Architectural Reuse

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C. Architectural Reuse
People are happiest in buildings where change occurs at every scale from weeks to centuries. Such buildings are fractals in time. —Stewart Brand

Architectural reuse processes include adaptive reuse, conservative disassembly, and reusing salvaged materials. This definition is broad and inclusive permitting many different interpretations; however, the underlying objective is that architectural reuse be understood as an evolutionary process occurring over time.

Figure 29: Adaptive reuse of an old railroad grain elevator into a mixed use garden store and residence: Stookey’s Feed and Garden, Moscow, Idaho

Unit C • Recycling and Reuse • 57

C.1.1 Discussion: Adaptive Reuse
Like ecological succession, adaptive reuse deals with directional change, a gentle and unpredictable temporal shift in the whole basis of the building’s structure and function: the succession of the built environment. Adaptive reuse “slows nutrient loss” while contributing to the diversity, complexity, and continuity of a particular place. Genuine places worthy of our affections are created through the process of adaptation. The Geography of Nowhere by James Kunstler presents a very readable argument for preventing the uncritical new construction of “placelessness.” According to Kunstler, The average citizen, who went to school in a building modeled on a shoe factory, who works in a suburban office park, who lives in a raised ranch house, who vacations in Las Vegas, would not recognize a building of quality if a tornado dropped it in his yard. But the professional architects, who ought to know better, have lost almost as much ability to discern the good from the bad, the human from the antihuman.1 Adaptive reuse is the process of changing a building’s function to accommodate the changing needs of its users. This phenomenon is examined in Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built (New York: Viking, 1994). This excellent book is a comprehensive investigation of what happens to buildings over time. Preserving a building and its function may be acceptable under circumstances relating to extraordinary historical events, but not for the vast majority of existing structures. Although the linking of landmark events and buildings can result in landmark buildings deserving of historic preservation, the reality of escalating property taxes and land values forces even the most pure preservationist to take a second look at adaptive reuse. Reuse is a form of preservation, and can be accomplished in a respectful way as demonstrated by the Pickering Barns ECO Center. Adaptive reuse can also serve as point of departure for other related issues such as derelict infrastructure, industry, and landscapes. Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington, is an example of how an abandoned industrial site can be resurrected as a public park. Although the ground remains polluted, the rusting hulks of a previous time grace human

Figure 30: Pickering Barns ECO Center (See C.1.2 Case Study)

Figure 31: Gas Works Park, Seattle, Washington

58 • Recycling and Reuse • Unit C

play and community vitality. However, the romanticism of industrialism is shadowed by warning signs that inform us of soil toxicity. Similar forsaken spaces exist everywhere in the form of decaying railroad yards, quarries, mills, farms, silos, and factories. The benefits of reuse extend far beyond the conservation of our cultural legacy. Old buildings can be economical through tax credits and lower acquisition, demolition, and material costs. Available utilities and public services can also lower site preparation costs. For example, the Environmental Resource Center in Downey, California, reused its old office building, decreasing site work costs by 50%2. Adaptive reuse of whole buildings conserves natural resources and the energy required to extract, process, and transport building materials. Open space is preserved by avoiding the urban sprawl that...
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