Preserving heritage does not mean the sacrifice of innovation. This is the case when it comes to the architectural process of adaptive reuse. The idea is nothing new, of course. Adaptive reuse has been put into practice since the 1960s, but today’s increasingly crowded cities make it more necessary than ever. Why are we constructing new building when serviceable old ones already exist?
An old cinema can perhaps be turned into a community hall. Or maybe that lofty factory would now be better off as a school. An old museum may find new life as a restaurant, or a restaurant may become a museum. The possibilities are endless, and all it takes is a little tweak to the buildings. As it is, restoration requires a lot less work compared to erecting a completely new structure from the ground up.
That does not even touch on the sustainability rationale of adaptive reuse. Construction materials have already been transported onto the site, for one thing. Old-growth lumber or seasoned bricks are said to be naturally stronger too. Then there is the historic value of old buildings. While we cannot preserve them as empty monuments – an act that is simply not practical, we should not be tearing them down along with their architectural value.
Quintessentially, adaptive reuse can help save memories. Just take a look at the five buildings below. Each one offers cultural value, not just from the stories they tell, but also in terms of their beautiful design, which has now been preserved for many generations to come.
The Zhongshan Building, Kuala Lumpur
The Zhongshan Building once stood as a mere row of shophouses that contained the Selangor Zhongshan Association, among other wholesale businesses. Believed to have been built in the 1950s, it has somehow found a new purpose as a new, cool hangout for like-minded artists and art lovers to inspire one another.
Today, despite its age, the Zhongshan Building is a bustling hub where Kuala Lumpur’s creative crowd gathers. Cool cafes, independent bookstores, niche art galleries and more can all be found here. The building even houses a listening room and music bar, plus a collaborative space for musicians to perform live.
Tate Modern, London
London’s famous Tate Modern is another building that has been adapted and reused. While now a museum, it once was a power station built and completed in two phases between 1947 and 1963. Architectural firm Herzog & De Meuron then won the bid to redesign the building in 1995 – leading to where it is now. The restoration took five years, whereby great pains were taken to maintain the original structure.
Subtle alterations, rather than grand gestures, and the introduction of more light via the enormous roof light box, is key to the successful repurpose without losing any of the old architecture.
Yuyuanlu Redevelopment, Shanghai
Located on the historic Yuyuan Road in Shanghai is a group of ten buildings that has been repurposed. It draws inspiration from vernacular Chinese urban architectural typologies, such as the hutong neighbourhoods or the nongtang alleyways.
According to architectural firm Neri&Hu, the project repackages a collection of perfunctory and nondescript offices into a mixed-use commercial complex – but with a sense of history, community and conviviality. Each building has its own distinct facade, yet they come together beautifully. There is even a well-designed modern restaurant to be found here, of which comprises an intimate dining area and open bar.
Allez Up Rock Climbing Gym, Montreal
Redeveloped from a sugar refinery’s abandoned silo, the Allez Up Rock Climbing Gym is certainly one of a kind. Flanking the Lachine Canal of Montreal, it is now a big tourist attraction.
The building’s previous purpose is honoured in the way its new architecture takes shape. It makes use of pure-white, angular climbing wall formations, which apparently resemble sugar cliffs. Not only that, the siding and outer metallic building envelope is said to pay tribute to the industrial and monolithic character of the previous site. Members of the gym can also scale the towering 125ft external wall, as well.
The Green Building, Louisville
Based on the relationship between design and sustainability, architectural firm (Fer) Studio transformed a 115-year-old former dry goods store into a 10,175 sqft mixed-use commercial space. Completed in 2008 and located in the East Market district of Louisville, the building has apparently become a catalyst of reinvigoration. The area is now considered the hip city centre for arts and sustainability.
The building employs sustainable technologies like a green roof, stormwater collection system, solar panels and geothermal wells. Materials from the original building were reused in its reconstruction too.
Cover Image: Richard Chivers/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.