The Best Form Of Adaptation

by Don Friedman on June 13, 2017

Former Sperry Gyroscope Factory, now offices:


Here’s a decent read on industrial innovation and incubation: Brooklyn’s Industrial Revolution. It’s got a nice description of some reuse of industrial buildings by potentially interesting businesses. The article doesn’t discuss the topic of adaptive reuse but it has, by absence, something to say on that topic.

I’ve talked about adaptive reuse here before, and it is often the only way to save a building. The vast majority of buildings need to have an economically-viable use to be preserved. Private owners typically spend money to repair and upgrade buildings only when there will be a return on their investment. Even non-profit owners want to be able to use their old buildings, not preserve them to  keep them on display empty. If the original use no longer exists or is no longer practical in the building, adaptive reuse is the way to go. For example, there are a number of old hotels in Manhattan that have been converted to office or apartment use because, in part, because they didn’t have running water in every room and therefore they eventually became functionally obsolete. They could have been upgraded in the 1920s or 30s, but instead they were converted.

That said, all uses are not interchangeable. We’ve had a conversion project recently that was cancelled because the large floor areas of an old industrial building was difficult to make work with modern requirements for windows in dwellings. We’ve had projects in converting residences to other uses that required a lot of structural work to upgrade the floor live-load capacity for the new occupancies. In other words, and unsurprisingly, all buildings are not interchangeable. They were built for a purpose and are often best suited to that purpose. The best adaptive reuse may well be the original use: the Brooklyn factories in the article have found a new use as factories.

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