To reduce releasing more carbon and pollutants into the environment, we should reuse existing structures, instead of building new from a tabula rasa. There is enough building inventory in the urban environment for our uses, especially after COVID, and reusing a building requires less energy and gives the architect a chance to creatively work with context. This is popular now, and many of the exciting contemporary projects in cities are based on this idea of renovation and renewal, but we hope this is not just a fad. It shouldn’t be, and we should try to condense the population into or near urban spaces with multiple modes of transportation. By providing density, we pull people and uses closer together, require less driving time and create communities. By reusing existing structures, we limit our footprint on the environment, and we improve areas that have seen better times.

To reuse a building, we must have a strategy on how to develop the existing structure. Here is a strategy that is meant to work on most project types. (This is a beginning and is not meant to be a definitive method yet).

  1. Determine Project ProgramThe first step in the project is to find what use will be designed for. This is either given by the client or developed by the architect and client. This program defines the spatial and volumetric requirements, as well as the number of people using the spaces. When developing the program, it is important to ensure that the spatial requirements and programmatic relationships are somewhat flexible, as the building to be used is likely not designed for the same program. Flexibility allows creativity in the allocation and demarcation of space.
  2. Choose Area for ProgramThe general urban area for the program will be determined by client needs, but should also be heavily influenced by access to transportation, walkability, and neighboring or nearby uses. It is best to not be hemmed in by Euclidean zoning, instead the neighboring blocks and structures should house all of the elements for people to live–clean air, food, drink, shelter, security, jobs or supporting services, healthcare, restaurants, bars and lounges, parks, family care, retail, religious needs, and activities. If the neighboring area doesn’t have some of these, can you add these to the building program?
  3. Find Suitable BuildingsOnce you have the suitable area, you need to find a suitable structure. What is a suitable structure? It isn’t necessarily a building that already has the same program as what you would like to inject into the building–that is very unlikely to happen. Instead, you want to find a structure that has the total spatial needs as determined in the development of the program, and you need to be flexible, with an open mind. There is no reason why you cannot subdivide a larger space or knock out walls to make way for programmatic use.
  4. Test Program in BuildingsNext, you should place the program into the structure, testing it at least three ways. This can be arduous, but it opens your mind, and it gives options. When you have found a building that meets the spatial necessities, try another building in the area. Make three options for it. Do this as many times as necessary, but then compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of the schemes and the buildings. This analysis helps zero in on the building choice.
  5. Determine BuildingWhen you have compared and contrasted the buildings, you will find that one or two are good candidates, and you can look at the buildings from other angles, such as urban connection, light access, noise pollution, and cost. When choosing the building, do not expect it to be perfect–this pretty much never happens. But, don’t think about this a negative, but a positive. You will find the constraints and problems are what make your reused structure sing. Highlight and circle these areas because these will require work, but they will be the most rewarding.
  6. Test Urban Program Integrated with BuildingOnce you have sketched out the general layout of the program in the existing building, pull back and look at the urban condition–how can the building integrate with the city? Added courtyards? Openings? Park space? Hardscape and seating areas? What about the tree program? Are trees currently lining the existing streets and parks? Should the line your site and building? Are there other amenities such as transportation access, storage, and seating? How can this building be a good neighbor? Are there other building projects nearby that you can share an urban strategy with?
  7. Alter Building and Program to Needs (Design)Rinse and repeat
  8. DocumentationDetails come from the new and the connection.
  9. ConstructionHow do you keep the cost down? Materials? Labor? Automation where possible. Limit mobilization and laborers.

(To Be Continued)


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