Aging buildings, unless for show, waste land and resources. If we let things simply age, they become a shadow of our culture rather than a story-telling part of it. Adaptive reuse is about using them to inspire our future, rather than simply becoming a part of the past.


Why adaptive reuse matters

The process of a historical site becoming a functional one opens the opportunity for new uses and benefits. This allows for innovation when considering making old buildings more efficient and sustainable.

“Preserving the culture and dignity of structures passed down to us from other generations, whilst also striving to increase use and environmental adaptability, is one of the greatest missions of being alive in the present day,” says Steven Butler, journalist from Last minute writing and Writinity.

Through adaptive reuse, new job opportunities are opened to the surrounding community, allowing economic growth. More human resources are needed and less building materials, meaning lower investment costs and more room to focus on restoration and revitalization. Adaptive reuse is one of the most maximized uses of recycling. Through it, the value of the triad (reuse, recycle, repurpose) comes right to the surface. The global community observes this, and so adaptive reuse is one of the stepping stones that are shaping people’s minds and paving our path in improving our relationship with the environment.


Leveraging historic tax credits

Federal historic tax credits often count for a highly useful finance opportunity for funding adaptive reuse projects. This can apply to famous historical structures as well as regular storage houses from the past. It’s been noted that up to 90 percent of people investing in adaptive reuse are not aware of how federal historic tax credits may benefit them. If a building is registered on the National Register of Historic Places, up to 20 percent of its rehabilitation expenses can be accounted for. This extends to buildings older than 50 years old.


Adaptive reuse basics

A more comprehensive wording of adaptive reuse, is adaptive re-use architecture. It applies to buildings that are no longer used, or perhaps are no longer suitable for their original roles. They are assessed and repurposed for other things, while maintaining the level of culture of their time of origin. Another nice way to see it is “historic redevelopment.”

“Adaptive re-use architecture takes important, structural pieces of the past and makes it relevant to both the present and thus, the future. By utilizing this to the maximum, we save our history from demolition and our future generations from having to start over with everything,” says Avery Zamora, business writer from Draft beyond and Research papers UK.

The movement towards preservation is surprisingly new. Legally protecting historic buildings became more common and normalized in North America only in the 1960s, and even then, it was a slowly growing trend to spread across the states. However, as people began to understand the rationale behind reusing old buildings, it grew faster. Adaptive reuse meant saved materials and culture, and increased sustainability, which has become more politically important over the past few decades.


What to consider when designing for adaptive reuse

The most important points of consideration begin with the basics: safety, accessibility, compatibility. These three pillars will be relevant despite what’s being considered, from energy to building materials to assessing current building code requirements. The condition of the building must be looked at when planning structural changes and selective demotion.


Examples of adaptive reuse (before and afters)

  • 135’000 square foot industrial building; boutique hotel
  • Former restaurant and food handling station; base for National Public Radio and Television
  • Historic 2’800 seat movie palace and Broadway roundhouse; upcycled with a new 500 seat theatre
  • Former 500’000 U.S. postal facility; corporate headquarters

These examples collectively showcase the wide-ranging possibility and innovative power of adaptive reuse. Historical structures have the ability through creative minds, to adapt and evolve with the ways in which surrounding communities and society on a larger scale, adapt and change also.

Adaptive reuse is not simply a sentimental drive to rescue buildings. It is a valuable method to conserve materials on both a community and global level. It challenges the societal culture of fast consumerism, teaching people how to truly appreciate what is here now.