Adaptive reuse is the practice of the utilization of existing resources by reusing old and historic buildings for purposes other than what they were designed for. It can also be defined as an approach towards architectural conservation which focuses on accommodating a building’s heritage in modern contexts. The practice gained popularity after the industrial revolution in the 19th century when old buildings with heavy ornamentations and old-world charm were torn down or left behind in ruins and a way was given to modernization and postmodernization. As the mindset of people and the overall ideas of the society continued to change, architects like Philip Johnson realized the importance of historic architecture and started working towards the preservation and conservation of such structures. As a result, a movement was born in America in the 1960s to legally protect historic architecture and was slowly adopted across the globe. These buildings which were earlier in ruins were now given new purposes and adaptive reuse became an approach towards saving people’s memories.

1. La Fabrica (RBTA office), Barcelona

Redesigned by Ricardo Bofill

Originally proposed as a cement factory during the post-world war 1 era, La Fabrica was adapted to be used as the residence and office of the architect himself. The expansive industrial complex formerly consisted of thirty monumental silos, various large rooms, and a web of tunnels. The transformation of the abandoned factory began in 1973 when Bofill found hidden areas in the structure and started to develop complementary relationships between various parts of the buildings. Today, the campus provides a series of spaces, ranging from brutalism to surrealism, while keeping intact its industrial touch. The studio known as La Catedral is distributed on four floors in the silos with the help of spiral staircases and encourages communication and teamwork through its open and vast meeting spaces. The residence complements the office areas by utilizing the raw and unfinished character of the structure through its materiality and scale. The premise is engulfed in a series of gardens, blurring the line between nature and built. The building which at one point in time used to blow out smoke is now encapsulated by greenery. The architect Ricardo Bofill calls it ‘a re-purposed city within an abandoned factory’. 

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Exterior of original RBTA office ©ricardobofill.com
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Exterior of original RBTA office ©ricardobofill.com
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Exterior of original RBTA office ©ricardobofill.com

2. Jaegersborg Water Tower, Copenhagen

Redesigned by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter

Intent on creating better living conditions for the youth of Denmark, architect Dorte Mandrup repurposed an iconic water tower into a student housing facility, accentuating the need for natural light, effective space utilization, and premium quality. To maintain the original tower’s integrity as a landmark structure, Mandrup retained the existing 12 columns and circular tank and added an extra layer of bay windows to accompany the newly crafted housing units within. The tower also made way for leisure and recreational centers at its base. The interior spaces of the reimagined tower combine colored panels with tall windows and create eclectic patterns throughout the multi-purpose housing units.

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Jaegersborg Water Tower ©www.archdaily.com
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Jaegersborg Water Tower ©www.archdaily.com

3. Alila Yangshuo hotel

Redesigned by Vector Architects and Horizontal Space Design

For the transformation of an abandoned sugar mill into a resort hotel, Beijing-based Vector Architects and Ju Bin of Horizontal Space Design wanted to accentuate the connection between the old and the new. An assemblage of gabled masonry structures and accommodation blocks in simple and minimal forms were designed to balance the existing cluster of buildings. The industrial aesthetic was achieved by using contemporary materials and construction techniques that complemented the original materiality and textures. Nuances of the old, visually light, and transparent structure were kept intact by using perforated planes that also helped in enhancing natural lighting and ventilation. A sunken plaza with a reflecting pond is used to signify the symbolism of the old building.

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Alila Yangshuo hotel ©www.archdaily.com
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Alila Yangshuo hotel ©www.archdaily.com
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Alila Yangshuo hotel ©www.archdaily.com

4. Church Restoration into Residence, Chicago

Redesigned by Linc Thelen Design and Scrafano Architects

In an attempt to convert an archaic church into a modern abode for a family of five, Linc Thelen Design and Scrafano Architects peeled back the original structure to its structural shell and exposed its wooden beams, iron turnbuckles, and stained-glass windows. The concept of ‘past meets present’ is depicted by a combination of the practicality of contemporary living with the symbolism of a religious structure. The repurposed building displays a juxtaposition of new elements like the Linc Thelen’s glass and steel staircase with the historic character of the place of worship with its intricate stained-glass windows, 25-foot high ceilings, and a bell tower. Neutral colors along with bold geometry add to the rustic and eclectic charm of the space.

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5. The Ned, Soho House, London

Redesigned by EPR Architects

Formerly designed as Midlands Bank office by Sir Edward Lutyens, The Ned was a challenging project for EPR Architects because it required close attention and sensitivity to the conservation process of the original building. Today, the new building offers a seamless combination of thirteen eateries and bars, two-hundred and fifty bedrooms, rooftop lounges, various support spaces, and a significant, landmark-like frontage, all within its original fabric, through intelligent and innovative space utilization. The former vaults and safe deposits are used as hidden cocktail bars and the original plant rooms are being utilized as libraries, spas, and lounges. Wall tapestries, walnut paneling, parquet floors, and original materials have been retained to maintain the historic and iconic character of the bank. The existing carved plasterwork and intricate 1920s style chandeliers complete the glamourous look and feel of The Soho House.

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The Ned, Soho House ©www.dezeen.com

6. Franz Kafka Society Centre, Prague

Redesigned by Steven Holl Architects, Marcela Steinbachova (Skupina)

As a small, dark, one-story building originally used for laundry and storage purposes, the newly adapted Franz Kafka Society Centre in Prague now utilizes its basement as an interactive space for concerts, exhibitions, and lectures and its upper floors as offices. The repurposed building also houses Franz Kafka’s private library which is now washed with natural light by the addition of huge windows and skylights. These windows are deliberately placed off-axis to the partitioned shelving system of the library to expand the views from the openings and create visual connections throughout the interiors.

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Franz Kafka Society Centre ©www.dezeen.com
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Franz Kafka Society Centre ©www.dezeen.com
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Franz Kafka Society Centre ©www.dezeen.com

7. Kanarie Club, Amsterdam

Redesigned by Studio Modijefsky

In a city known for its extensive tram network, the architects preserved the building’s elements and context while repurposing the De Hallen tram depot, originally used for servicing and restoration of broken trams. The redesigned interior of the Kanarie Club uses the same material and color palette of the train depot and showcases various references to the depot’s history. Custom made furniture and signages resemble the traditional design of old trams and their seats, while light-integrated arches are designed to align with the rails on the ground. Attention is paid to the symbolism of the original structure by designing a central, empty pool, conceptualized on the practices of previous users and squatters.

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Kanarie Club ©www.archdaily.com

8. Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad

Redesigned by Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo (WATG) and P.T. Vijaya

The Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is a baroque palace hotel that redefines royalty by the use of the finest finishes and materials. The conservation survey was carried out by Rahul Mehrotra and Associates. The resultant design of the hotel is a team effort of Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo (WATG) and P.T. Vijaya, a landscape firm based in Bali. The external section of the palace which faces the city is given the same Palladian feel to mirror the original identity of the building. The existing colonnades are reused and the symmetry of the original building is kept intact by matching the interior elevations of the southern and eastern sides. Excessive care was taken during the reconstruction of the palace so that no part of it is damaged. The original leather which was used in the cabins had intricate hand-made carvings with approximately 10,000 designs on every square inch. This century-old leather was not fit for reuse and therefore, local craftsmen were called to recreate the exact pattern. The same treatment was given to the wall to wall carpets and exact replicas were created by importing the yarn and dye from abroad. Taj Falaknuma Palace is a beautiful example of how carefully carried out adaptive reuse can be a huge success.

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Taj Falaknuma Palace ©www.designbuild-network.com
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Taj Falaknuma Palace ©www.designbuild-network.com
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Taj Falaknuma Palace ©www.designbuild-network.com

9. Imagine Studio at the Trees, Mumbai

Redesigned by Studio Lotus and GPL Design Studio

In an attempt to combine nature, historic heritage, and urban development in an evolving context, The Imagine Studio by Studio Lotus and GPL Design Studio has repurposed an old industrial campus in Vikhroli, Mumbai into Godrej’s experience center. Placed inside a couple of power generation plants and boiler rooms, the marketing studio is accompanied by showcase flats and various multi-purpose spaces and is juxtaposed with a piazza that reveals the company’s history. The repurposed building continuously references the neighboring silos that are sliced open and redesigned into a museum. These cut-off slices are used as a part of street furniture.

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10. De Bank / KAAN Architecten, Rotterdam

Redesigned by KAAN Architecten

Formerly known as De Nederlandsche Bank, the new office of KAAN Architecten comprises of more than eighty workspaces, made in place of the piano nobile of a historical building designed by Prof. Henri Timo Zwiers that was destroyed during the world war two bombings. The original building’s clear, rectangular floor plate is utilized to make effective work and leisure spaces alongside several monumental passages. The use of wood and pre-existing concrete gives the office a monumental feel. The spatial rhythm represents the philosophy of the architectural office by creating an interactive, functional, and raw working system.

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De Bank / KAAN Architecten ©www.interiordesign.net
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De Bank / KAAN Architecten ©www.interiordesign.net

In conclusion, the want to re-adapt and re-use historic structures may have begun as a trend which was essentially based on nostalgia and emotion, but now it is a concept which is treated as a typical and standard practice. In today’s world, adaptive reuse is no more a process that is based on a certain philosophy but is a design strategy that most architects try to incorporate in their projects, a balance between historic preservation and demolition.

Author

Yamini Kathuria is an architect who has recently graduated with a masters in interior design from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. A strong believer of the notion that built-spaces directly influence how people live, connect and perform, she approaches design as a multi-layered process which involves creativity, analytical research and contextual awareness.

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