When reflecting on recycling, sustainability, measures to take, and innovative technological solutions, one cannot help but think that there are also familiar approaches that should be taken into consideration. In fact, when examining the impact of the built environment on the climate, one notes that in many countries, 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built. The most effective form of sustainability may, therefore, be saving energy by eliminating or minimizing new constructions, and by avoiding the demolition of existing structures.
That is what adaptive reuse stands for: instilling a new purpose on an existing “leftover building.” Nowadays, the refashioning process is becoming essential because of numerous issues related to the climate emergency, plot and construction costs, a saturation of land, and a change in living trends.
Scroll below to discover key projects from architects that transform existing constructions and introduce new programming to respond more efficiently to modern needs, and environmental responsibility. While varying in construction status - some were built, some are under construction and others remain in a conceptual phase - each of these schemes highlights a special type of conversion, showcasing diverse outcomes from an adaptive reuse approach.
Adaptive Reuse of the Corso Italia Complex in Milan / Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Transformation of an apartment and office block into modern office spaces, Milan 2019
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill propose for their first project in Milan, an adaptive reuse of an early 60’s building, the Corso Italia Complex. In fact, the structure that used to host the Milanese headquarters of Allianz will be modified in order to accommodate modern offices. Originally designed by architects Gio Ponti, Piero Portaluppi, and Antonio Fornaroli, the regenerated project will receive a revival opportunity for both the structure and the Corso Italia area, the new business district of Milan.
Transformation of a business-dedicated building into a mixed-use program, Detroit 2019
Selected to rehabilitate Detroit's Book Tower, ODA created a proposal that will host a mix of residential, hospitality, retail and office space in the iconic 38-story building. Initially designed in 1916 by Louis Kemper, in an Italian Renaissance style, the 486,760 square-foot structure’s exterior restoration was recently completed, respecting the original scheme. Though the envelope remained faithful to the first design, ODA will update and expand the interior programming and existing structures to host the new elaborated 21st century functions.
Revitalization of Boston's Commonwealth Pier through Adaptive Reuse / Schmidt Hammer Lassen
Transformation of a historic maritime hub into a mixed-use project, Massachusetts 2019
Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s proposal for Boston’s Commonwealth Pier is an adaptive reuse project that will alter the historic maritime hub and create a 68,500-square-meter mixed-use project. The Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, Massachusetts seeks to reactivate the area and create a new waterfront destination, with the introduction of new functions, new materials, and new points of connectivity. The pier building will include flexible office space, dynamic event space, retail, dining, and public amenities. Moreover, the project will also enhance the outdoor space with the introduction of courtyards, walkways, green spaces, and a grand plaza.
Transformation of a post office into a cultural and commercial hub, Houston 2019
OMA imagined a new redevelopment of the historic Barbara Jordan Post Office in downtown Houston, reinventing and converting the 550,000 square feet project into a mixed-use cultural and commercial hub. The original building, used by the US government from 1936 till 2014, will be transformed to host site-specific art installations by acclaimed artists, as well as one of the world’s largest rooftop parks and farms, a concert venue and many other retail and office concepts including restaurants, bars, an international market hall and flexible co-working space.
Transformation of a stadium into a commercial and housing hub, Oakland 2019
BIG proposed to transform the existing 51-year-old Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum into a new commercial and housing hub to create economic, cultural, and recreational opportunities. The stadium will become a sunken amphitheater at the heart of a new municipal park, including a tech campus, mix-used housing, education spaces, and a business park. Moreover, BIG suggested featuring in his design a ruin of the old stadium, open for public use.
Shipyard 1862 / Kengo Kuma
Transformation of a shipyard into a multi-use complex, Shanghai 2018
Kengo Kuma has transformed a 1972 shipyard into a new 9,000-square-meter multi-use complex in the Lujiazui financial district in Pudong, Shanghai. The built proposal preserved the building’s structural and material integrity, restoring the original brickwork on the north facade and changing the massive industrial interior spaces. For the West demolished facade, Kuma designed a pixelated gradient brick system, in order to remember what no longer exists in a contemporary way.
Transformation of Former Dutch Cargo Ships / Studio Komma
Transformation of cargo ships into sustainable homes, Netherlands 2018
Studio Komma, in collaboration with Studio Kees Marcelis, and landscape architect Buro Poelmans Reesink, reimagined disused cargo ships as houses. The project, that reminds residents and visitors of their industrial, seafaring past, will bring between six and fourteen defunct ships back to life in a public park. Once on land, these ships will house sustainable and exclusive residences.
Transformation of a windmill factory into a cultural hub, Denmark 2017
Located in the city industrial sector, EFFEKT had won a competition to repurpose an abandoned former windmill into a new center for street art, sport, and culture in Viborg, Denmark. Organized by the Viborg Municipality and GAME, a Danish street sports NGO, the purpose of the competition was to “enable social and cultural change, specifically through the empowerment of local youth” and install a new sense of identity in a forgotten building. The winning proposal introduced a number of facilities that cater to sports and puts in place workshops, studios, and labs for music production.
Transformation of a shipyard into an innovation hub, New Jersey 2016
WXY Architecture + Urban Design transformed a 130-acre former shipyard into a modern innovation district featuring flexible workspaces and a modern maker hub at Kearny Point, New Jersey. The project calls for the adaptive reuse of several former maritime industry buildings that once served as factories for warships. Phase one will transform Building 78, a 210,000 square foot former federal shipbuilding facility, into innovative multi-tenant workspaces for next-generation manufacturing companies.
Transformation of a former warehouse into office spaces, Hong Kong 2014
MVRDV had imagined an adaptive reuse project that alters a former warehouse in Hong Kong’s East Kowloon business area, a former industrial district, into contemporary and affordable office spaces. The proposed loft-style working environment will host creative companies by providing the necessary amenities. Under construction, the 14-story structure will be stripped down to its raw concrete bones and reconstructed with glass and stainless steel to provide up to 37 naturally lit, affordable office units. Moreover, shops and restaurants on the ground floor will ensure the connection with the busy street.
Conversion of a Power Plant / Studio Gang
Transformation of a power plant into a campus recreational activity center, Wisconsin 2013
Partnering with Studio Gang Architects, Beloit College will convert a century-old power-plant into a recreational campus and activity center. The proposal will transform the historic structure into a new hub for wellness and green power, aiming to generate a model that will bring many benefits to the college and the city, as well as inspire other communities around the globe.
Transformation of a gas station into youth and senior activity center, Montreal 2012
Commissioned by Standard Oil in 1966, Mies van der Rohe’s office had created a prototypical gas station in Montreal, Canada. The project consisting of 2 distinct volumes ceased to be operational in 2008 and was listed as a heritage building by the city in 2009 before the idea of youth and senior activity center was introduced. With a new purpose, the building only required open spaces for each age group to congregate and participate in communal activities, the seniors occupied the larger volume while the youngsters gathered in the second smaller entity.