How can contractors lead the way and embrace adaptive reuse?

274 Last modified by the author on 05/09/2023 - 22:00
How can contractors lead the way and embrace adaptive reuse?

Adaptive reuse is great for the environment as well as local communities. Renovating disused structures is exciting but it can also be daunting. How can contractors make sure they set up their adaptive reuse strategies for success?

Benefits of adaptive reuse

Adaptive reuse is the process of reusing existing buildings and infrastructure for new purposes. These structures are often run down, no longer in use or abandoned. However, buildings that have seen better days are usually still structurally stable. In fact, many such buildings were once icons of the local community.

Adaptive reuse updates and remodels these structures to serve a new purpose, often something designed for the public good. In fact, one of the main benefits of adaptive reuse is better community engagement and quality of life. Adaptive reuse reduces the number of outdated structures in urban areas, limiting sprawl and improving property values.

Additionally, adaptive reuse promotes sustainability by recycling existing buildings and all the materials, work, and money that went into them. Demolition accounts for 90% of construction debris, so reducing the need to demolish old buildings is highly beneficial. Adaptive reuse eliminates noise, air and particulate pollution, and wasted construction materials.

Implementing adaptive reuse strategies is good for construction companies and city planners, as well. It can lead to significant project cost savings and shorter timelines. Most of the structure is already there. In many ways, adaptive reuse is simply large-scale renovation. Architects and project stakeholders can often get a good ROI since they are refreshing an old building with a low initial value.

Adaptive reuse strategies for contractors

Adaptive reuse may seem like an exciting idea considering all its benefits. But how can contractors go about executing adaptive reuse strategies? There are several actionable tactics they can get started with.

Research community needs

Community research should be one of the first steps in any adaptive reuse strategy. This construction strategy is most successful when it maintains the heritage of a local landmark but gives it new life in a way that continues to serve the community.

For example, Union Station in Denver, Colorado, has been revitalized numerous times over its multi-century life span. City planners and contractors implemented adaptive reuse strategies several times to keep this building relevant as community needs changed. For instance, today, it mainly serves as a transportation hub to and from the airport, with modern dining and shopping areas.

Contractors can use various strategies to gauge community needs. For instance, it could be as simple as walking the streets around the aging building and asking passersby what they think of the structure. Research the area's history to get an idea of the role the building once played. Contractors can also send out surveys to residents asking what they want to see added to the city.

All this information can paint a picture of what an unoccupied structure was once for, how its role in the community changed, how it’s currently perceived and the needs it might be able to fill. Contractors can use that information to direct their design ideas.

Utilize reclaimed materials

Reclaimed materials are great for the environment, save money and align with the social goals of adaptive reuse. These are recycled building materials salvaged from other projects, such as buildings scheduled for demolition. Lumber and bricks are typical examples of reclaimed materials.

Using recycled building materials is a great way to reduce the cost of an adaptive reuse project and helps dodge supply chain issues. If another structure in the area isn’t a good fit for adaptive reuse, consider inquiring about salvaging materials from it for any new construction the adaptive reuse project needs.

A great example of the creative use of reclaimed materials is the Kendeda Building, located on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus. Project leaders designed the Kendeda Building with an emphasis on sustainability, down to every material used. They reclaimed over 25,000 feet of wood from film sets in Atlanta, which were used for floorboards and stairs in the Kendeda Building.

Contractors can search for big events like movies filming in the local area to inquire about reclaiming their building materials after the event. Materials can even be reclaimed from the structure that’s getting revitalized.

Remember — there are a variety of ways to recycle construction materials, even if they’re not currently usable. For instance, contractors could convert crumbling bricks or concrete into aggregate for new bricks or paving stones.

Rethink demolition

Demolition is the antithesis of adaptive reuse. Not only does it create excessive pollution, but it’s also expensive and wastes valuable materials. Contractors looking to implement adaptive reuse strategies should begin by questioning whether demolition is necessary for any disused structure they work with.

A great example of the case against demolition is the High Line in New York City. Today, it’s one of the most popular parks in the city. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was considered an “eyesore” and the mayor at the time — Rudy Guiliani — even ordered it to be demolished. Luckily, the non-profit Friends of the High Line advocated for revitalizing the section of disused elevated rails. 

Now the High Line is a cultural hub and a local landmark beloved by New York residents and tourists alike. It’s a much-needed green space in the middle of an urban area and even brought revitalization efforts back to the surrounding industrial neighborhood.

Optimize what is already existing

Implementing an adaptive reuse strategy is all about using what’s already available in a new way. Trying to change the existing structure too much will negate the benefits of adaptive reuse.

For instance, there were better spaces than the High Line in New York City for a theme park, pool or building. The project leaders recognized that they had a long strip of open-air space, which was perfect for a park. 

The goal is to maximize the use of the existing space. Contractors can maintain the appearance of the outside of the structure while renovating the interior. Likewise, they can preserve the iconic shape of a building while adding new design elements to it. This strategy was used at Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly the famous Sears Tower.

Consider the surrounding neighborhood, too. What’s missing? Does it need more green space, amenities, entertainment or shopping areas? What assets does the structure in question already have? Identify these and consider how they can match up to any missing needs in the area.

Revitalizing with adaptive reuse strategies

Contractors can use adaptive reuse strategies to bring a breath of fresh air to communities and aging structures. It’s a great way to promote sustainability, reduce waste and bring new value to urban spaces. Contractors should focus on avoiding demolition, using reclaimed materials and taking a community-first design approach. With these strategies, they can kick start any adaptive reuse strategy.


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Emily Newton