Most times, the purpose a building serves is often outlived by the building itself. The built usually survives the dwindling usage of the project – architecture is enduring and many times ever-lasting. So, what happens to a building after it outlives its original purpose – does it become a ruin to slowly crumble and decay; or does it somehow get adapted into something of value once again? These days, adaptive re-use is an often accepted and employed practice to give a new purpose of usage to structures that outlive their original use. It is a process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was originally designed for.

The cons of conservation and adaptive re-use
The historic Saatchi & Saatchi office building gets a seismic refit and a lively new social hub ©Pinterest

But often, this method of effectively adapting an existing structure seems to offer a host of disadvantages to the designer or architect. Even though each project may have a unique position, some common cons of adaptive re-use seem to plague every project.

Adaptive re-use of a building can often be expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes even affect the creativity of developing that project. Let’s look at multiple restrictions, challenges, and barriers that such a method of conservation and re-use provides.

1. Physical restrictions

As is obvious when adaptively reusing an existing structure, there are many physical restrictions that challenge effectively retrofitting the built with the new intended use. Structural elements like columns, beams, floor layouts, and structural grids often pose a problem to re-using the structure for various uses.

2. Economic Considerations

There are many economic considerations while conserving and reusing an existing structure. There are potentially high costs of adapting the change of use, and updating the infrastructure, and modernizing and refurbishing the electrical systems and other services. Moreover, interior services may become more expensive due to the repairing of various defects that building or structure might have suffered through.

3. Deliberation over Social Impacts

Existing buildings usually have intangible aspects and attached sentiments in the social sphere. Each structure has a notional value to the context and past users and people. When conserving or adaptively reusing, the designer or architect must consider these complex perspectives of history and value.

4. Material Incompatibility

Many times, while adapting or conserving an existing structure, there may be inconsistencies and difficulties in finding suitable and compatible materials. This may even extend to the non-availability of these materials or finding skilled workers to achieve this compatibility and unity.

5. Complexity and technical difficulties

Due to the obvious complexity of retrofitting or reusing, there are many technical difficulties that designers face. Often adapting or reusing requires complex techniques of installations and needs innovative solutions to tackle the many barriers that such a process invariably faces.

6. Inaccuracy of Information

As structures that are usually reused or conserved, one of the many issues becomes about the inaccuracy of information available to the designer or architect. Incomplete or missing drawings further add to their woes. There is often a lack of accurate information and inconsistencies in materials usage in heritage buildings.

7. Perceptions about Adaptive re-use

The process of conservation or adaptive reuse is many times perceived as expensive, with many designers and developers choosing demolition as an easy and simpler way out. There is a lack of awareness and many misconceptions about the opportunities for adaptive reuse.

8. Barriers caused by redevelopment projects

Governments and urban planning authorities often pose barriers by creating various impositions about urban regeneration and redevelopment criteria of cities. There may also be inconsistencies or problems faced in the scope and classification changes of buildings – since some may require updation and compliance to newer building code and zoning classifications.

9. Maintenance Issues

There may be a lot of issues faced during the maintenance of the structure, since there may have to be frequent repair due to physical deterioration and defects. There may also be high re-mediation costs and construction delays caused by contamination by hazardous materials, or precarious structural systems and elements. The projects may also be lengthy leading to reduced profits.

10. Creative value

The creative value of demolition and building anew often supersedes the value of adapting and conserving – due to the demand for adaptation of newer trends in construction and current styles of building. Moreover, adaptive reuse is often seen as a niche market for upscale and luxurious processes. Materials also play an important role in creating this reduction in the value of an existing building, with newer materials being preferred.

Yet, even though there may be many cons of adaptive reuse and conservation, the advantages outweigh them tremendously. The overall economic and environmental impacts are considerably larger than the shortcomings of such processes, and the historical value to counterbalance the need to build anew. Moreover, adaptive reuse projects and conservation projects might significantly enhance neglected areas in and around the projects or even historically overlooked urban spaces.

Architectural Journalist



Ujjvala Krishna likes to believe that a curious mind and a constant demand for logic are the only two things necessary for a fulfilling life. A year away from graduating, she constantly strives to further her understanding of architecture, while continuing to navigate through new avenues of design.

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30th April 2020

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