#Conclusion (Accessed: 04 August 2023).
Davis, E. (2019) Ennis Davis, AICP, Modern Cities. Available at: https://www.moderncities.com/article/2019-jul-ten-benefits-of-adaptive-reuse (Accessed: 04 August 2023).