Doug Blog Feb 2012 Pic 1

Adapt or Die

By: Doug Storer
February 28, 2012

Adaption has become the mantra for surviving the Great Recession. It is no different in the building industry, where we have to ask ourselves, do we really need another building? That may sound like a strange question coming from a company who has built buildings for 76 years. Increasingly, adaptive reuse of existing buildings is becoming a more viable option to meet a wide variety of facility needs.

Wikipedia defines adaptive reuse as the process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than for what it was originally built or designed. The current economic recession has left an indelible mark on the nation’s urban communities, whose fabric has been torn by high vacancy rates, deferred maintenance, and abandoned retail and office space. The existing building market in the U.S. comprises more than 77.9 billion square feet of commercial buildings according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Adaptive reuse of existing buildings may make sense for a number of reasons:


Greener is Better
Architect Carl Elefante coined the phrase, “the greenest building is one that is already built,” because you don’t have to use environmental resources in constructing its replacement. Existing buildings are usually centrally located on easily accessible prime traffic arteries. Parking is often times available and does not need to be recreated. Add in the fact most governmental entities will “bend over backwards” to accommodate an adaptive reuse project rather than navigating the anti-development factions, environmental impacts and zoning compatibility.

Economic Incentives
Industrial sites and historic buildings offer enormous potential for adaptive reuse. “With an industrial location that a city wants to rejuvenate, you can get economic incentives, be allowed to rezone or be given special permits to make something happen,” says Navid Maqami, a principal at Greenberg Farrow, a national architectural, engineering, and development consulting firm.

Urban Sprawl
Urban sprawl is the growth of cities outward instead of upward. This sprawl increases the demand for more roads and increases commute times and air pollution. In his 1993 book, The Geography of Nowhere, urban social critic James Howard Kunstler implicated urban sprawl as a major reason for a breakdown in sense of community. Kunstler’s claim in his book is that since sprawl requires large amounts of driving, people do not interact with one another socially in their neighborhoods.

Adaptive reuse is the practical solution to curb the continued economic and physical deterioration of our communities. Examples of creative, economical, green, community-oriented, adaptive reuse projects are increasing in every city across the U. S. Below are just a few recent examples of how designers and contractors are using adaptive reuse as part of a solution to economically healing our communities.

Post Office to Luxury Hotel

The U.S. General Services Administration has selected The Trump Organization as its preferred team to handle a $200 million redevelopment of the Old Post Office building and annex in Washington’s Federal Triangle neighborhood, the GSA announced. Under The Trump Organization’s proposal, the Old Post Office will, perhaps unsurprisingly, be converted into a luxury hotel with more than 250 rooms, upscale restaurants, a spa and conference facilities, while still preserving the building’s Romanesque Revival architecture.


Church to Townhomes

The architecturally striking 106-year-old First Church of Christ, Scientist in Seattle has been reborn as The Sanctuary, the setting for a dozen new townhomes. Set in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, The Sanctuary has given new life to a long-time community landmark. “Churches are often the centerpieces of communities—and located on the most prized real estate. The Sanctuary is right at the crest of Capitol Hill. In the distance, you can see vistas of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle.”

Factory to University

The Paris-Belleville School of Architecture is a very interesting adaptive reuse project in the heart of Paris. The school, formerly located in a beautiful old Meccano factory, needed room as the amount of students had increased over the past decade. With the rehabilitation of three very different buildings from various eras, all empty and available a few blocks away from the old location, the architect Jean-Paul Philippon managed to connect them to make a unique school of architecture in the French Capital.

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