Understanding the Benefits of Adaptive Reuse Projects

Many architects dream of designing gleaming new structures on a large scale. The chance to etch one's name on the skyline of a great city like New York or Chicago is deeply alluring, and likely always will be. But architects in cities that have already experienced decades or even centuries of development know that working within the built environment to breathe new life into existing structures can be just as rewarding. Adaptive reuse projects have grown in prominence thanks to factors like an emphasis on sustainability and the re-urbanization of many major American cities.

Architectural Heritage 
Two historical buildings on a city street

A generation ago, one of the defining trends of social geography was the growth of suburbs as people left downtown for the space and safety of the suburbs. In cities like Atlanta, Detroit, and Boston, this hollowed out the urban cores, which often succumbed to poverty and blight. Today, people (especially young people) are moving back into the city center, drawn by affordable housing, decreased commute time, and other benefits of urban life. Unlike sprawling suburbs that afford architects a blank canvas, cities have existing buildings, often beautiful and historic ones. Adapting spaces like warehouses, office buildings, and even old theatres to provide multifamily housing preserves these structures for their aesthetic value while providing residential space for growing urban populations. It also provides the neighborhood with an authentic character that many young urbanites will tell you is sorely lacking in the 'burbs.


Environmental benefits are a major driver for many adaptive reuse projects. It is a virtual truism in sustainability that using/reusing something you already have is preferable to making it from scratch. Buildings contain "embodied energy," which is not just the energy necessary to construct the building itself but also to make the materials used for the construction. Adapting a building preserves the embodied energy of the brick, cement, timber, and metal that it was built from. Add to that the water demands of new construction and the energy required just for demolition, and it's easy to see why the environmental balance weighs in favor of adaptive reuse projects.

Time and Cost Savings

While environmentalism and aesthetics certainly drive the ethos of adaptive reuse, the practical benefits drive the bottom line. Adaptive reuse projects avoid demolition costs, establishment costs, the connection of utilities, and construction costs. Further, for historic structures, adaptive reuse projects can be eligible for a number of beneficial tax credits given by the Federal Government and many states for historic preservation.

If you are interested in seeing what intelligent adaptive reuse can do for your existing space, contact Vanko Studio Architects. We have experience designing adaptive reuse projects for businesses, residential spaces, and even places of worship. Our agile and out-of-the-box creativity will breathe new life into old bones, turning your project into something new, beautiful, and lasting.


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