Adaptive Reuse Examples
Tate Modern, London: Tate museum branch dedicated to modern art museum housed in the former Bankside Power Station. Bankside Power Station has been transformed into Tate Modern by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The former Turbine Hall, running the whole length of the vast building, now marks a breathtaking entrance to the gallery. This example is one of many that succinctly illustrate how new floors in a modern skin can provide a rich contrast to the old.

Sustainability Assessment and Discussion

Energy Consumption

An existing building represents used energy. Demolishing it dissipates that energy, mostly to waste, with another energy expenditure, and recycling of construction waste is no minor operation, also contributing to emissions by way of crushing or melting and transportation off demolition site. A new building, though, comprises a significant improvement in energy use over time because of efficiency measures, and may have a subjective positive impact on the quality of life of a community and the quality of the place. Wayne Trusty and Jamie Meil used LCA “to gauge the environmental implications of retaining the structure of an existing building instead of replacing it with a new structure.”  They found that a new building standard in Canada consumed far less energy than the existing building standard, as much as a “2.5 fold improvement in annual operating energy use.” In order to achieve this efficiency, there needs to be a significant density in the new building envelope, which then represents more embodied energy - as much as 15% more.

New construction is intensive in fossil fuels, especially for those involved in the production of concrete (heat and energy to process limestone and clay). Glass, aluminum, and steel all require a lot of heat to produce. The cost and emission burden of transporting manufactured or synthetic materials can be less than the emissions burden of concrete or masonry construction. Trusty & Meil found in their study that the new construction of approx. 22,000sq.m. distributed in thirteen floors equaled almost 8,000 CO2 tonnes and another nearly 2,000 CO2 tonnes in the demolition of the existing building. From these results we can roughly say that demolition can equal ¼ of the emissions of the new construction that takes its place without adding more floor area. Crushing of materials such as concrete for use in the paving of roads is also energy intensive and produces emissions.


New construction intensively consumes many non-renewable resources. According to Binnie & Carpenter, the only true renewable resource used in construction is sustainably grown and harvested timber.  Beyond that, most raw materials are minerals such as brick clay, sand and stone aggregate from gravel, or rock from diverse sources. Cement needs quarried limestone and clay. Steel demands iron ore, which mainly comes from large mines such as those in north-west Australia. Binnie & Carpenter state that “concern has been expressed that insufficient work is being done to promote recycling of constructional materials and this will become a bigger topic in the future.”

Innovation and Change

Although AR is enjoying a resurgence in many places and for different reasons, including a strong drive to memorialize the past, the actual tradition goes back millennia. The cost of disposal and the burdens of waste sorting drive the desire for AR. Simultaneously, the post-industrial landscape of twenty-first century cities includes some deplorable and even contaminated sites which commonly offer new chances for erasure and reinitiation of a high-quality urban design process. Consequently, structures have to be demolished. Reuse of building components and recycling of building materials still has many technical limitations, but it is practiced more commonly in Europe than in the United States. Countries like the Netherlands have very limited raw materials and very little land available for landfill. The Oresund Link project in Copenhagen from 1993 called for the demolition of several houses of which most of the windows, doors, boards, and timber were reused, and concrete and masonry were used for construction material. 90 to 95% of the demolished material was reused or recycled.  John Rivers of MIT’s Department of Facilities informs us that 97% of the past phase of Media Lab demolition work on the MIT campus was reused or recycled.

Alternative AR Urban Design Proposition

Suggested References
Latham, D. Creative Re-use of Buildings I & II. Donhead, Dorset, 2000.


Cambridge Historical Commission. Cambridgeport: Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971.

Campagna, B.A, L. Schneekloth, & M. F. Feuerstein. Changing Places : Remaking Institutional Buildings. White Pine Press, Fredonia, NY, 1992.

Goumans, J.J.J.M., H.A. van der Sloot, Th. G. Aalbers, eds. Environmental Aspects of Construction with Waste Materials, Elsevier: Studies in Environmental Science 60, New York, 1994.

Powell, K. Architecture Reborn: Converting Old Buildings for New Uses. Rizzoli, New York, 1999.

  Latham, Derek. Creative Re-Use of Buildings, Volume One: Principles and Practice Donhead, Dorset, 2000. pp. 3-10.
  Latham, p. 6
  The term ‘palimpsest’ refers to writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased, and can also be used to indicate something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface. The city of Rome is the classic example of architectural palimpsest, since so many building phases have been layered over time.
  Trusty, Wayne and Jamie Meil. The Environmental Implications of Building New Versus Renovating an Existing Structure, Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, Canada, October 2000.   Available from: http://www.athenasmi.ca/
  Binnie, C.J.A. and T.G. Carpenter. “The Legacy of Twentieth-century Construction- Challenges for the Future” in The Environmental Impact of Construction, T.G. Carpenter, ed. Wiley, New York, 2001.
  Binnie & Carpenter, p. 301
  Lauritzen, E.K. “Environmental Management in Large Construction Projects” in Environmental Aspects of Construction with Waste Materials. J.J.J.M. Goumans, H.A. van der Sloot, and Th.G. Aalbers eds. Elsevier Science, B.V. 1994.
  The subsequent phases of the East Campus imitative call for the demolition of two to three buildings, depending on funding. Source: John Rivers, AIA, Senior Project Development Manager, MIT Department of Facilities.
  Cambridge Historical Commission. Cambridgeport: Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. p. 137
Tate Modern, London UK
Reuse Project
Abandoned factory buildings in North Adams, Mass., have been transformed into MASS MoCA, one of the foremost contemporary art museums in the country. Restaurants have now opened and nearby buildings have been converted for use as upscale lodging, expanding the economic impact of the original investment.