What is Adaptive Reuse?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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Adaptive reuse is a term that refers to finding new applications or uses for older structures that are not connected with the original functions of those structures. Sometimes known as building recycling or structure repurposing, this approach calls for reworking the interior layout of the structure as a means of making it suitable for some new purpose. In some cases, adaptive reuse also calls for altering or adapting the fa├žade of the building to bring it more into line with its new function.

The process of adaptive reuse is relatively straightforward. A structure that is no longer in use is assessed for its potential in some new application. If the basic structure is sound and the location of the building is conducive to the proposed new purpose, the property is purchased and any necessary changes are made to the interior to make it conform to those new purposes. In many cases, this creative building adaptation serves to not only revitalize the older building, but also to provide new life and energy in the surrounding area. Many cities engage in adaptive reuse as a means of revitalizing older areas that are no longer capable or necessary in their current form, but have potential to attract citizens once the buildings in the area are repurposed.


There are many different examples of adaptive reuse. One common scenario in many metropolitan areas is the conversion of older warehouses into living quarters, usually in the form of lofts or condominiums. With this application, there is usually some attempt to retain some of the architectural features of the building, such as exposed brick, large windows, and exposed beams. The interior space is divided into several distinct apartments, with plumbing and wiring added to make the units functional as well as appealing. Recycling of this type makes it possible to create additional residential spaces by converting an area that was once a thriving business district, but no longer serves that purpose.

Even in small towns and communities, adaptive reuse can take place. Homes are sometimes purchased by small religious groups and converted into a house of worship by removing or adding walls and other elements to the interior space. In like manner, churches and other houses of worship may be adapted to provide space for new schools or a community theater. Post offices that have been closed are sometimes purchased and redesigned to function as space for a retail business. Gas stations can even be converted into trendy restaurants, retaining some of the design elements of the past but altering and adding whatever is needed to create a pleasant atmosphere for the diners.


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