Jonathan Bardelline: Welcome to Green Biz Radio.
Kirsten Ritchie is the director of sustainable design with Gensler, the international architecture, design and planning firm based in San Francisco. Today, she talks with Associate Editor Leslie Guevarra about adaptive reuse — a practice that gives new life to old buildings.
Leslie Guevarra: Kirsten Ritchie, welcome to Green Biz Radio. Thank you for joining us today.
Kirsten Ritchie: Well, thank you, Leslie, for having me. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
LG: Please talk to us about adaptive reuse. Why are we hearing more and more about this strategy these days?
KR: Well, certainly, I'd love to chat about it with you. But what I'd first would like to do for our listening audience is to have them understand what adaptive reuse is. Or when we use that term, what we believe is.
Adaptive reuse is where you're actually taking an existing building and you're repositioning its function. So for example, you have a situation where you had an old manufacturing plant and you're transforming it to use as a commercial office. We have that example right here in our offices in San Francisco where we are located in the old Hills Brothers Coffee Building and it was originally a coffee plant built in the turn of the century. Now it has wonderful commercial offices in it.
Another example would be for our Ferry Building, which of course, which was originally built as a terminal for all the ferries that were plowing the Bay. And now it is a wonderful market hall.
So when talk about adaptive reuse, that's what we mean. We mean taking a building and really repurposing it for use that is popular and needed in today's marketplace.
So why are we hearing so much about adaptive reuse? You see it in the newspapers, of course a lot on the design magazines, a lot in the development area.
And the reason for that is first of all, we have a huge amount of existing building stock and we need to be smarter about using it. Particularly if you look at the older buildings, they have wonderful bones from a design perspective. They have high floor-to-floor ceiling heights that allow us to bring in a lot of natural daylight. It allows for good circulation systems, it allows you to optimize how you set up your lighting systems.
And of course, the buildings themselves are pretty strong, sturdy buildings. They've been around so long and they have a lot of materials in them and you want to take advantage of that.
Also, buildings in particular that were built in the earlier part of the century were designed to optimize their performance in what we call the passive state. That is, being able to take advantage of solar orientation and wind and natural ventilation because we didn't have such reliance that we do now on mechanical systems for our comfort. So they're very smartly designed buildings.
The only thing is that they're use or what they were originally designed for is no longer needed. And so what you now want to do is say how can I take this building that's, for example, plunked down in the middle of a city, an old manufacturing plant, and take advantage of it because we need housing or we need offices or we need hotels. And can we use these buildings to provide that function?
And the answer is absolutely yes. And so we're really looking to get so much smarter about repositioning and reusing and adapting the use of these buildings to meet needs that we have in the marketplace right now.
LG: Now, we're talking about ways to transform the built environment. And it sounds like this is part of the same extended family of strategies that could include industrial infills and retrofits. How is adaptive reuse different? Or is it different?
KR: It's part of the whole package. What you do want to have from a green perspective, sustainability perspective, to really make your cities or any area environment, you need to have good density and you need to have mixtures of uses.
Infill is a situation where you already have low density and you're trying to increase the density. In the case of brownfield redevelopment, you've had industrial activities that have contaminated the surrounding environments and you need to clean them up. And unfortunately, in many cases, that means you have to bring down the buildings themselves because they've been quite contaminated and you have to address the underlying soils.
In the case of adaptive reuse, you've got a building, you've got good bones, but its use doesn't really fit with what's growing up around it and so you can modify that by again saying, well, what do we need here? Are we in an area that's heavily commercial and maybe we need to have more housing? Are we in an area that is heavy in residential, but potentially we need more market space or we need more retail, or we need more entertainment space, and can we use buildings for that purpose?
New Life for Old Buildings: Adaptive Reuse
Jonathan Bardelline: Welcome to Green Biz Radio.