View looking south down
Wadsworth St. at the new
volume study between
buildings E55 & E48.
Some in the architectural community roughly define Adaptive Reuse (AR), or simply Re-use, as â€œthe process
that adapts buildings for new uses while retaining their historic features.â€� A more accurate description of AR is
to prolong the period from cradle-to-grave of 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. Not only buildings of historic
significance can be infused with new life. Out of necessity and environmental consciousness emerges a broader
view of AR.
What is AR?
To prolong 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. Reuse, readaptation,
reappropriation of existing or built structures has remote historical precedents. In antiquity, durable, sturdy
structures of stone and masonry outlived empires and often changed program many times. In modernity, the desire
to preserve historical buildings and neighborhoods emerged in many Western countries out of various romanticist,
nationalistic, and historicist streams. Today, the imperative to extend the life cycle of a structure is related to various
sustainability goals: sprawl minimization, preservation of virgin materials, and energy conservation. Also, many
Western cities are changing dramatically as industrial operations more often than not move to the South and the
East leaving massive, sturdy buildings vacant. Institutional nature is also changing with many old hospitals,
sanatoriums, military buildings, and even office blocks becoming redundant. AR becomes a means to revitalize
urban life and declining neighborhoods.
What other reasons could support a decision to adapt an existing building? According to Derek Latham, there can
be five imperatives for AR.
â€¢ First, the building under consideration has an archeological value. In many cases, the public sector
subsidizes projects that salvage a building that has an â€œintrinsic valueâ€� as â€œarchitectural evidence for
present and future generations.â€� These cases often involve meticulous restoration and preservation and may or
may not meet the goals of sustainability, yet by virtue of being subsidized, they present a development incentive.
â€¢ Second, the building under consideration is a visual amenity or a cultural contribution. Latham is referring to
structures which are popularly perceived to support civic pride, community cohesiveness, and local identity. Reuse
intermixed with new buildings creates â€œserendipity â€“ a sort of pleasant surprise arising from contrasting new
elements that emanate from our own culture with those valued from the past.â€� Another term for this is â
â€¢ Third, reuse of the building under consideration can make economic sense. The overall goals of this report
involve the criteria beyond economic valuations. That being said, it is rather obvious that anyone considering
adaptive reuse must carefully asses all line items that might be involved in adaptation versus the long-term energy
savings. Reuse can involve surgical removal of dangerous and degraded toxic building materials that were widely
used during the 20th century. Reuse can involve difficult HVAC retrofits and thermal improvements. On the other
hand, demolition can involve expensive waste management procedures. New rules demand sorting of certain
materials for recycling and heavy waste can cost much to transport off site. It is also worthwhile to acknowledge that
some structures are in such states of disrepair and decay that it might more feasible to salvage or recycle some or
all portions of them rather than submit to a difficult readaptation. We are confident that MIT has a handle on waste
management vs. energy costs.
â€¢ Fourth, the building under consideration has a functional value. Often times AR means finding the most
suitable use or uses for the building rather than tailoring the building to its new use. In other terms, we must learn
to adapt to what we have as much as adapt what we have to us.
â€¢ Fifth, the building under consideration fills a psychological need. Gradual evolution of the built environment as
opposed to sudden changes have different effects on society as a whole. There would not be sufficient room in this
text to fully discuss these two opposing directions.