Adaptive Reuse Of Buildings and Sustainability

Before i go on to categorically define ‘adaptive reuse’, knowing what ‘adapt’ means in an absolute context would a great start point. Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘Make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify’. It however has numerous synonyms like ‘modify, alter , convert, transform, redesign, restyle, refashion, remodel, reshape, revamp, rework, redo, reconstruct, reorganize, adjust remodel and more.’ The definition and synonyms, i believe, has given you an insight of what adaptive-reuse entails.

Whether or not you’re aware, “adaptive reuse” is part of our everyday lives. When it’s raining outside and there is no umbrella in sight, a polythene bag which probably was used to wrap a something you were holding may be reused to stay dry by covering your some part of dress or body . What have you done? Fundamentally, the function of the polythene bag has been altered to meet your current needs. You’ve REUSED what you have to ADAPT to your environment.

More so, as we have in recent years, recycling -adaptive reuse- has become second nature to ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ “communities as we strive for environmental sustainability, adaptive reuse is not new. The collective we of built environment professionals and our culture have been doing it for thousands of years. At the dawn of history people gathered into tribes and built a shrine. The Egyptians came to town, knocked it over, and built a temple. The Phoenicians tore it down and used the stones for a market. The Greeks marched in and used the stones for a fort. The Romans arrived and built a road. Today, on the same site is a Hyatt with a beautiful stone pool deck.

Adaptive re-use can be interpreted in many different but inter-related ways. For some the term refurbishment, tough poses quite difficult challenges for designers, and adaptive reuse could mean the same thing. Refurbishment can of itself take many forms, ranging from simple redecoration to major retrofit or reconstruction. Sometimes the buildings are in good condition but the services and technology within them are outdated, in which case a retrofit process may be undertaken. If a particular function is no longer relevant or desired, buildings may be converted to a new purpose altogether. This is adaptive reuse.

We can as well say Adaptive reuse is a component of rehabilitation. Adaptive reuse is often called adaptive use referring the redundancy of the term ‘reuse.’ However, in short, it is conventionally defined as “the process of adapting old structures for new purposes.” Adaptive reuse is a process that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose. It is, however, worthy to note that Sometimes, nothing changes but the item’s use only.

Scholastically, many authors have posited definitions of adaptive reuse. However it would seem that there is agreement on the following: Adaptive reuse can involve a change of use (but not necessarily); Adaptive reuse involves improvement (upgrade of building performance); and Adaptive reuse must meet new and or existing user/owner requirements.

Recycling of buildings –adaptive re use- initially developed as a method of protecting historically significant buildings from demolition which is why it is often seen as a process that changes the way that a heritage-listed place is used. Reuse, re-adaptation, re-appropriation of existing or built structures have remote historical precedents. Adaptive reuse is notably understood to help extend the life of historic building and prevent them from becoming forsaken or derelict. It came into mainstream architectural parlance during the 1960s and 1970s due to the growing concern for the environment.

As a person, I see adaptive reuse as a structural change or process in buildings whose priority is aimed increasing the economical life value or cycle of it and also having a sheer of effects (mostly positive ) physically, culturally, socially, environmentally and even technologically. The change can only be in it use.
It elongates the decay curve, obsolescence curve and life cycle of buildings. It prolongs the period from cradle-to-grave for a building by retaining all or most of the structural system and as much as possible of other elements, such as cladding, glass, and interior partitions. It is capable of extracting obsolescence in building and in turn infusing or injecting an opulence of life and relevance in it via it new use. It is rejuvenation, revival, and resurrection of buildings and can technically be seen as an urban renewal, redevelopment or regeneration strategy. It is a strategy capable of delivering highest and-best use to properties.
Originally from time, it is known with heritage structures, an example under what is called special properties in the real estate circle. It has over time been non restrictive to heritage properties along like religion properties but has spread to others like industries, warehouses, prison buildings, town halls, and other. In more recent decades, owing to urbanization and other factors, this process now cut across all forms of properties whether, residential, commercial, agricultural, cultural and others.

Over the decades, the concept of adaptive- reuse has accrued advantages which of often examined under different umbrellas like environmental, social, physical, economical cultural and even technological. However, the bulk of the environmental benefits handed over us by adaptive reuse process are fetched by the sidestepping or short-circuiting of the wasteful process of demolition and reconstruction.

Adaptive reuse and sustainability: Adaptive reuse is an essential component of sustainable development. The predominant vision of a sustainable built future is of state of the art buildings utilizing energy efficient design and materials. Though adaptive reuse of properties got prominence in it use for extending the life cycle of with heritage structures then in the 1970s, it is today related to various sustainability goals: sprawl minimization, preservation of virgin materials, and energy conservation. Generally, Adaptive reuse of buildings has a major role to play in the sustainable development has become a goal for all Governments in nations of the world seeking to balance the health of the environment with the health of the economy.

More so, one of the main environmental benefits of reusing buildings is the retention of the original building’s “embodied energy”. Adaptive re-use can be seen as a process that reaps the benefit of the embodied energy and quality of the original building in a sustainable manner. The CSIRO defines embodied energy as the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the acquisition of natural resources to product delivery, including mining, manufacturing of materials and equipment, transport and administrative functions.

In addition, the cost to adapt an existing building into a new use can often be as little as one-third the cost of new construction. New buildings have much higher embodied energy costs than buildings that are adaptively reused. As such, by reusing buildings, their embodied energy is retained, making the project much more environmentally sustainable than entirely new construction. In Australia in 2001, it is held that new building accounted for about 40 percent of annual energy and raw materials consumption, 25 percent of wood harvest, 16 percent of fresh water supplies, 44 percent of landfill, and 45 percent of carbon dioxide production and up to half of the total greenhouse emissions from industrialized countries. In short, if one can imagine the energy that it takes to fabricate just one brick, then one will quickly begin to understand the implicit value in existing buildings.

More specifically or expressly speaking, the advantages of this process includes; Slum Abatement, Energy Conservation, Enhances Community Character, Encourages Investment, Cost Savings, Potential Tax Advantages, Increases Market Value, Saves Time and so on.

There are many reasons why developers are attracted to adaptive reuse today. Some of which are highlighted in the next three paragraphs.

In recent times, especially in Nigeria, A factor driving recent adaptive reuse work is the devaluation in properties particularly residential and commercial, which has made redevelopment a more viable option. Most ancient buildings from the colonial era in areas like Yaba, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Badagary and so on are presently a testament to this. There is an increased demand from cities, residents and tenants for renewed urban cores.

In the same vein, the prohibitive costs and associated difficulties securing buildings permits resulted in adaptive reuse becoming a viable alternative to new construction and the land clearance of urban renewal.

Another factor is urbanization. Relatively owing phenomenon especially in cities, historic districts around the country are experiencing unprecedented Revitalization as cities use their cultural monuments as anchors for redevelopment, more so, in recent years in our nation, redundant city residential buildings have been converted into high quality commercial apartments, there by revitalizing them.
Adaptive reuse can be quite dramatic. For example, conversion of disused industrial factories into shopping centers or churches into restaurants is possible. Likewise, for example, in downtown Cleveland in US, a number of historic office buildings have found new life as apartments. In corollary, Google recently purchased one of the largest office buildings in Manhattan, a beaux arts building in central Paris, a historic warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh, and a property anchoring the pedestrian mall in Boulder.

Thus adaptive reuse is in itself a concept of all round value- addition to buildings and the built environment. Adaptive reuse has more than enough potent power to release latent value of a building for the benefits of the owner, the surroundings and the environment as a whole. Therefore in this time of the world when sustainability, urbanisation and technological advancement, among other phenomenon, seem to be the order of the day, adaptive reuse seem to be next stop for the built environment and as such should be given a warm reception by everyone from this very moment else we humans and our environment may be reaching for a Waterloo. Why not we avert it while we can?

On a secondary note, the resultant effect or impact of adaptive reuse is often inevitably heralded by phenomenon known as ‘gentrification’, a term coined by sociologist Ruth Glass. It can be defined as when rapid physical transformation takes place in an area- as it were, historic areas. It arises with a new sector of the population, particularly middle class, expressing new aspiration that lead to a demand for new services and design. It often begins with influxes of local artists looking for a cheap place to live, giving the neighborhood a bohemian flair.

“One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle-classes—upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages—two rooms up and two down—have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences…. Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers is displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.” -Ruth Glass (1964)

One evident benefit of this process is that the rapid improvement of the physical condition of the building, however, comparatively, it is argued that the influx of new groups of people doesn’t not facilitate cultural sustainability because the original population community is no longer associated with the area and that in areas where conservation controls or development guiltless are poorly applied, such rapid improvements destroy the entire fabric of the neighborhood, resulting in a loss of authenticity and integrity.

On a further note, adaptive reuse is a part or component of Regenerative and Restorative Buildings, These buildings are integrated into the natural environment and designed to improve damaged surrounding environments as they go beyond living building levels by also improving the surrounding environment such as restoring a site’s natural hydrology or providing for lost wildlife and plant habitat. The fine distinction is that restorative design is reversing damage that has been caused to a particular site by either nature or humans, while regenerative design is creating even better conditions to support the life-enhancing qualities of ecosystems. A regenerative building and the regenerative design process not only restores but also improves the surrounding natural environment by enhancing the quality of life for biotic (living) and abiotic (chemical) components of the environment. The regenerative design process promotes the pattern of relationships between the physical, built, and natural environment. In the regenerative design process, the same principles are followed as for living and restorative buildings, but include all aspects of systems thinking from site, water, materials, and energy to plants, microbes, human social systems, and culture.

It is however worthy to note that the decision whether to reuse a building entails a complex set of considerations including location, heritage, architectural assets, and market trends. Marketing is not the only location advantage of potential heritage development sites. Often an existing building, which pre-dated current land-use regulations, might present a density opportunity. Often, the materials that are used are of high quality and have many years left in their life cycle. Brick, stone, copper, slate, concrete, and masonry units are enduring materials, and should be able to withstand the test of time. Adaptive reuse will require new perspectives and ideas and take some time; the process can be accelerated through a shared public and private partnership and vision. That is we must jointly assist in taking our environmental eyesore and turning it into gold.’

In closing, adaptive reuse should always be favored over demolition and redevelopment since it has passed the test of time as so it has long been an important and effective historic preservation tool. There are countless reuse options available for all types of building especially industrial buildings- large buildings or structures growing in obsolescence. Some of the more popular conversions are of industrial building to museums, art studios, live-work units, offices, residential units, schools, retail, and increasingly more are combining several uses together. Indeed, it has been a growing trend in the United States for the last forty years.

More so, the role of building conservation has changed from preservation to being part of a broader strategy for urban regeneration and sustainability. Adaptive reuse is a powerful strategy for handling property and environmental changes at large. Urban development and subsequent redevelopment has a significant impact on the environment and the purpose of this paper is to investigate how the conservation of heritage buildings may contribute to a more sustainable urban environment.
Sometimes, adaptive reuse is the only way that the building’s fabric will be properly cared for, revealed or interpreted, while making better use of the building itself. Thus, making adaptive reuse has become more and more popular, and it has a lot to do with re-energizing buildings, district and environment.
The redevelopment of once abandoned buildings or districts would not only directly benefit the owners but the rehabilitation can enrich additional activity in the surrounding area. The end result and the overlay of use would contribute to a more vital urban core and strengthen the entire micro-region, which is arguably the most important urban condition in the city. By this, Lifestyle is enhanced not just from the revitalization of existing infrastructure, but also from the adaptation of these places into useable and accessible spaces. Adaptive reuse contributes to the livability and sustainability of communities for generations to come.

A few cities have gone even further by making the adaptive reuse of vacant industrial buildings an integral part of their infill development and affordable housing strategies under the rubric of “smart growth.” The opportunity to reuse obsolete facilities in the urban core supports sustainability and smart growth initiatives designed to focus redevelopment in inner cities in an effort to decrease urban sprawl. As an alternative to our ever-increasing throw-away society, adaptive reuse offers a sustainable building site with existing infrastructure and materials.

Albeit there is a sheer magnitude of the accrued benefits of adaptive reuse, however, there are a number of developers, sponsors, owners or partnership who has gotten snake-bitten when doing adaptive reuse. This is because adaptive reuse projects require a lot of discipline because of their complexity and it ultimately have to make financial sense.

Adaptive management technique which is a set of management practices that blends science and public engagement, and is designed to address complex natural resource management challenges needs to be adopted. This management relies on a three-step process—management, monitoring, and evaluation—to improve resource management and protection which are wholistically essential for carrying out an effective and efficient adaptive reuse.

In conclusion, Ada Louise Huxtable in ‘Lessons In Healing the City’s Scars’ said “What we need is continuity . . . historic preservation is not sentimentality but a psychological necessity. We must learn to cherish history and to preserve worthy old buildings . . . we must learn how to preserve them, not as pathetic museum pieces, but by giving them new uses.”
Thus, the time is now to revisit and reconnect with the core strength of the environmental professionals: creative problem solving. Untapped opportunity lies before us in the existing building stock of this country. As designers, we have an opportunity to lead the dialogue in our local communities.
It is our role, and even our obligation, to lead discussion of adaptive reuse as the potential driver of both community redevelopment and economic activity, if not recovery.

Adaptive reuse is the ultimate end game for empty, abandoned space in our metropolitan areas. It can be the process that is the leading edge of community redevelopment. Through adaptive reuse the design community can return needed services, business, and educational opportunities to people in neighborhoods that need such services most. This activity can then spur jobs and economic growth in the nation and beyond.


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