As our priorities and lifestyles change, with them, so do our buildings. However, constructing new buildings to replace the old ones is not always a viable option. This is where the concept of Adaptive Reuse saves the day by lending a new lease of life to the old and abandoned.

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Casa Rec by Guallart Architects_©Cortesia de Guallart Architects

An ode to the past as a nod for the future

With the world moving farther away from the industrial age deeper into the era of information, the relics of former industrial projects have faced the severities of age and decay to the extent of being abandoned and forgotten. But with the emerging society’s sensitivity towards the impact of building activities on the environment, Adaptive reuse has become a key step to finding a new purpose for an existing structure. 

Not only does this save significant costs of construction, but it also helps keep the historic spirit intact and offers a more sustainable option rather than tearing it apart and building afresh. The most important benefit of reusing an old building is the reduction in carbon footprint, reusing old materials, and little environmental impact. 

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Industrial Loft Transformation, Meta Studio_©Lluis Carbonell

Listed here are a few examples of how careful and innovative adaptive reuse have brought to life old, abandoned industries, giving them a new function and purpose from around the world.

1. Google co-working Space, Madrid

By: Jump Studios

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The old abandoned Battery Factory in Madrid_©

Charged with the daunting task of transforming an abandoned 19th-century battery factory in Madrid into a Google campus, the London-based design firm, Jump Studios was asked to completely overhaul an abandoned industrial building to accommodate a staff of 7000 along with co-working spaces for 50 resident startup companies and entrepreneurs. 

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The refurbished interiors retaining the original brickwork and old warehouse vibe_©

One of the foremost concepts in their design was to be able to merge the rich history of the space with a contemporary style to design a new environment for its members.

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Lights encased within a red steel cage hanging over discussion and lounging spaces._©
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Niches and meeting spaces decorated in a color palette inspired by famous Spanish painters including Picasso and Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida_©
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Large west-facing windows that allow natural light to flood in and maintain the old factory’s industrial purpose_©

The studio installed a new entrance on the south side to increase the circulation space and allow access to an outdoor public plaza. Large west-facing windows allowing abundant natural light into the space along with the original steel ceiling beams have been retained as a reminder of the building’s original industrial purpose and ethos. A triple-height auditorium on the northern side of the campus with a seating capacity of 200 people for large presentations and can also be divided using temporary partitions to create smaller spaces for intimate gatherings.

2. San Francisco Pier 70, Gusto Headquarters

By: Marcy Wong Donn Logan, Gensler

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A Submarine Shipyard transformed into a modern Tech Office_©Rafael Gamo

The massive historic structure on the East San Franciscan waterfront, which was once used as a machine shop for military destroyers and submarines was radically transformed into the headquarters for Gusto, a company that provides cloud-based payroll, benefits, and HR platforms to over 60,000 businesses, yet it managed to effectively retain its spirit.  

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A bustling modern space among heavy concrete beams and columns_©Rafael Gamo_

Berkeley-based Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects oversaw the adaptive reuse of Pier 70’s run-down structures while complying with heritage listing requirements and the firm Gensler was responsible for completing the space with the furniture, fixtures, and equipment. 

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Highlighting the heavy machinery in the shipyard as an essential element of design_©Rafael Gamo_

One of the main features of their design was to retain, expose and highlight the enormous steel columns and beams while making the machinery used to hoist parts of the ship from one end to the other a focal point. The large arch-shaped windows and exposed brickwork were retained purposely to showcase the scale and authentic vibe of the building.  

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Large arch-shaped windows and exposed brickwork highlighting the scale of the spaces_©Rafael Gamo_
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An eclectic mix of old and new_©Rafael Gamo_

The central part of the building was left open until the metal roof truss and designed as a lounge with couches and desk areas for the employees to work casually and hold informal meetings. A secondary structural frame was placed behind the main supporting structure to create a split level on both sides accessed by two minimal and strikingly modern black staircases in opposite corners creating a sense of strong visual contrast with the industrial finishes.

3. The Higher School of Fine Arts in Nantes Saint-Nazaire, France

By: Franklin Azzi Architecture 

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Transforming an old saw-tooth roofed warehouse into a school of fine arts_©Luc Boegly_

A pair of former warehouses with saw tooth roofs was transformed into a school for fine arts, in the French city of Nantes, to provide facilities for 500 students along with recreating their surrounding public realm to create new pedestrian streets, pathways, and an arts esplanade. As a part of rejuvenating a former industrial site in the Île de Nantes district, the main idea behind this transformation was to revive a 26,000 sq.m redundant warehouse into a cultural campus, to include the school joined by the Nantes University, and provide a collaborative space for offices for creative start-ups, artists’ workshops and a catering facility.

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Retaining the original steel framework to open up the space inside_©Luc Boegly_

Utilizing its original character, the new art school retains only the steel framework, allowing the internal spaces to be opened up and reoriented under the iconic saw-toothed roofs. One end of the structure forms a canopy sheltering an open-air public space welcoming visitors into the school and the gigantic frame divides the internal space into two distinct halves. 

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The steel canopy sheltering the public space_©Luc Boegly_
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Semi open public spaces for interaction under a light steel-framed structure_©Luc Boegly_

Apart from providing access to the entrance hall, the esplanade at the western end holds key facilities like the exhibition areas, library, and computer rooms. Whereas the classrooms, workshops, and auditoriums are on the upper level, and the administrative area on the second floor allows entrance only to the students and staff. At every level, various passages and walkways connect the volumes above the central street and provide breakout spaces that function as an extension of classrooms where informal gatherings could occur.

4. Allez UP Rock-Climbing Gym, Montreal

By: Smith Vigeant Architectes

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Angular rock-climbing formations inspired by the Sugar cliffs_©Steffane Brugger_

Flanking the Lachine canal, at the heart of the revitalization project for Montreal’s Southwest Borough, the site and silos of the old Redpath Sugar Refinery have been reconceptualized into a unique recreational facility to maximize the potential of the historic vestiges from Montreal’s industrial past. 

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A modern transformation for an old abandoned Sugar Refinery in the Tourist Friendly neighborhood of Montreal_©Steffane Brugger_

The wall climbing formations inside resemble the sugar cliffs as an ode to the original function of the Redpath Silos and add a dynamic charm to the interior space with their pure white and strikingly colorful angular formations for climbers. 

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The metallic character of the building envelope is a tribute to the industrial and monolithic character of the site _©Steffane Brugger_
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Light filtering into the interior space through shafts and crevices _©Steffane Brugger_

The siding and outer metallic character of the building envelope are a tribute to the industrial and monolithic character of the site. Abundant natural light permeates the space through long shafts creating an effect of crevices and voids on climbing walls and revealing the interior climbing surfaces, in effect a truly cheerful vibe at the heart of a stark, metallic exterior.

5. The Axis on Ormside, London

By: Alma-nac Studio

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The formerly abandoned brick warehouse transformed into an office space for musicians and songwriters _©Jack Hobhouse_

Refurbishing an old warehouse in a formerly abandoned industrial estate in South Bermondsey, the architecture studio Alma-nac designed an office space for The Axis, a London-based enterprise that provides a network of writing and production spaces for music professionals throughout the United Kingdom.

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Acoustically designed songwriting and production studios in bright hues _©Jack Hobhouse_

The repurposed brick warehouse is the organization’s first office and responds to their need for acoustically designed songwriting and production studios with client-facing facilities and has the advantage of being close to nearby recording facilities.

One of the key aspects of design was to expose the existing roof trusses and allow daylight to flood into the studio through the new transparent panels inserted into the roof creating a full-height space amid the two-storeyed building. 

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Soundproofed studios are flanked along the central street_©Jack Hobhouse_
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Elegant and Minimal coworking spaces maintaining the ethos of the space_©Jack Hobhouse_

Flanked along a central spine as if each soundproofed studio was designed to resemble a house in a street. This arrangement allows the occupants to meet and work independently while retaining the original expanse of the structure in a weatherproof enclosure with a controlled local environment.

6. Sabadell Housing Renovation, Somalia

By: Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos

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The old 20th century Planell Building transformed into a Residential Block_© Cruiz y Ortiz Arquitectos _
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The common passage space and staircase for vertical and horizontal communication_© Cruiz y Ortiz Arquitectos _

The old Planell Factory dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century at the corner of Turull and Riego streets was restored and adaptively reused into a residential building by adding a new floor. Despite the duality of the nature of the old and new purposes of the building, the architects have opted to merge the characters of the abandoned industrial and new residential building in a confident, intense way. 

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Mild Entrance into the Complex_© Cruiz y Ortiz Arquitectos _

The building is accessed by a delicately covered translucent space adjacent to the pre-existing industrial warehouse, organizing the common space for carrying out vertical and horizontal communications. The succession of spaces becomes the surprising element that the building has in store for its visitors. 

7. Hanzas Perons Concert Hall in Riga

By: Sudraba Arhitektüra

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Dilapidated 20th century warehouse transformed into a concert hall in the Latvian capital of Riga_© Reinis Hofmanis_

The formerly dilapidated and abandoned 20th-century cargo warehouse was a part of a large freight railway station on the edge of the historic city center in Riga. 

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Steel and glass exoskeleton extending the original building_© Reinis Hofmanis_

Despite being deemed structurally unsound, Sudraba Arhitektüra was able to transform the abandoned station by building an external load-bearing steel structure to encase and extend the original building. The massive column-free hall thus formed at the center of the warehouse was used to host concerts and exhibitions in its original brickwork and timber fabric covered by a new roof with skylights.

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The striking façade retaining the original geometry with buttress like elements_© Reinis Hofmanis_

At the southern end, a new double-height space following the profile of the brick gable was designed to be used as the main entrance lobby with views along the edges of the building framed by the buttress-like elements of the steel superstructure. 

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The large column-free span ideal for exhibitions and concerts_© Reinis Hofmanis_

Inside, the original materials have been retained as much as possible and new materials like the terrazzo flooring, concrete, steel, and glass add a stark contrast.

8. Coworkers Facility, Brooklyn

By: Leeser Architects

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The large abandoned industrial building in Brooklyn converted into a coworking facility_© Keziban Barry_

The Coworkers Facility spread across 47,000 square feet,  is located in an aging industrial building in Gowanus, a former industrial neighborhood with emerging artists studios, restaurants, and condo buildings. This is where the New York-based design studio Leeser Architects was brought in to transform the underused factory into a three-story work share facility for creative professionals, non-profit organizations, tech start-ups, and small businesses looking to rent desks and private offices.

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Brightly coloured origami-like forms enclosing the staircases_© Keziban Barry_

Brightly colored angular forms inspired by the shapes in origami were laid throughout the building to maintain visual continuity, and the enclosed stairways were painted in bright colors – Yves Klein Blue on the outside and Teal inside. The bold metal element folds into varying functional purposes, encompassing communal spaces within it. 

The original concrete structure and wooden flooring retained to preserve the industrial character of the space_© Keziban Barry_

The original concrete and wooden flooring were retained to preserve the industrial character of the space and its rawness with exposed joists, brickwork, and even graffiti. The facility is completed with a mixture of contemporary and vintage furnishings, along with custom tables and artworks by New York artists.

The Future of Construction relies on its Past

Adaptive reuse is an essential part of redeveloping cities gradually, enabling the past to lay the path for a sustainable future, making timeless architectural styles find new meanings and spaces for the evolving society. Not only does it encourage people to respect their cultural and industrial past, but it also helps reduce the environmental impact of construction. 

While not all buildings can be repurposed, adaptively reusing viable buildings is becoming a key approach to solving building problems creatively maintaining the spirit and ethos of a building. Old abandoned factories, industrial parks, theatres, and office buildings have the potential to become the new “it” apartment buildings, office spaces, cultural and recreational buildings, but only need a sensitive and creative eye.


  1. Archdaily, Transforming Factories into Living Spaces: The Changing Face of Spain’s Industrial Architecture, 
  3. Morby, A., 2021. Jump Studios completes Google Campus in the Madrid factory, Dezeen.
  5. Architectural Digest. New Google Campus in Madrid Opens in Jump Studios–Renovated Battery Factory.
  6. Howarth, D., 2021. The vast warehouse at San Francisco’s Pier 70 becomes Gusto headquarters. Dezeen.
  7. Griffiths, A., 2021. Franklin Azzi Architecture converts Nantes warehouses into art schools. Dezeen.
  8. ArchDaily. Allez UP Rock Climbing Gym / Smith Vigeant Architectes.>
  9. Griffiths, A., 2021. Alma-nac inserts colorful music studios into a disused London warehouse. [online] Dezeen. 
  11. ArchDaily. Sabadell Housing Renovation / Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos.
  12. Astbury, J.,Dezeen. Hanzas Perons is a concert venue built in an abandoned warehouse.
  13. McKnight, J., Dezeen. Leeser converts Brooklyn industrial building into co-work space.

Sukriti is an architect passionate about creating an impact on her surroundings, always looking for new adventures. When not busy working, you will find her strolling around the streets of Chandigarh, or scrolling through travel journals making her ultimate travel bucket list. She loves studying about global cultures and how they keep getting challenged by the evolving society.