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What is adaptive reuse architecture and why is it important?

Making better use of existing structures is one of the most important things we can do in light of the climate change emergency.

It's unsustainable for us to simply demolish an existing structure and construct a new one — both environmentally and in terms of destroying a unique piece of cultural history. That's why green, or adaptive reuse architecture is becoming so important in the industry, and beyond.

So, what is green architecture?

Green, or sustainable architecture looks at how we can make better use of the buildings we've already got, by using an existing structure or location for a new objective and function. It differs from renovation, which entails altering or enlarging a structure, and from facadism, which describes demolishing an ageing structure and keeping only its facade.

Also called adaptive reuse architecture, this kind of architecture mostly focuses on giving old structures new lives on the inside. As you can imagine, this often requires some really creative ideas on how to accomplish these goals while honouring a building's history, as well as making sure everything looks great.

One of the best examples of adaptive reuse architecture in Queensland is Brisbane's Midtown Centre. The project involved joining together two high-rises in neighbouring city blocks. Architects were able to combine the two structures in a campus-style layout, maximising cross-city connectivity and creating a new shared laneway space.

What are the benefits of adaptive reuse?

The main objective of green architecture can be looked at simply from the perspective of the saying we've all heard before: reduce, reuse, recycle. It's about breathing new life into an otherwise old structure. Restoring the entire site and preserving its components as much as you can is what sustainable architecture entails.

The practice of adaptive reuse benefits sustainability in three main ways:

Environmental sustainability practises are at the core of adaptive reuse which means we aren't using as many materials or creating as much waste as we would if we were building from scratch. It also saves on energy consumption, putting fewer greenhouses gases into the atmosphere.

Environmental sustainability could also lead to better economic sustainability: the less human power, machine power and materials we need, the cheaper it is to complete a project. It's important to note however, that as adaptive reuse architecture is still an emerging form it can be more expensive and time consuming. This is in the short term, as we continue to refine, streamline and develop how we do green architecture.

Further to the opportunity for economic sustainability, adaptive reuse benefits social sustainability. By maintaining old structures, we are preserving their historical and cultural significance and giving more people the opportunity to explore and learn from the past.

Want to learn more? Catch up with Tom – one of our lecturers in built environment and a career architect. In his webinar, Tom talks about climate change and the impacts this has on the building design industry, with a particular focus of adaptive reuse and why this industry trend is important in today’s environment.