Adaptive Reuse Architecture 101 – Evolution, Definition & Examples

A certain country, place, or structure has started to create its own story and carved a relevance in history, they`ve en-rooted themselves in collective memory and indirectly, they`ve generated it.  As we travel every day and reach other places we can see that there are unique qualities that a certain city or country has. Even if we have realized that some have similar languages, cultures, and ways of living, there still is one thing that you can find in a place but not the other, that is brought by the influence and significance of the past.

These are antiques, anchors from the past, and yet as for now have been placed in the interiors of modern buildings as accents thus recovering elements from our forefathers for generations to come. This is one iteration of what is today entitled adaptive reuse. Looking back to where our ancestors started and traced the way of living at their time, antiques were of high value and nowadays, likewise, buildings situated in a certain place where its civilization started, where it progressed and turned in time and history represent landmarks in time, in the collective memory of the community in which they reside. To these immense importance must be given to the future of the community, for one to still be able to witness the marks of the past.

“Restoring the old and Reusing for the future”

From structures affected by World Wars up to natural disasters and heavy deindustrialization, the world evolves and changes rapidly thus leaving behind buildings, and establishments that we often overlook.

Restoring an old structure starts to be taken into consideration by the Government and National Agencies as the immense advantages start to break the surface, we open our minds, and we take steps to bring into existence buildings of the past in an attempt to promote conservation of our National Heritage thus reducing urban sprawl together and reshaping the image of the whole, beautifully enriched by history.

Factors Affecting Adaptive Reuse

More and more companies and corporations disrupt by reusing; they retain, they avoid demolishing. Below are some factors that influence this phenomenon:

  • The community`s attention to the site’s social value.
  • Identifying its potential use, the physical damage the site has suffered through recent changes balanced with the potential of future development. Studies carried out compare the character of the site and its intended new use.
  • Historical importance and terms of the streetscape. The same location can be adapted to the community’s way of living; a different behavior in the past may greatly influence the present. The community gives a high value of understanding in the preservation of our heritage.
  • Topographical location, climate, and acceptable conditions of the site environment are also considered.

Economic Growth

Economic growth is one of the top listed concerns nowadays. Thus, this also links to modernization and developmental technology. This should be of everyone’s concern, especially our new generation seeking fast-paced development.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is one of the most responsive ways of dealing with Historical preservation and modernization. Sustainability has a wide range of issues to respond to in the attempt to reach development goals. Some of the goals are often interconnected to the reusing/recycling industry yet innovation and infrastructure, economic growth, cities and community development, sanitation processes and provision for energy production, strong governance, and institutions are always carefully weighted in the process. These mentioned goals play a big role in balancing the past and future, the state of the environment, and the state of the economy. Professionals all over the world are working hard to seek innovative ways to resolve problems between wastes and used materials in the attempt to further create new materials profitable for future generations thus pushing the boundaries and creating options for the unused establishments, opening up numerous possibilities of adaptive reuse.

Historical Character

Historical Character played and still plays a big role due to its influences, the notable designs, previous construction methods, and relatively different building materials are not overlooked.

There are economic considerations as corporations and companies find ways to sustainable approaches to elevate the retail value of the site. There are also factors affecting the state of reusing old structures.

  • Reuse of existing materials, their physical condition, and decaying components. The physical condition of the site and the structure itself. If there are parts affected by decay and destruction during the time of not using it. To check what part of the building needs to be modified to comply with the current and future building regulations of the community.
  • Resources and the need to produce all new materials – an example of this, is the current state of wooden components. Older pieces of wood that were installed in olden times may be even stronger today than what is today available on the market. This durability of wood as a material is highly volatile in time and its condition greatly influences the possibility of reusing and adapting a building.
  • Lessening the use of energy, labor force, and machinery during construction.
  • Lessening the garbage that can be brought by total demolition.
  • Minimizing the funds required by the company or the owner in establishing a new site.
  • Every project has its economic costs. Some professionals will likely build a new building rather than renovate or adapt an old one as this may greatly increase costs yet according to one Canadian developer the percentage of general savings is 10 to 12% when we reuse an old building.
  • There are some opinions that reused buildings cannot be as profitable as the new developments.

All of the issues stated above can be studied thoroughly to meet certain goals for the adaptation of old sites.

Adaptive Reuse Advantages

  • We can notice that historical sites are commonly situated at the center of the community. This opens up extraordinary opportunities and naturally guarantees extraordinary already-built infrastructure.
  • Historical sites are priceless in value. Hundreds of years of existence and remarkable designs can encourage tourism.
  • Each Era had its own method of construction and detailed designs in comparison with modern construction developments, this cannot be reproduced today entirely.

There are several forms of obstruction in the adaptation and reusing phenomenon:

  • Historic sites are being neglected by the government and are out of existence due to material decomposition.
  • Instances in which the government policies are unsafe for the environment and historic places.
  • New proposals are being projected for the site.

The Australian government released a booklet emphasizing the great importance of Adaptive Reuse. It aims to open up other people’s minds and be aware of preserving our built environment. Their aimed purpose for reusing old structures is also applicable to the rest of the world, this effort ought to help us adhere to our own culture and environment possessions, preserving the past and inspiring citizens to consider adaptation and re-utilization.

A building that is being restored to its original purpose, and function whilst maintaining its original design can be considered one of the most successful projects of Adaptive Reuse. Making people see it, identifying the new endeavor with an old building, and identifying the memory of the place with the current existent state of the site greatly underlines a feeling of appurtenance in the city itself.

In the Australian brochure mentioned, there are standard criteria that need to be addressed so that the heritage values of the site are not destroyed or vanished.

Standard Criteria

  • Discouraging Faradisms – refers to demolishing the back part of the building and only retaining the façade.
  • Contemporary Designs versus Poor Imitation of Historical Designs – this refers to the new modern designs that attempt to imitate the old rather than repairing the original design.
  • Consideration of new use as appropriate as of its original use.

Benefits of Reusing an Old Structure

Environmental Benefits

When environmental concerns are being raised as one of the fundamentals of central importance to adaptation, its beneficiaries are mainly its own community. The significant impact of an old building cannot be produced by a new building, as it has been ripped of experience and knowledge, of the memory of people previously animating it.

Adaptive Reuse is to meet halfway between history and modernization.

Significance translates into a unique identity along with landscape design and amenities that are of great use to the people nearby.

If adaptive reuse were to be one of our number one objectives per city, if we were to give worth to all the things, buildings, and places we already have, we could save much more of our resources, materials, time of construction, and processing; to re-start everything every-time should not be an option.

As per Australian studies in 2001 construction of the new building will be chargeable for the following:

  • 40% annual energy and raw materials
  • 25% wood harvest
  • 16% water supplies
  • 44% landfill
  • 45% carbon dioxide production
  • 50% of total greenhouse emissions from industrialized areas

Reusing old buildings and the materials contained has a rough estimate of 95% savings for energy that can be possibly wasted if we demolish those heritage.

Social benefits

We may wonder how the privileged and ever-developing countries got their current status, we are curious about how they`ve done it, to reach that peak of stability we have to conduct research and we will soon notice that they gave a lot of value to their past civilizations and in that way, they have surfaced immense value.

They gained recognition for the survival of their heritage sites beyond their growth and development. We notice today how these heritage sites will continue to be leading their cities for the upcoming generations whilst technology will bring development and our conservation of existing resources will have enriched our growing history. We should not allow our history to be diminished, we ought to adapt all existing functional places and safeguard them from the vast changes brought by redevelopment.

Adaptive ReUse Heritage Sites Examples

Here are some examples of the Top Listed Adaptive ReUse of Heritage Sites.

Battersea Power Station

  • This is one of the most well-known landmarks on the River Banks of Thames in London, it has been abandoned for years before being considered for adaptive reuse.

The structure was dilapidated and there are voices saying that it would be better to demolish it as it may be too expensive to restore it while others stated that it has no use at all. But designers had drawn plans for possible use of their biggest re-purposing structure. It was proposed by Dublin-based Treasury Holdings that this industrial area be turned into what is today Nine Elms near Battersea. The design plans included homes, offices, restaurants, and shops on a 40-acre site.

Copyright Rafael Vinoly Architects

Power Plant at Tate Modern

People on the millennium br 0

Photo Courtesy to

The Tate Modern in London, Photo by Eric Nathan / Britain On View / Getty Images
  • It was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1947. During the 1980’s this South bank of London was abandoned and totally shut down in 1981.
  • There is a number of design proposal but most of them suggested demolishing the structures; an architecture team proposed to restore part of the structure instead of putting it down. They are Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron winners of the 2001 Pritzker Prize. They turned the site into what is today the Gallery of Modern Art for the Tate Museum.

Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

Turbine hall tate modern

Photo Courtesy to

  • Serves as the wide entrance of the Tate Modern Museum with exposed black steel girders. The ceiling is made of glass allowing the passage of natural light.

Aikido Architecture at Tate Modern

Galleries at the Tate Modern in London. Photo (cc) Flickr Members Steve & Jemma Copley.
  • Designer Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron used the Aikido Strategy. According to them using Aikido Strategy is to “ use your enemy’s energy for your own purpose instead of fighting, take all the energy and shape it in unexpected and new ways.”
  • This was enhanced by the glass that allows the passage of natural light thus generating a well-lit area, an additional design feature is the green glass panels. There are 16 galleries on each floor and on the upper floor there are 2 stories of shops, a café, and an auditorium. Translucent panels were used for roofing materials on a large area thus flooding the interior with light.

Restoration of Tate Modern

Near Millennium Bridge and a reconstruction of the Globe Theater, the Bankside Power Station is part of the transformation of an industrial part of London.

  • Tate Modern has given a new life after seeing its structures have faded in the past. Consideration of historical preservation, the continuing urban and sustainable developments.
  • Some points to consider are the stability of the buildings, its existing columns, and walls if they are still in their utmost strength. Compressive design is needed to check all the structural elements before removing or demolishing.
  • This must also meet the new building codes for safety purposes.
  • Areas accessibility for persons with disabilities.
  • It must be environmentally suitable for its new use especially if it will be opening to the public.

Restoring of Tate Modern Switch House

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The Tate Modern Switch House, 2016 designed by Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron

“ You cannot always start from scratch. We think this is the challenge of the Tate Mode of tradition, Art Deco, and super modernism: It is a contemporary building, a building for everybody, a building of the 21st century” – Architect Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron said.

Tate modern

  • It creates new routes coming from the Millennium Bridge passing through the building connecting to Southwark.
  • The brick materials used in the façade complement its original design.
  • Natural lighting and ventilation are even designed throughout the buildings, energy efficiency is a key asset, of the passive design concept surfaces.

Passive Design Strategies

  • Take advantage of the natural heat, light, and ventilation in orienting the building to the maximum advantage flow of light, heat, and air.

Old Oil Tank Chambers at Tate Modern

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Photo by Ming Yeung / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)
  • Two large chambers used to house the oil that ran the turbines of the power station turned this into an entertainment area and an auditorium.
  • Previously electricity was the one generating these tanks, but for now, it generates creative energy for the artists and audiences.

Old Swan Brewery

Old swan bewery
Swan Brewery c. 1890
Photos by: Australian Government
  • This is also known as “Goonininup”, it is from the time of the colonial government of Western Australia. It was used as the allocated station for the Aboriginal people from the Swan River area, they are the Noongar People.
  • It was reconstructed as a contemporary place for residential, commercial, and public areas. They house 28 apartments, two restaurants, and three floors of offices.
  • They restored it to a floor-level pedestrian bridge connected to multi-level parking, landscape, vehicular tunnels and infrastructure, and a new dock.
  • Preventing the Swan River from entering the harmful runoff by this new stormwater drainage and landscape.
  • Each apartment has different interior designs and sizes that the residents can choose from.

Australian Greenhouse Office

  • Formerly the Commonwealth’s Communications Center or as it was known as the “bunker”, today an office for 185 staff.
  • This uses innovative designs such as perforated ceilings for a new courtyard, skylights, and reflective light. It also uses water from rainfall used in toilets.
  • The areas that were restored are a 1970s foyer, a graffiti wall, a light wall, and an in situ mural painted by Aboriginal artist Johnny Bulun Bulun.

Awabakal Cooperative Administration and Elders’ Center

  • Formerly Wickham Infants School, it retains the four large classrooms now converted into an office.
  • It also kept the educational materials like blackboards, walls, and wood panels, only minimal changes have been made.

Helpful insights from the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage:

“Adaptive reuse is a process that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for different purposes. Sometimes, nothing changes but the item’s use. “

What do you think about adaptive reuse? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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