Re-purposed Buildings: Finding Success Before the Bulldozers

As long as cities continue to evolve, there will be issues of abandoned spaces. Ideas about what to do with them are as diverse as the cities themselves. Some have been temporarily repurposed as community kitchens, and there is even a movement pushing to transform old shopping malls into homeless shelters, as they can function as a sort of transitional community for those in need.

There is also a divide between those who view the buildings as crumbling eyesores bringing down property values, and those who delight in their potential. There have been some highly successful conversions, and the possibilities seem nearly endless.

The Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam, for example, repurposed a former warehouse into a fun, contemporary eatery, and its success spurred the revitalization of the entire neighborhood. Similarly, a new creative district is underway in Liverpool in a massive endeavor to transform the old tobacco warehouse at Stanley Dock into luxury flats and shops.

On American soil, the Highland Mall project is considered one of the most successful instances of adaptive reuse ever attempted. When the shopping mall in Austin, Texas, began to die a slow death during the first decade of this millennium, the nearby Austin Community College stepped in, purchased the space via bond election in 2010, and created a “learning emporium,” complete with 604 computer stations, 200,000 square feet of instructional space, a library, and offices.

The transformation created hundreds of jobs, and in development are plans for a regional-workforce center, a STEM simulator lab, a digital-media center, and a culinary and hospitality center. Phase one opened in 2014, with Phase two on the calendar to debut in 2019.

Are these success stories financial flukes? Not according to a report by Deloitte, based on studies suggesting that “compared with a new construction, adaptive reuse and restoration can be 16 percent cheaper in terms of construction costs and take 18 percent less execution time.”

The benefit to the environment is a large consideration in repurposing as well, and the report speaks to this: “Also, if repurposing is done with smart and sustainable features in mind, it can help improve building performance and valuation.”


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