The benefits of adaptive reuse of old buildings into new ones

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a phrase we’re all used to hearing. Some products and materials are commonly recycled without a second thought, such as beverage packaging in states with a deposit-back system or plastic grocery bags returned to the trash at the grocery store. Metal, glass and cardboard are other examples. Now think bigger. Think urban. Think of entire buildings being converted into a completely new space.

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The practice is known as adaptive reuse and is gaining momentum in the face of ever-increasing environmental challenges. Adaptive reuse gives old buildings a new lease of life and the process delivers numerous benefits for the community, residents and the environment.

Related: Stockholm offices repurposed into green-roofed apartments

Better for the community

Reusing buildings that already take up space in the city prevents the building from being demolished and helps maintain the roots of the community. In addition, existing real estate is less expensive than new construction, giving community members more affordable options in their own neighborhood.

Existing buildings also already have the surrounding infrastructure. As a result, the new owner has fewer obstacles in terms of parking and access to the street. An established location often also means surrounding residential and commercial buildings that provide a turnkey community. By creating an urban center of accessible services, people are more likely to walk or cycle, removing cars and their toxic emissions from the road.

A building with tin barrels outside it

Better for the environment

Embodied carbon is a huge problem for our environment. Every time we source new materials, we release carbon into the air through extraction, processing, manufacturing, packaging and transportation. This is before the material is even used in construction. The more we can reuse what is already on site, the less impact the build will have on the environment. In addition, the reuse of materials significantly reduces the amount of waste associated with the demolition of buildings.

In addition, avoiding new construction helps to keep the land intact, as there is no need to cut down plants and trees or prepare the land in any other way. As we know, plants take in carbon dioxide and give off the oxygen we breathe. They also retain that carbon deep in the soil, which is released when we demolish new buildings.

Ava Alltmont, AIA, LEED AP, Associate and New Orleans Studio Director at Cushing Terrell, a multidisciplinary design studio, recently compiled a paper on the topic entitled, “Land (Re)use and Climate Change: Breathing New Life into Ancient Buildings .” She explained that the concept is more applicable than ever with stores shaking and storefronts empty due to the pandemic and economic downturn.

“When buildings are adapted for reuse, it can benefit both businesses and the communities involved by reducing environmental impacts, improving quality of life and preserving a sense of place,” Alltmont said.

Fortunately, many examples of this strategy can be seen in neighborhoods across the country. You must have seen an old building converted into a music venue, an unusual bar, a remarkable restaurant, an antique shopping center or a loft apartment. Alltmont says adaptive reuse can be referred to as “renovation, modernization, historic preservation, infrastructure reuse and additions, just to name a few. And within those categories there are even more variants of adaptive reuse.”

Street scene of a supermarket

More than just reusing materials

Adaptive reuse is not without its challenges. In most cases, the building is tens or even centuries old. Systems need to be updated and working within the existing framework can be complicated. However, the benefits of a good location combined with the significantly lower carbon footprint make adaptive reuse an effort that pays off in fresh air, less pollution, cultural rejuvenation and waste reduction.

With the global zeitgeist focused on recognizing the effects of climate change, adaptive reuse should receive the same attention as other forms of recycling. With a post-pandemic focus on wellbeing, the proliferation of work from home opportunities, limited land to build on and vacant buildings dotting the landscape, it’s a perfect time for individuals and businesses to invest in the idea.

A movement of community

In summary, the idea of ​​adaptive reuse comes down to more than just the reuse of building materials. It’s a movement that cements an area’s history and culture, binds communities together, diverts urban sprawl (and the traffic that comes with it), and offers more affordable real estate options.

“Looking back at the cyclical nature of recycling, we can easily see the business need in adaptive reuse,” Alltmont concluded. “If choosing to redesign an existing building is good for the environment, liveability and sense of place of a community, it will attract more talent, residents and visitors to the city and thus improve the local economy. . It is a matter of reducing, reusing, recycling and revitalizing.”

Via ModernCities and Ava Alltmont from Cushing Terrell

Images via Cushing Terrell

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