Adaptive Reuse: 4 Projects Giving New Life to Architectural Heritage

The passage of time will alter, erode, and in most cases, degrade any architectural structure. Whether this be the result of climate, adaptation, misuse, or even war, all buildings are subject to the same life cycles of steady, or extreme, decline. In recent decades, “adaptive reuse” has gained significant traction as a means of breathing new life into an old structure, offering an often complex challenge for designers, architects, and indeed everyday users, who walk a fine line between a respectful restoration of history, and significant adaption for modern needs.

A design exercise in adaptive reuse begins with a study of the many possible approaches to synthesizing old and new. From showcasing ruins to volumetric reconstruction, the designer may take several approaches in response to variables such as cost, utility, or architectural stance.

Below, we have gathered some of the primary methods for the adaptive reuse of an existing structure. Though these methods are not mutually exclusive, and can be used in combination with each other, the four projects below demonstrate the effectiveness of each method in driving the renovation, reuse, and rebirth of an aging piece of architectural history.

Preservation of Ruins

Pombal Castle's Visitor Centre / COMOCO

Pombal Castle's Visitor Centre / COMOCO. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

Justification for the honest preservation of a structure can be multifaceted. Preserving the memory of an event, or embracing the effects of time and weather on a material, can all serve as primary design objectives. Preservation requires attention to detail, and a pragmatic approach that includes safely securing and supporting the existing structure upright. One must also consider modern requirements such as lighting, accessibility, signage, and public footfall.


Miguel Couto / Cité Arquitetura

Miguel Couto / Cité Arquitetura. Image © Fabio Fernandes

Retrofitting a structure involves using modern technologies, systems, and materials to reactivate and rehabilitate an aging building. This process is ideal for situations where occupational, planning, or health and safety regulations affect the design process. The result, if carried out with skill, is the preservation of heritage in tandem with the modern amenities and comfort of a contemporaneous building.

Volumetric Reconstruction

Baena Castle Restoration / José Manuel López Osorio

Baena Castle Restoration / José Manuel López Osorio. Image © Jesús Granada

When a ruin has lost its original volume, but records remain of its prior state through drawings, and documents, and visual clues, new architectural possibilities emerge. Volumetric reconstruction involves taking inspiration from original frames, roofs, walls, and decorative components, but avoids mimetic reconstruction of these elements. Instead, the use of materials and expression can change, offering a modern interpretation on a historic craft.

New Construction

Kalø Tower Visitor Access / MAP Architects + Mast Studio

Kalø Tower Visitor Access / MAP Architects + Mast Studio. Image © David A. Garcia

Beyond the restoration and repair of an existing structure, adaptive reuse may also involve a new construction to host additional functions that do not serve themselves to a historic structure. Several approaches are possible, depending on the designer’s brief, their attitude to the existing historic structure, and the extent to which they want to interact with it.

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Cite: Moreira, Susanna. "Adaptive Reuse: 4 Projects Giving New Life to Architectural Heritage" [Reuso adaptativo: 4 exemplos de como intervir no patrimônio arquitetônico] 14 Jan 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Peixoto Almeida, Amanda) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Pombal Castle's Visitor Centre / COMOCO. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG


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