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Adaptive Reuse: A “Major Force” in the Market

by John Brydon-Harris on July 11th, 2017

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Merriam-Webster defines adaptive reuse as “the renovation and reuse of pre-existing structures (such as warehouses) for new purposes.”

And while this is hardly a new idea, a lot has changed since 1967. In that year, the Jefferson Market Library, formerly the Jefferson Market Courthouse, was opened by the New York Public Library system as a branch, becoming one of the first such conversions.

Still in operation, the “old Jeff” led the way for many other adaptive reuse projects across North America – from the conversions of factories and warehouses into lofts to the redevelopment of an indoor mall into “micro-units” and an unused rail line into a park.

As an article in the Observer notes, “The Jefferson Market Library ultimately set the stage for more creative and unexpected adaptive reuse projects, and adaptive reuse would emerge as a major force in the modern real estate market.”

As a concept, adaptive reuse achieves two key purposes: maintaining the façade of historic buildings while totally revolutionizing their function, and responding to the need for more (and different) types of housing in industrial urban areas. Notes a recent post in Forbes, “As cities evolved, centrally located buildings that once served a non-residential purpose (e.g., mills, factories, warehouses) are now placed in areas that present attractive residential opportunities.”

Comments Alex Herrera, a director at the New York Landmarks Conservancy, “Adaptive reuse is here to stay. Now, any architect worth his salt has a few of these projects.”

New technology enabled adaptive reuse projects. And, as Herrera points out, so did European immigrants skilled in restoring old buildings, who began arriving in North America in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, challenges abound in rejigging old buildings to conform to current health and safety standards.

There are usually unanticipated costs that appear in all stages of a project, and some buildings – churches in particular – can be hard to convert. In some cases, developers must clean up brownfield lands before construction can begin.

Once facing demolition, many heritage buildings across the country have been re-created to serve a new purpose.

As the Gardiner Green Ribbon group, supporters of a recreational park over Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, suggests, “Adaptive reuse is significantly more sustainable than creating new structures … and keeps unnecessary waste out of landfills.”

Case in point: The Evergreen Brickworks is an abandoned former industrial site composed of several brick-making factories.

It was envisioned as a community centre in the early 1990s, and over the years, the polluted soil has been remediated, shells of former buildings have been renovated and new structures have been added.

As a “green” centre, it now hosts workshops and events, and has become a popular attraction to Toronto residents and tourists alike.

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