Adaptive reuse is when a building that is obsolete or unused, is restored and repurposed for a different purpose. For example, reusing a colonial villa into a modern-day cafe by keeping intact the essence of the building and creating a vintage effect. While preservation of a building brings the building back to a rather strictly functional life, adaptive reuse gives the building rebirth by enhancing what the building is capable of encapsulating and restoring the life of a building. There are multiple advantages to this method of preservation, like, retaining urban sprawl, and avoiding environmental damage that comes through demolishing and construction.

Rarely, a church, mosque, or temple that was built at a different time is completely broken down and replaced by a new building, especially if it was a place that was highly functional at some point. However, one cannot say the same for spaces that are commercial or residential. It could be because they have stood the test of time. Every generation has a story to tell about the particular building; it tells the story of multiple people at the same time, therefore demolishing it to construct would be an unsaid crime. 

We, as individuals, almost always tend to notice things at a subconscious level, if there’s a building which is not in use at the end of the road that you pass by every day while going to work, chances are that one did not take the time to observe the color of it, the design, the size of the window and so on, but the minute there is a change in that building we notice it, we know something has changed. Adaptive reuse can play on this psychological aspect of humans. For example, if a building has lost its charm and continues to exist, enhancing its usage by bringing it back to its original glory, or even better, to give it another story altogether would make almost every other passerby notice it. It creates almost the same effect that it would to the aforementioned example of a communal structure. It creates a story in time for the future and also instills the thought that one doesn’t always have to build something new. It could be weighed out what is worth repairing and what parts could be discarded, to which, one could add more to the building to create memories for the future. 

The role of Adaptive reuse in the cultural preservation of a building - Sheet1
837 Washington commercial office building_©Timothy Schenck

The building at 837 Washington street by Morris Adjmi Architects has incorporated this aspect, in an iconic manner. While the restored bottom half of the building is a brick warehouse built in 1938, the top half of the building is an addition to the old building. A steel twisted grid is a symbol of the intersecting grid lines of New York. This is one building that has taken into account the past, present, and future to make an old building not just a problem to be fixed but a project that can be worked on for the benefit of everyone around.

The role of Adaptive reuse in the cultural preservation of a building - Sheet2
Reichstag Building interior_ ©flickr user arch daily

Similarly, Foster+Partners took a democratic stance on the Reichstag building in Berlin. The firm decided to take it to the next level by placing a glass dome which they call a cupola to detach from the previously existing dome, which is also the most publicly accessed space of the building. Around the curves of the dome, is a pedestrian path, allowing the user to look down on the parliament building below. This is one exceptional example of adaptive reuse; it not only acknowledges what Berlin has stood for in the past but shows how it evolved to become what it is today.

The role of Adaptive reuse in the cultural preservation of a building - Sheet3
Reichstag Dome_© Harshiitart

For people of a society to feel grounded in their community there need to be symbols, cues, or visual gestures of culture that need to be incorporated into their surroundings. Adaptive reuse helps with this problem in society. Heritage is not just a symbol of the past, but also cultural and social capital. Reusing buildings helps not only keep the symbol of the past alive but also create a new symbol for the future of the community.

While one is repurposing the building, they also bring to light the architecture methodology; the type of material used, the style of architecture, and so on. It brings to light the history of the place that the people exist in; for example, the Samsung Opera House in Bangalore, which previously used to be an opera house for the Britishers and has housed numerous operas but today it is Samsung’s largest mobile experience center, it reveals the arches of the building and its Madras terrace roofs in a modern and enhanced way which attracts the gen-z and tech geeks.

Opera House, Bengaluru, Interiors_©samsungwebsite

In the words of architect Norman Foster- “The ultimately sustainable building is a building that you can recycle. Instead of demolishing the building, you can adapt it to change. The challenge is to do buildings which encourage change, which respond to change, and to have technologies and techniques which enable buildings to improve their performance.”

Adaptive reuse is integral in keeping the social, economic, and cultural heritage of a city, not just to be preserved but also in bringing it to the foreground and shedding light on the past that the present belongs to. We must come to the realization that we are a small part of just another period in time, and therefore we must be kind enough to preserve with respect what is worth preserving and also be humble enough to know that what we preserve today is our way of passing down what belongs to us, to the future generations. Hence adaptive reuse provides us with the ability to preserve, as well as contribute to history to keep our culture and heritage alive. 


  1. ArchDaily. (2018). AD Classics: New German Parliament, Reichstag / Foster + Partners. [online] Available at:
  2. ArchDaily. (2019). 837 Washington Commercial Office Building / Morris Adjmi Architects. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2022].
  3. (n.d.). Approaches to Adaptive Reuse in Architecture – Hugo Chan. [online] Available at:

Flora is a student of architecture, with a passion for psychology and philosophy. She loves merging her interests and drawing parallels to solve and understand design problems. As someone that values growth, she uses writing as a medium to share her learning and perspective.

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