Adaptive reuse, the architecture of reusability

In one of my travels to Europe, particularly to Hungary, I saw a place that used to be an industrial area where factories produced ammunition during the Second World War. Now, these mid-rise factories in downtown Budapest have recently been transformed into a vibrant and dynamic cultural and residential place where Hungarians go to watch theater, dances and enjoy the arts.

I was given a tour and education by local architects Balazs Orlovits of Zoboki Design and Architecture together with Johanna Janossy of Archiflex Studio Epitesziroda. They were involved in recreating the New Dance Theatre using the old industrial factory buildings, now transformed into the beautiful Millenáris Park.

The local government revitalized the district. And now, it has become a fantastic place teeming with people, booming with good economics and cultural activities.

Adaptive reuse in architecture is defined as the process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was initially built or assigned for. This can be an attractive option for new construction in terms of sustainability and economic consideration.

The process, to a certain degree, saves or preserves discarded or unkempt buildings from its destructive fate and finds them a newer purpose. Although it looks like a sentimental effort to save buildings, it is more of ensuring these structures or its materials don’t go to waste.

Typically linked to preserving or conserving old cities with rich histories, old buildings may also be called historic buildings if they are more than 50 years old and have significant historical appeal.

Unfortunately, most cities and communities think that newer structures define progress. They have not considered that progress also means upgrading and refurbishing old buildings. They have not seen the value of materials as they age. European countries like Italy, France, Czech Republic and many more have a lot of inspirations in their structures. They have preserved facades and old towns.

In terms of investment, restoring buildings cost less. New work opportunities are also provided as more people are hired for employment.

Somehow, I am not quite sure if old structures — and I am not referring to historic structures — receive tax incentives and credit from local governments if they get renovated for adaptive reuse. This should be offered to pursue restoration of old structures.

So what do we get out of adaptive reuse? On a technical point of view, the architectural and structural components of old buildings are preserved or even enhanced to make it relevant to the present and future generations. An example of this is the ruins of St. Paul Cathedral in Macau.

Second, the historical significance of the community is saved from demolition, and future generations may eventually appreciate the past. Third, old structures that were less significant in terms of their original purpose are now innovated for a newer role to play. Fourth, the original exterior look is maintained or restored to their original state or of its historical value.

Architects are good at this as they are historically educated. They pursued a specialty field on preservation and conservation, have a knack for details, and understand the soul of innovating existing structures.

I realized that adaptive reuse adds life to a building while saving or reducing costs.

This is on top of preserving its beautiful aesthetics, preventing or limiting unnecessary waste, acquiring its significant features, reconstructing rich history and texture, and protecting the environment.

The challenge today is for property developers to do more adaptive reuse projects on some of our decaying and significant buildings.