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Benefits of Preservation of Buidlings through Adaptive Reuse and Sustainable Architecture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 5132 words Published: 15th Mar 2021

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How can the preservation of buildings through adaptive reuse and sustainable architecture benefit society and the planet while maintaining the importance of social well-being compared to the demolishment and reconstruction method used in the past? Adaptive reuse is giving outlived buildings a new purpose and function while maintaining parts of their original features. For example, an old factory may turn into a museum and an abandoned church may be redesigned into a restaurant. While some believe that tearing down buildings is progressive because allows room for something new, adaptive reuse enables the preservation of the past while still planning for the future. This issue of tearing down buildings occurred when society began to change after the abundance of large masonry buildings in the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century and the great commercial buildings of the twentieth century. The movement to preserve architecture and protect historic structures began in in the mid-1960s in America. The idea of adaptive reuse and preservation has continued to be ingrained in society in the generations after and has reached beyond commercial properties. However, since the cost for repurposing and restoration is often more expensive than demolishing and rebuilding, designers must take into consideration the cost for creating a new functional space. Another component to consider with rehabilitation and reuse is sustainability. Sustainable architecture limits the environmental impact when designing and constructing buildings and strives to achieve energy efficiency. Natural ventilation, orientation of sunlight, and use of biomass are taken into consideration when designing sustainable architecture. Furthermore, it incorporates materials that are studied specifically to engage with the environment and its characteristics. Since the main objects for this form of architecture is to recycle, these buildings are constructed with materials that are easily retrieved and reused. This making deposing of the materials eco-friendly because it does not cause any pollution. Unsustainable ways of living and development, environmental degradation, and deposits of sewage are a few examples why the planet is degrading and is in need for sustainable urban development in order to improve lives of urban populations and the planet. While sustainability involves reducing energy use and waste, it also defines how people inhabit the space. Social well-being is taken into consideration and involves people’s satisfaction, security, and comfort that corresponds to that specific environment that the building is located in. Sustainable libraries, such as Christchurch Library and Service Centre located in New Zealand and others, are case studies of the research topic on sustainability because of the choice of low-impact materials, energy efficiency, and on-site waste management. This project’s mission consisted of providing a library building for the community in Christchurch. It contains social benefits because the formal and informal meeting rooms, a display space, a café, and offices for the community constable allow for occupants to interact with one another. Furthermore, this building’s main component is its environmental sustainability and energy use. It contains passive low-energy design through the building north orientation and large roof overhangs that optimize solar penetrations and aquifer water in the building’s main supply. The materials of Christchurch consist of sustainably sourced timber and timber veneers, recycled content materials, and polystyrene sheet insulation and pipe lagging that are CFC and HCFC free. Also, this research provides another example of how preservation work together in the Harvard University Operations Services headquarters. This example proves that although there may be challenges with preservation and sustainability, there are ways to overcome it and be innovative with new design methods. Overall, this research addresses the issues corresponding with adaptive reuse and sustainable architecture and highlights the importance of them in society today.

Sustainability Begins with Preservation

Since historical buildings have intrinsic values and serve as reminders of a city or town’s culture and past, adaptive reuse and sustainable architecture are alternatives to demolishing and reconstructing these architecture treasures while also benefiting the environment and maintaining the importance of social well-being. With adaptive reuse, it allows the ability for outlived buildings to be born again with a new purpose and function while still maintaining parts of their original feature. Although people believe tearing down buildings provides opportunities for reconstruction something new, adaptive reuse enables the preservation of the past while still moving forward in innovation. Demolishing buildings made the strongest appearance in society after the Industrial Revolution and the great commercial buildings of the twentieth century because of the abundance of large masonry buildings. In response to this issue, the movement to preserve architecture and protect historic structures began in the mid-1960s in America. While adaptive reuse can restore historical values, it is unharmful to the environment. The growing percentage of carbon dioxide emissions can be directly or indirectly caused by construction and building operations. Therefore, the production of more energy-efficient buildings and sustainable architecture is strongly desired. Adaptive reuse entails less energy and is relevant to climate change adaptation agenda because of its ability to recycle resources. Although there are many benefits to adaptive reuse and sustainable architecture, the cost for repurposing and restoration is often more expensive than tearing down and rebuilding. Therefore, this approach in designing new functional spaces in existing buildings might be a challenge to achieve financially.

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 During the Industrial Revolution, people began to move past crafting by hand and towards using machines to produce in mass quantities in factories due to the introduction of iron making and other industries.[1] Although these new advancements in the eighteenth century shaped the world today, it brought negative effects to the environment due to the toxic fossil fuels and mass production that was introduced at the time. As a result, businesses and citizens today are fighting to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources and applying corporate sustainability goals. The Industrial Revolution also resulted in an abundance of masonry buildings. Although these building were advantageous at the time, they began to deteriorate over time. Thus, it brought up the question of whether we should demolish or try to preserve historic buildings. This has been a difficult question to answer for many years because there are a lot of different factors that need to be taken into consideration. For example, one must decide if the property should be used as it was originally or given a new purpose that has materials, spaces, and spatial relationships thought out carefully.1 Also, the existing condition of the building is to be analyzed and determined on whether its damages are severe or not, and whether the repair will match the old design or not.1 This was an issue when an abundance of masonry buildings were constructed in the Industrial Revolution and in the great commercial building boom. This time period consisted of buildings, such as sprawling brick factories or elegant stone skyscrapers, that were advantageous and had definitive purposes for their time. However, due to the decrease of railroads after the interstate highway system in 1950s and the expansion of the internet in conducting businesses in 1990s, these historical buildings were deteriorating. While others believed in tearing down to start over, architects and activists, like Philip Johnson and Jane Jacobs, supported the preservation of buildings. The demolishment of buildings like the old Beaux-Arts Penn Station, designed by McKim Mead in 1901, sparked the movement to enforce the preservation of architecture. This legally protected historic buildings and structures in America during the mid 1960s and slowly progressed to each city.2 Ever since the idea of adaptive reuse was introduced, it has progressively been ingrained in society to change how people approach outdated buildings today. Additionally, preservation and changing use has moved beyond commercial properties and towards residential architecture.

It may be easier to demolish buildings, but preservation has many more advantages. The community benefits culturally because historic buildings provide a tangible presence of history and past eras and ties to people’s memories because it is a re-representation of the past. Memories are unique to each individual and are constantly shifting and changing throughout life, so historic buildings provide different experiences for each person and allows for personal connections to a site. Additionally, rehabilitation of buildings allows the community to educationally benefit by teaching local heritage and history on site. Not only does this result in cultural respect, but it is economically advantageous because it attracts visitors who are seeking heritage tourism opportunities.3 Lastly, preservation obviously benefits the environment because the building is being reused rather than disposed of in a landfill. Heritage conservation helps to reduce reliance on new materials, environmentally unfriendly building materials, and energy intensive production of new building materials. In addition, many features of historic structure such as awnings, overhangs, and shutters are designed to take advantage of natural light to enhance energy efficiency.

 While adaptive reuse retains buildings’ heritage significance and pays homage to history, it is another approach to sustainable architecture that is also environmentally friendly. Sustainable architecture strives to achieve energy efficiency by limiting the environmental impact when designing and constructing buildings. The report by the Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage states that “reuse of building materials commonly saves about 95% of embodied energy that would otherwise be wasted.” The preservation energy is achieved by designing with the consideration of natural ventilation, orientation of sunlight, and use of biomass. Therefore, the orientation of the building, location of its windows and the size of the rooms or spaces must be suited for energy efficiency. Additionally, well-insulated buildings do not require as much heat generation or dissipating power, so it is capable of ventilating and expelling polluted indoor air. Installing solar panels to the roof is another technique for reducing energy because the angled roofs facing towards the sun allow photovoltaic panels to capture energy and hot water generated through solar water heaters is more cost effective. Furthermore, sustainable architecture incorporates materials that are studied specifically to engage with the environment. The main objective for this strategy is to recycle because it is environmentally friendly; thus, sustainable buildings are constructed with materials that are easily retrieved and reused. Materials, such as reclaimed lumber, benefits the environment because it reduces the energy consumption associated with manufacturing new materials. Along with lumber, bamboo is suitable material for sustainable buildings because it can be harvested after just six years for commercial use unlike timber.  Waste materials like wheat straw and sorghum are functional for pressing into panels, while cork oak, and the outer layer of bark, can be utilized while the tree itself remains preserved. Adaptive reuse architecture encourages the preservation of buildings. However, if a building must be demolished, reusable wood or other materials may be reclaimed and renewed for new buildings.  This makes deposing of the materials eco-friendly because it does not cause any pollution. All these aspects of sustainability are very important because unsustainable ways of living and development results in environmental degradation. The planet is degrading and is in need for sustainable urban development in order to improve lives of society and the environment.

 While sustainable and adaptive reuse architecture involves preservation and reduction of energy usage, it also defines how people inhabit a space. Social benefit associated with sustainable design corresponds to the improvement of quality of life, health, and well-being. To accomplish social benefits in a sustainable building, it requires research on health, comfort and satisfaction of people in the specific site the building is located. Many building environments have negative impacts such as discomfort, stress and fatigue that may be caused by poor indoor air quality, thermal conditioning, and lighting. Improper interior design of materials, furnishings, and color also contributes to the negative aspects of social well-being. Sustainable design offers a solution to reducing these problems and improves health and performance. Research proves that increased personal control over indoor conditions, access to daylight and views, and connection to nature are all sustainable building features that result in positive states of well-being and health. Reduced health risks from pollutants due to decrease in building energy usage, noise, traffic, and other disturbances in the community allows for social benefits in occupants’ health, safety and well-being as well.

 Case studies of libraries explore sustainable methods that increases the quality of life and social well-being.4 The first case study is the Christchurch Library and Service Centre located in New Zealand is a great example of a sustainable building because of the choice of low-impact materials, energy efficiency, and on-site waste management. When New Zealand was suffering from the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the governmental organizations worked to restore the physical environment and the spirit of the building. This new library was engineered to withstand earthquakes that could potentially occur, so that allows for financial and emotional protection for several years. Its social benefits in the interior is to provide a building that would be sympathetic to the to the residential character of the community while maintaining a civic presence. The building’s functions as a community library, an education center, and local council service center. It allows for social interactions in formal and informal meeting rooms, a display space, a café, and offices for the community constable. Furthermore, this building’s main component is its environmental sustainability and energy use. It contains passive low-energy design through the building north orientation and large roof overhangs that optimize solar penetrations. Since aquifer water in the building’s main supply pipes is used, it is the energy source for heat pump-based heating and cooling system. Also, the chilled-beam air conditioning in high-load rooms are linked to presence sensors and contains contact switches on manual windows that enables the system to switch off when not required. The materials of Christchurch consist of sustainably sourced timber and timber veneers, recycled content materials, and polystyrene sheet insulation and pipe lagging that are CFC and HCFC free. Another sustainable library is the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky.5 The designs of this library are meant to protect existing trees and highlight their characteristics. It reflects its surroundings because the site pavements were carved from trees. This allows visitors to feel connected to the natural history of the site when exploring this building. Trees are preserved on all sides of the buildings and provide a variety of different experiences both indoors and outdoors. For example. The trees at the south of the building provide shade in the parking lot and for the building outside, and filtering sunlight in the public gathering space inside. The indoor space has the impression of a healthy north forest because it contains vibrant colors in vegetation. Not only does the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky contain biophilic design principles, but its sustainable methods provide social benefits because the backdrop of nature provides a calming environment at the study spaces. Lastly, the Green Square Library in Sydney Australia revitalizes one of the oldest industrial places in the city. The library is located under a public plaza in an urban area that is designed to collect stormwater runoff that is used in the library. It is waterproof and safe because it is engineered for security underground. Also, it is adjacent to the train station, so the location makes it part of the heart of the town centre. Since climate change is causes issues with resources and how society lives and works, the city of Sydney release Sustainable Sydney 2030.6 This is an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce water and waste demands throughout the city. Therefore, the Green Square Library sustainably contains an air-delivery system that is applied on the perimeter shelving. This optimizes energy and the space is illuminated with daylight due to the circular skylights. This library’s quality offers optimal quality of life and social interactions for visitors due to the level of light from skylights, garden, six-story glass tower, music and reading rooms, and technology lab with views above the plaza.7 This plaza is framed by trees and the lawn is occupied for mainly reading and pop-up events. Overall, all three libraries are designed in sustainable methods that not only benefits the environment but creates a place that attracts visitors and ensures comfort.

Although sustainability and preservation provide many advantages, there are challenges before and during construction.8 Cost of green buildings is one of the most common problems because of the high quality of materials and expensive construction methods used. Although sustainability reduces energy consumption and is providently advantageous long-term, it is unfortunate that the construction stage is pricey. The cost accommodates for the scarcity of eco-friendly materials of buildings, so the challenge of finding these materials is another disadvantage to sustainability. This is mainly an issue for smaller cities because suppliers are more scares unlike large cities. Also, these materials most likely require special ordering. While other materials are available in stores, sustainable materials are mostly purchased on online websites and that increases the cost due to shipping and handling fees. However, since the green market for buildings is increasingly becoming more competitive due to the rise in demand, sustainability costs are expected to decrease in the near future. Another disadvantage is the time is takes to complete a sustainable building. Compared to traditional buildings, green buildings take longer because recycled materials take a long time to try to source. This adds time to the construction stage and may cause issues with the contractor and client. Apart from extensive time and material cost of sustainable buildings, getting loans and finding a mortgage company may be difficult because these buildings are not constructed in a traditional way. As for preservation, challenged may arise environmentally, financially, and availability. Environment issues can cause problems due to building condition and location. The Municipal Heritage Conservation Framework states that “while poor relative location may ease the threat of redevelopment, poor proximity to markets, competitors and pedestrian volumes will make it more difficult for customer-oriented businesses to survive.”9 Older sites usually suffer due to limited parking area and no vehicle accessibility. This makes it difficult for visitors to access it, and that impacts the economic value of the building. Thus, the location of the historic building determines if preservation will be successful or not. Another challenge in preservation is limited availability of resources. Since there isn’t a large quantity of materials and shortage in workers who reproduce composite materials, challenges may occur. As a result of the lack of conservation skills to repair historic buildings, it was discovered that more than half of maintenance of historic architecture are done by inexperienced people. Therefore, it causes a lot of problems in construction.


 Although there are downfalls for sustainability and preservation, there are many benefits that outweigh the cons in the long run. With the information gathered in preservation and sustainability, it is concluded that the two coincide together superbly. A case study that supports this is the renovation of the Harvard University Operations Services headquarters. The renovation improves the building envelope by providing insulating the load-bearing brick walls. Since the building has monolithic masonry load-bearing walls, it was suggested by many building-science professionals that insulation would cause many problems because the addition of insulation to a wall would reduce its drying potential. The insulation causes reduction to its drying potential by decreasing movement of air and heat through and around the wall. Since it is a degrading historic building, the protection of drainage plane was low quality. Marc Rosenbaum, the project designer, and scientist John Straube suggested to the project team to insulate from the inside by spraying with open-cell urethane foam. They kept in mind the reduced drying potential issue, so Straube created a preventive alternative that involves maintaining the brick on the outside with detailing of flashing, windows and parapets. Additionally, the team installed foam insulation on the building along the low-slope and energy-efficient replacement windows. Since the windows have been replaced in the early 1990s, there were not many historic adaptive reuse concerns. Other sustainable approaches in this project was using LEED Gold certification that has about thirty to thirty-five percent energy savings over ASHRAE standards. This example proves that although there may be challenges with preservation and sustainability, there are ways to overcome it and be innovative with new design methods. Also, this is a successful example of preservation in a sustainable method. In John Ruskin’s “The Seven Lamps of Architecture”, he states that “It is the centralization and protectress of this sacred influence, that architecture is to be regarded by us with the most serious thought. We may live with her, and we may worship without her, but we cannot remember without her.” This personification of historic buildings implies how important they are because they exist to allow people to remember the past and to touch on peoples’ memories. Similarly, sustainability is important today more than ever because it keeps landscapes healthy and that benefits society socially, culturally, and economically.



Similar to adaptive reuse and sustainability benefit the environment, it relates to landscape architecture. In James Corner’s “Introduction: Recovering Landscape as a Critical Cultural Practice,” he states that “landscape architecture is not simply a reflection of culture but more an active instrument in shaping of culture.”12 This conveys that landscape architecture is not just the culture, but is how the culture is formed. A case study that shows how adaptive reuse, sustainability and landscape architecture can all be used together in design is the Quarry Garden in Shanghai, China. This 10-acre Quarry Garden is located at the middle of Shanghai Chen Mountain Botanical Garden and was originally an abandoned rock quarry that was renovated into an ecological public garden. Quarries used to be essential to China’s industrial economy, but now there are many abandoned quarries since they are not used for mineral resources anymore. Many of these quarries are just filled with water and turned into dangerous lakes and other have turned into landfills that are not safe to have next to nearby residents due to pollution. There are many opportunities to recover landscapes like quarries to make them desirable for tourists and socially beneficial. In Shanghai, Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning & Design Institute (THUPDI) landscape architects saw potential in this quarry to be something that offers scenic views and bring people together to educate them about history and culture. The renovation of Quarry Garden changed the rocky area by creating an entrance into a self-regulating ecological community. This was achieved by reshaping the land and adding plants around the edges of the landscape. Additional, pathways were added around the exposed hills and rock walls to provide access to the central focus of the landscape, the deep pool, in sustainable methods. This landscape reflects culture and forms culture because it pays homage to Chinese traditions. It emphasizes the history of the destruction of mining in China by educating visitors about this history and how this was a result of negative environmental impacts. This former dangerous place is now a safe and scenic place that can be explored through the stairs built on the existing hills and rock structures. The transformation of the rock into a multi-functional wall and terraces was the work of many landscape architects and structure engineers. This became very successful because it received about three million visitors in just the first year after opening, and now about ten thousand people visit the garden every day.

 Adaptive reuse encourage society to reduce waste, conserve energy and extend the life of valuable historical buildings while considering the social well-being of occupants. Adaptive reuse allows outlived buildings to have a new purpose and function while maintaining parts of their original features. The mid-1960s movement to preserve architecture and protect historic structures changed how people respond to outdated buildings. Sustainable architecture is another approach to adaptive reuse that limits environmental impact through the consideration of energy efficient solar panel, low-impact materials, and orientation of buildings and windows for natural light. How the building is constructed is essential for sustainable architecture, but so is understanding how the design impacts the quality of life, health and social well-being of occupants. Sustainable libraries are examples on a solution on how to design a sustainable building while also keeping in mind how the people are occupying it. Society has gradually degraded the planet overtime due to unsustainable ways of living and has thrown away valuable historic treasures due to demolishment of outdated buildings. Sustainable and adaptive reuse architecture provide a solution that not only conserve the past but help prevent further degradation of the planet and society in the future.


Works Cited

  • “Adaptive Reuse.” Adaptive Reuse, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004, https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/3845f27a-ad2c-4d40-8827-18c643c7adcd/files/adaptive-reuse.pdf.
  • Buildings and Climate Change, United Nations Environment Programme, 2009, http://www.greeningtheblue.org/sites/default/files/Buildings and climate change_0.pdf.case study- DPR Construction in San Francisco https://sites.psu.edu/arch311w/2015/12/13/adaptive-reuse-is-better-than-new-construction/
  • “Case Study: Community Library.” Case Study: Community Library | Ministry for the Environment, https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/sustainability/value-case-\sustainable-building-feb06/html/page6b.html.
  • Craven, Jackie. “Transforming Old Buildings for New Uses.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 29 Aug. 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/adaptive-reuse-repurposing-old-buildings-178242.
  • Heerwagen, Judith H. Investing In People: The Social Benefits of Sustainable Design. J.H. Heerwagen & Associates, Inc., https://www.cce.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Heerwagen.pdf.
  • “Sustainability in Architecture: Environmental and Social Impacts of Built...” Build Abroad, 15 Aug. 2017, https://buildabroad.org/2017/08/15/sustainability-in-architecture/.
  • Torem, Emily. “Adaptive Reuse: Why Adaptive Reuse Is Key to Sustainable Design: Moss Design.” Moss Architecture, 19 July 2018, http://moss-design.com/adaptive-reuse-architecture/.

[1] https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/four-treatments/treatment-preservation.htm

2 https://www.thoughtco.com/adaptive-reuse-repurposing-old-buildings-178242

3 https://historichawaii.org/resource-center-2/why/

4 https://www.urbanlibraries.org/blog/generative-and-resilient-sustainability-beyond-the-walls-of-the-library

5 https://www.jrarchitects.com/civic-municipal-architecture-louisville-free-public-library-south-central-regional-      branch.html

6 https://www.witpress.com/Secure/elibrary/papers/SC14/SC14007FU1.pdf

7 https://www.arup.com/projects/green-square-library

8 https://www.ukessays.com/dissertation/examples/construction/green-building.php


10 https://www.buildinggreen.com/feature/historic-preservation-and-green-building-lasting-relationship

11 Ruskin, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture. London: Dent, 1969. Print.

12 Corner, James. “Introduction: Recovering Landscape as a Critical Cultural Practice” in Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.


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