Design Brings New Life to Older Buildings

  • Aug 9, 2016

It’s often hard to imagine that a building can be used for anything else than what it was originally intended. Yet, with sustainability and a return to downtowns as key trends, older buildings are being transformed for new and different uses through adaptive reuse.

Historic buildings provide a window to our past, capture and preserve the character of an older era, while still serving a new practical purpose in our modern communities. An old factory may become a retail facility, a rundown service station may find life as a satellite church, or an outdated office building may be transformed into a vibrant apartment complex. No matter the use, much opportunity lies waiting to be tapped in the existing building stock of the country.

Adaptive reuse projects provide challenges for the architects who breathe new life into these buildings to meet the modern user’s needs. Architects Clayton Daspit, our Atlanta office, believes that these challenges can be overcome if we understand both the story and the structure of the building.

  • The story. To successfully create a new use out of an existing building, architects must understand the building’s history. A 100-year-old office building, for example, has seen companies come and go and fortunes and careers made and lost. It’s important to remember that this building is carrying these stories and can be the setting for new stories yet to be told. “Our work honors a site’s past while supporting the present and innovating for the future.” says Kelly. “The exciting thing about adaptive reuse projects is to figure out how to preserve their soul and at the same time use them for something else.” An office building may, for example be repurposed into a hotel and be the vessel for a new narrative and new and different stories in the future.
  • The structure. When repurposing a building it’s important to decide what parts of the building are important to keep and protect. “We try to keep the most special parts of a building, whether it’s a hidden mural or unique moldings,” says Clayton. Once we decide that, we’ll work on an elegant design solution that is also economically viable.” In some cases it’s impossible to know what already exists in a building. A mural may have been painted over, or a staircase hidden behind a wall. In that case, current technology can help us understand the past.

The Candler Building in Atlanta, the city’s first skyscraper, that Beck is transforming into a Curio Hotel, is just one example.  “We’ve located just 40 structural drawings of the building from 1904,” says Kelly. “We’ll use laser scanning to really understand the building’s structure.” Laser scanning, a technology Beck employs on almost every project, allows an extremely precise model of an existing building’s conditions to be created. This eliminates guesswork and minimizes surprises when designing for a new purpose.

Keeping current codes in mind is also critical when designing for an adaptive reuse project. “Older buildings were designed for the codes of their day and don’t necessarily meet those of today,” says Clayton. “Our design must take that into account to bring the existing projects up to code while maintaining the project’s unique characteristics.” Bringing an older building into compliance with modern codes demands imaginative solutions and open communication with the code officials reviewing the project.

From an architect’s perspective, understanding a building’s unique story and existing structure are the first steps in designing a creative solution that will bring a building from the last century into a new life for years to come.