The practice of reusing an existing/historic building for a purpose different from the one for which it was built or planned is known as adaptive reuse. It is a strategy for improving the operational and commercial performance of constructed structures. In terms of sustainability and a circular economy, adaptive reuse of buildings could be a credible alternative to new construction. Adaptive reuse is not suitable for every structure. The aesthetic process of adapting buildings for new purposes while keeping their original qualities is referred to as adaptive reuse. By keeping all or most of the building system, including the structure, shell, and even interior materials, an adaptive reuse model can extend the life of a building from the cradle to the  grave. Adaptive reuse is seen as an effective way by some urban planners to reduce urban sprawl and environmental impact.

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First National Bank- adaptive reuse_©

The Perks of Adaptive Reuse

Older constructions should be preserved because of their “unique style” and the “character and scale they contribute to the built environment.” Existing building retention and renovation reduces the consumption of building materials, resources, energy, and water required for new construction. Adaptive reuse entails refurbishing existing building members, which is a labor-intensive method that depends less on acquiring and installing a large number of new construction materials. Rapid urbanization and urban sprawl threaten our earth and civilization in a variety of ways. On a social level, a lack of adaptive reuse of existing built assets has resulted in dislocation, economic loss, and disruption of community life, eventually leading to abandoned and obsolete areas.

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UK Coaldrops yard brings new life to a historic industrial center_©

The cost of building materials has risen dramatically over the last two decades, but the cost of labor has only increased marginally. As a result, renovating and reusing an existing structure is a cost-effective option. Some cities have strict building safety laws that make the use of a swinging ball or other more effective demolition methods that are illegal. In these conditions, buildings must be dismantled section by section, which can be costly and time-consuming. Demolishing existing structures takes considerable energy required to manufacture new materials and assemble them on a cleared site. Modern construction systems have enhanced life and operational energy costs, whereas older masonry and stone structures are more climate-responsive. The environmental benefit of reusing constructed materials has been identified as the preservation of the “embodied energy” of existing buildings.

Historic Preservation, Renovation, Facadism, Integration, and Infrastructure Reuse are types of adaptive reuse that can be tailored to meet our demands.

Aspects affecting Adaptive Reuse

Before deciding if a building should be retained and renovated for a different purpose or demolished for the land it stands on, property owners, planners, architects, and other stakeholders go through an extensive decision-making process. The main criteria affecting adaptive reuse are economic, environmental, and social aspects.

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The old Paddington Reservoir converted into a sunken garden and park_©

Social considerations – On a social level, a lack of adaptive reuse of existing built assets has resulted in an economic downturn and disturbance of communal life. Most people believe that adaptive reuse is essential to society because old buildings are important to a civilization’s identity and heritage. They also agreed that historical structures enhance the aesthetics of a townscape and should be conserved and repurposed.

Economic considerations – Economic concerns such as development costs, project costs, investment returns, and the market dictate the decision to reuse or dismantle constructed assets. According to a Canadian developer, repurposing buildings saves between 10 and 12 % compared to new construction. By adopting an adaptive reuse approach for their site, developers were able to save money on groundwork and excavation. Some end-users prefer contemporary architecture, while others prefer the adaptive reuse approach. Architects believe that the government does not provide enough support and incentives for the adaptive reuse of existing infrastructure.

Environmental considerations – Adaptive reuse has a series of environmental benefits. Buildings use a lot of energy and cause pollution. Minimizing fossil fuel depletion and carbon emissions can help minimize global warming and mitigate climate change. It is crucial to remember that many of the older buildings may not have the optimum operational energy consumption efficiency. To create a successful adaptive reuse project, planners must prioritize the building’s energy consumption intensity. Irresponsible exploitation of natural chemicals for building material fabrication can deplete these natural compounds from the environment. Any project that employs the least amount of new construction materials and more recycled materials is a more environmentally friendly choice for building materials.

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Renovation of St. John’s Library (culture and contemporary values)_©

Potentials in reuse – Shen, and Langston developed an integrated approach for analyzing buildings’ adaptive reuse potential. They contend that a building’s full adaptive reuse potential is reached when its age and usable life merge or intersect. These qualities are used to assess the optimum time to intervene with adaptive reuse. An indicator of reusability is generated using an algorithm based on a decay (negative exponential) curve (ARP score). The ARP score is given in percentage form. Cities can rate their existing buildings based on their adaptability, and this data can be used by government officials.

How is the Pandemic Affecting People?

Pandemic has been rapidly advancing and causing chaos in our daily lives. While many of us stay at home, converting our homes into offices, schools, cribs, and nursing homes, significant stakeholders in our cities are fighting to limit the pandemic and converting even iconic landmarks to new priority uses in the short term. The Coronavirus has prompted us to transform hotels, which are currently deserted due to a lack of tourists, into recovery or isolation centers, especially for those without caretakers. Similarly, field hospitals are housed in parking lots of educational or recreational buildings. Let us consider that it is common to see gyms or classrooms repurposed as temporary shelters for victims of disasters, but COVID-19 is of a different magnitude.

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Field hospitals opens as COVID-19 cases surge ©

COVID Pandemic is hastening the vacancy of all sorts of spaces, but the commercial and hospitality industries are the most affected. Larger enterprises with a solid technological foundation can withstand the storm better than smaller companies. Larger clients are looking for more expansion opportunities. For the first time in a decade, tenants in the commercial real estate market are leasing spaces in an environment that benefits the lessee, which has resulted in some real estate clients accelerating their expansion due to the favorable leasing climate. We also anticipate a greater focus on outdoor living spaces. Users are now emphasizing patios and open-air outside areas in their building designs. In general, iconic structures in our cities are experiencing adaptation processes, which is a critical feature in the pandemic of social distancing in wider settings. The chosen locations, both public and private, often have little or no acquisition costs, allowing for rapid and cost-effective adaptation. The most effective way to conserve a structure is to maintain it in use, either by restoring it to its original function or by assigning a new purpose.

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The Woodlands Causeway, before (left) and after (right) Malaysia enforced a travel ban due to a Coronavirus pandemic_©

Viable Approach & Refurbishment

Demand for certain construction styles has decreased, and many buildings are currently unoccupied. This covers the potential of buildings being converted into in-demand property types. The ability to collaborate remotely and do business online has altered the way organizations operate. The environments we inhabit have altered. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped us prioritize things like lighting, ventilation, and comfort when working from home. This has stimulated interest in modifying and adapting residential spaces to new circumstances and requirements.

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Life on Balcony_©

Adapting and repurposing an existing building is predominantly an environmental decision. We can look into and co-create the shared space that we haven’t been able to use because of the situation. These alterations can generate chances for innovation and urban contribution in abandoned or unused properties. Never before has working remotely taken off in such a big way as it is now. This COVID-19 influence will drive us to consider how we might convert office buildings to new purposes. If there is one certainty in this pandemic, it is that we must be adaptable to respond rapidly to new urban requirements.

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The continuous process of adaptive rehabilitation_©

Repurposing is the current requirement

Repurposing a structure is beneficial when it can be converted into a more meaningful habitation. For example, an unoccupied mall can provide warehouse services in business spaces that were previously used for retail, or a low-demand motel can be converted into a high-rise building. Several enterprises may eliminate their physical presence in stores while enhancing their presence online. Repurposing shopping malls as stockrooms and information centers can be a viable real estate business strategy. Each repurposing project has various necessities, such as an adequate refrigeration framework, cooling, and ventilation.

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Hybrid workspace_©

The decline in the tourism sector and corporate travel has resulted in a reduction in the demand for hotel rooms. The design and amenities of hotels, on the other hand, are suited to apartments. Vacant private workspaces are now planned in this method. Several services are no longer necessary when hotels are converted into apartment buildings. When adding kitchen facilities to hotels, proper ventilation is essential. Air extraction in toilets and kitchens is often required by building codes. Individual metering for electricity and water consumption is also required in hotels. Before converting hotels into apartments, it is necessary to install sub-metering.

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America’s Oldest Mall is Transforming into Micro-Apartments ©

Converting commercial buildings into apartments may be difficult since existing installations are usually shared by vast spaces, as compared to hotel rooms. Modular walls might be useful for converting an open work area into private dwellings. The majority of the labor will involve wiring individual electrical boards and circuits for each dwelling. Plumbing installations will have additional alterations since open workplaces will have large areas sharing restrooms, whereas individual flats would require their own funneling. Private offices can also be turned into dwellings. Need to include a room, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a pantry. The primary improvements will be the inclusion of a shower in the bathroom and the conversion of a suitable area into a room. Flexible reuse projects are faster and more affordable when the existing facility can be utilized with minimal changes.

Versatile spaces_©

In this terrible situation, constructing public buildings with specific functions has become an almost inconceivable luxury. Volatility is a characteristic of our era, demanding adaptive solutions to adapt to rapid change, both personal or social, reminding us that life is uncertain for all of us. Ephemeral architecture survives among massive buildings, injecting new life into spaces that are already highly valued. The process of urban adaptation was more hard during the World Pandemic, not only because the new uses were temporary, but also because of the psychological and emotional burden these changes imposed. Rapid and accurate architectural solutions that can be updated and reused are necessary in times of crisis.

Further Reading:

  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2020). 8 Instances of Adaptive Reuse in India – Rethinking The Future. [online] Available at:
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2021). Adaptive Reuse: Abandoned industries. [online] Available at:
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2019). 10 Most Creative Adaptive Reuse Projects – Rethinking The Future. [online] Available at:
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2021). Adaptive Reuse in the Context of Refunctioning in Historical Buildings. [online] Available at:
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2020). 8 Examples of adaptive reuse around the world. [online] Available at:


  • ArchDaily. (2021). Vital Adaptability: Field Hospitals During the Pandemic. [online] Available at:
  • Ciudades Sostenibles. (2020). Adaptive reuse: historic practices during a crisis. [online] Available at:
  • RDAEP. (2021). Adaptive Reuse and Repurposing Building Structures | R+D. [online] Available at:
  • Shen, L. and Langston, C. (2010). Adaptive reuse potential. Facilities, 28(1/2), pp.6–16.

Subhashinee is an Architect, Researcher, and Stereotype breaker. Deeply passionate about sustainability and environmental psychology. She is curious to learn new things in life that enhance her. An avid observer, she prefers writing over speaking. She believes that architectural journalism is as important as architectural design, as it binds knowledge providers with seekers.