Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a phrase we’ve all become accustomed to. Some products and materials are often recycled without much thought, such as B. Beverage packaging in states with deposit laws or plastic bags for groceries that are returned to the bin at the supermarket. Metal, glass and cardboard are other examples. Now think bigger. Think urban. Imagine entire buildings being transformed into a whole new space.
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Known as adaptive reuse, this practice is gaining momentum in the face of ever-growing environmental concerns. Adaptive reuse breathes new life into old buildings, and the process brings a multitude of benefits to the community, residents and the environment.
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Better for the community
Reusing buildings that are already taking up space in the city prevents the building from being demolished and helps preserve the roots of the community. Also, existing real estate is less expensive than new construction, giving community members more affordable options in their own neighborhoods.
Existing buildings already have the surrounding infrastructure. Therefore, the new owner has fewer obstacles in terms of parking and road access. An established site also often means surrounding residential and commercial buildings that provide a prefabricated community. Creating an urban center with accessible services means people are more likely to walk or bike, leaving cars and their toxic emissions off the streets.
Better for the environment
Embodied carbon is a massive problem for our environment. Every time we source new materials, we release carbon into the air through extraction, processing, manufacturing, packaging and transportation. This is before the material is even used in construction. The more we can reuse what is already on site, the less impact construction will have on the environment. Also, the reuse of materials significantly reduces the amount of waste associated with building demolition.
Additionally, avoiding new construction helps keep the land intact as there is no need to clear plants and trees or otherwise prepare the land. As we know, plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off the oxygen that we breathe. They also bind the carbon deep in the soil that is released when we lay the foundation for a new building.
Ava Alltmont, AIA, LEED AP, Associate and New Orleans Studio Director at Cushing Terrell, a multidisciplinary design studio, recently compiled a paper on “Land (Re)Use and Climate Change: Breathing New Life into Old Buildings,” she explained that the concept is more applicable than ever given the shaky businesses and empty storefronts resulting from the pandemic and economic downturn.
“When buildings are adapted for reuse, it can benefit both the businesses involved and the communities involved by reducing environmental impact, improving quality of life and preserving a sense of place,” Alltmont said.
Fortunately, many examples of this strategy can be seen in neighborhoods across the country. Chances are you’ve seen an old building transformed into a music venue, bohemian bar, remarkable restaurant, antique mall or loft apartment. According to Alltmont, adaptive reuse could be termed “renovation, modernization, historical preservation, infrastructure reuse, and additions, to name a few. And within those categories, there are even more flavors of adaptive reuse.”
Reusing more than just materials
Adaptive reuse is not without its challenges. In most cases, the building is decades or even centuries old. Systems need to be updated and working within the existing framework can be complicated. However, the benefits of a good location combined with the significantly reduced carbon footprint make adaptive reuse an effort that pays dividends in fresh air, reduced pollution, cultural rejuvenation and waste reduction.
With the global zeitgeist aiming to recognize the effects of climate change, adaptive reuse should receive the same attention as other forms of recycling. With a post-pandemic focus on wellness, the rise of work-from-home opportunities, a limited amount of available land to build on, and empty buildings dotting the landscape, it’s a perfect time for individuals and businesses to move into the investing idea.
A community movement
In summary, the idea of adaptive reuse means more than just reusing building materials. It’s a movement that cements an area’s history and culture, binds communities together, steers away from urban sprawl (and the traffic that comes with it), and offers more affordable real estate options.
“When we look back at the cyclical nature of recycling, it’s easy to see the business need for adaptive reuse,” concluded Alltmont. “If the decision to redesign an existing building is good for the environment, quality of life and a community’s sense of place, then it will attract more talent, residents and visitors to the city, thereby improving the local economy. It’s about reducing, reusing, recycling – and revitalizing.”
Via ModernCities and Ava Alltmont by Cushing Terrell
Images via Cushing Terrell