Top 6 Things to Know when Considering Adaptive Reuse

We have all heard the real estate mantra “Location, location, location!” However, great location does not also lead to perfect buildings. In fact, oftentimes the least perfect building is situated right on the site you want. And while some may consider a total demolition and rebuild as the only option, there are oftentimes a lot of arguments for adaptive reuse. Buildings that have been neglected, abandoned, or modified over the years are all great candidates for this type of project. Through adaptive reuse, older historic buildings can be restored – bringing back their charm and unique characteristics through careful planning and strategic design.

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House - Prior to Renovation

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House – Prior to Renovation

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House - After

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House – After

If you’re considering adaptive reuse for your next project, here are the top six things you need to know:

  1. Land Availability. When land in the area you want is hard to come by, adaptive reuse is a great option. Rather than contributing to urban sprawl, or moving to a less than desirable location, revitalizing a building in need allows you to conserve space. This type of project is one of the best ways to keep our cities and towns walkable and vibrant.
  2. Environmental Conservation. While the easy solution often appears to be building from scratch, the truth is this type of thinking can cause a lot of complications down the road, including added cost. Remember in elementary school when they taught us “reduce, reuse and recycle”? The first step in reducing our environmental footprint is to reduce our use of materials. Adaptive reuse is a choice to care for the buildings that have already been built and to help us get out of the mindset of constantly consuming. If there’s one thing we will never get more of, it’s land.
  3. Historic Consideration. One of the beauties of working with historic buildings is that you constantly discover hidden treasures. From unique features to hard-to-come-by materials, many historic buildings are proof we really “don’t build ‘em like we used to.” Adaptive reuse not only allows us to preserve a part of history, but it also allows projects to take advantage of these ‘trademarks’ of historic buildings, showcasing them now and into the future. In some cases, adaptive reuse is the only option, especially when you are dealing with buildings that are preserved and protected by organizations, such as historical societies.
  4. Reimagining Function. Although adaptive reuse strives to preserve many of the architectural features of buildings, there is a great deal of reimagining that can take place throughout the project. Buildings built for a certain prior use do not need to continue that use to be successful. Old chapels can become inns, water towers can be converted into apartments, and industrial buildings transformed to residential homes. When the location is right, and you mix in a little creativity – anything is possible.
  5. Future Accommodation. Needs are constantly changing, which is something adaptive reuse understands. Just because older buildings – even ones only a few decades old – may no longer meet the standards or desires of today’s businesses and property owners, doesn’t mean they should be written off. Adaptive reuse allows for change, while still being mindful of what already exists. Adaptive reuse protects the future, ensuring resources, including land, aren’t wasted or taken for granted.
  6. Intelligent Reconciliation. When done well, adaptive reuse is the bridge that connects past to present, history to future. Adaptive reuse projects can bring the best of modern-day technologies and innovations to beautiful, historic buildings in prime locations. This type of holistic approach ensures existing buildings and materials are honored without sacrificing today’s needs and styles. Intelligent reconciliation also happens when architectural firms work on behalf of clients to communicate plans with the community, getting the proper permissions and permits to move forward with the project.

Adaptive reuse isn’t always the best solution, but more and more often we believe it’s an option that should be seriously considered. A smart way to conserve materials, protect the environment, and preserve the past, adaptive reuse can be the solution you’re looking for, especially when you’re sold on a building’s location or charm.


Why Is Adaptive Reuse Important in Today’s World?

To understand the importance of adaptive reuse, one must first appreciate the value of old buildings and architecture.

While it can feel “progressive” to tear down the old in order to make room for the new, adaptive reuse defines progress differently. Rather than creating a narrow vision that imagines possibilities with a blank slate, reuse tailors creative thinking to focus on what currently exists and how it can be incorporated thoughtfully into the goals and ideas of the future. Adaptive reuse can be implemented on any building, although it’s most commonly used for when working with historic buildings.

As the world ages collectively, more and more buildings with rich histories are finding themselves in need of renovation and rejuvenation; adaptive reuse is the conscious decision to preserve the past while planning for the future. For example, many adaptive reuse projects bridge different worlds – churches becoming restaurants, hospitals becoming schools, and more.

Adaptive Reuse Example at Ivy Tech

Depending on the context, adaptive reuse can go by the name of property rehabilitation or historic redevelopment. Either way, the process and overall goal remains the same: to rescue discarded, unkempt buildings from a destructive fate and find them a new purpose.

Of course, adaptive reuse is not just a sentimental effort to save buildings, it is also a critical process to ensure communities don’t use (or waste) more materials than necessary.

Some cities have, unfortunately, decided to adopt a “newer is better” mindset, causing them to discard perfectly fine, usable resources in order to “upgrade”. This thinking has caused major issues for our environment and will continue to do so until we are able to see value in materials as they age. Instead, people should look at progressive cities, like Paris, London, and Amsterdam, for inspiration; many historic structures and facades in these iconic towns have been lovingly preserved for generations to come. In fact, adaptive reuse is a great example of how individuals can prove to the larger group that there are creative options for recycling, reusing, and repurposing already existing resources.

Sometimes cases will be made against reuse, mostly regarding factors that include the cost, time, and efficiency. However, adaptive reuse is both appealing and practical; sometimes even saving money by reducing certain costs. Other underlying factors, such as being able to use hard-to-find materials or recycle materials already on the location, allow for additional money to be saved – and all while making it possible to create beautiful aesthetics complete with rich textures and unique features. Lastly, the entire adaptive reuse process, from start to finish, protects the environment while also reducing unnecessary waste.

Any adaptive reuse project begins by doing a thorough examination of the building, to ensure the infrastructure exists to keep it functioning into the future. Then you can look for unique attributes and characteristics that make the building special. These features can be highlighted in new and exciting ways, once again giving them purpose and prominence. When looking for these unique elements, one can find what some see as a “ready to demolish” building and instead see both beauty and value. This allows for seemingly doomed buildings, and the often debilitated communities in which they stand, a chance at a new and brighter future.

Above all, the biggest driving factor behind adaptive reuse is the ability to keep stories and memories intact. In a world where mass production and imitation is the norm, adaptive reuse goes against the grain, literally building upon already existing stories, adding new chapters without rewriting an entire book.

Sustainability: Indiana University Rotary Building

The Rotary building on the IUPUI Campus in Indianapolis was originally constructed in 1931 as a home for orphaned and ill children. It was later turned over to IU for academic and administrative purposes.  The facility is one of the few remaining historic structures on the IUPUI campus. Its location offers the building as a link between the new Eskenazi Health Complex and the IU School of Medicine.  The purpose of the project was to renovate the existing facility into medical offices and support spaces for Indiana University.

Rotary Building Lobby


Some of the key design opportunities for this project were:
•  Re-establish the original 2nd floor balcony terrace overlooking the therapeutic gardens.
•  Replace existing windows and create a more efficient building envelope.
•  Increase amount of natural light into the building.
•  Incorporate grand communicating stairway.
•  Open top floor ceilings to create dramatic voluminous space.
•  Integrate high-performance building systems
•  Achieve LEED Silver certification.

Rotary Building Break Out Space


The renovation construction was completed over the summer of 2014. The facility recently was awarded LEED Silver certification, achieving 57 points. The scores for the renovation project were as follows:
•  Sustainable Site: 16 out of 26 possible points
•  Water Efficiency: 4 out of 10 possible points
•  Energy & Atmosphere: 18 out of 35 possible points
•  Materials & Resources: 4 out of 14 possible points
•  Indoor Environmental Quality: 9 out of 15 possible points
•  Innovation & Design Process: 3 out of 6 possible points
•  Regional Priority Credits: 3 out of 4 possible points

Rotary Building Central Stairs and Conference Room


The renovations to this existing facility have provided IU with a great office space that meets their programming needs and sustainable design goals. The urban location contributes several points to the project. The renovations included energy efficient mechanical systems, upgraded electrical power, lighting and data.

This project’s new use allows it to maintain its presence as a jewel on the IUPUI campus.

Marchant School of Nursing

What once served as the headquarters for a medical gas supplier in Bloomington, Indiana is now a training center for health sciences professions. The new Marchant School of Nursing sits prominently on the corner of the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Bloomington and houses two nursing labs, a computer lab, three classrooms and faculty offices that were previous located in the campus’ main building. The move to this new building allows the growing Center of Excellence to more effectively market its program and it frees up much-needed classroom space in the main building.

Ivy Tech Marchant School of Nursing_DAD7043Schmidt Associates designed the transformation of the building into modern classrooms. The two nursing labs flank the far ends of the first floor and contain high fidelity equipment and mannequins to simulate a series of medical emergencies so nurses can prepare for the real-world traumas they will face during their careers. One lab has two simulation rooms on either side of a control room to simulate labor and delivery, surgical and ICU scenarios. The other lab houses 10-12 patient beds with mannequins where nurses can practice basic medical procedures.

Ivy Tech Marchant School of Nursing_DAD7063With an aging population and increases in the severity of medical conditions, facilities like the Marchant School of Nursing are becoming increasingly more important to meet the growing need for well trained nurses and other health sciences professionals.

Revisioning Building Space for Growth

We oftentimes get phone calls as institutions outgrow their existing facilities. Our response is always the same; sometimes organizations need new space—but not all growth requires a new facility.

For instance, as Ivy Tech Community College’s enrollment in Batesville, Indiana grew, their current leased space no longer had the capacity to accommodate the student population.  Looking for new space, the College saw opportunity in an open office building.  They were able to see past the cubicles to a vision of a new educational facility.

Removing the office finishes, cubicles, and décor, the empty structure of the building offered a cost-effective canvas to create a new image.  Since the building infrastructure was in good condition, the renovation created new educational spaces inside the existing shell at a much lower cost than building a new facility.

What made this project successful was not the creation of the new space—but rather the creation of the image of higher education.  A new exterior entrance and lobby adorned with wood columns and accents developed the representation of higher education and modern learning.  This improved the image of the College in Batesville from a leased storefront to their own facility.

It is an important lesson to remember—not all growth requires a new facility.  Creative use of existing buildings can provide opportunities to create new space within an existing structure, typically the most expensive building component.  By having the vision to see beyond the cubicles, Ivy Tech Community College was able to create a new, adequately sized, and modern facility for higher education.

Bridging the Historic with the New – A Successful Story of Adaptive Reuse

ISU – Scott College of Business

Historic preservation projects face many challenges.  Some of these include, but are not limited to:

  • Who will use the building and does it support the many programmatic needs of this group?
  • How can you repurpose the building while integrating modern building systems and technology throughout?
  • How do you maintain the historic features of the building, while making it a place people can use today and well into the future?

The Federal Building in Terre Haute demonstrates how an underutilized historic structure can be used to bridge the local community with campus.  The Federal Building, constructed in the 1930s, was a beautiful Art Deco structure.  It has housed the U.S. Post Office, local branches of the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, the IRS, Congressional offices, the Terre Haute Division of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana, and U.S. Bankruptcy Court.  The building functioned in this capacity until the 1990s and 2000s, at which time various departments were consolidated and some relocated to more secure facilities.

The question became what to do with this landmark that could bring new life to it and the surrounding community. Indiana State University, the neighbor to the north, needed a new home for the College of Business.  The Federal Building provided a chance to seamlessly expand the campus into the business community, take a non-functional vertical organizational structure and regroup to create a much more collaborate learning environment, and the ability to save a 75–year-old jewel.

The transformation was not without challenges.  The massive steel and concrete structure created difficulties incorporating modern mechanical and plumbing systems. Additionally, the historic nature of the building needed to be preserved while incorporating state-of-the-art technology all while maintaining the public postal function that still served the community. 

Marble and aluminum detailing was preserved, wood paneling was restored, and historic fixtures recreated.  This was carefully coordinated with modern glass walls, high-tech audio/visual components, and updated furnishings to facilitate collaboration.

What makes this adaptation so successful? The obvious answer is the preservation of a historic structure that might otherwise have ended up in a landfill. But I would suggest it is more about the intangibles that you see when you talk to a student who is excited about going to class in this building, a business person that casually enters the building to eat lunch in the student run Execudine food service area, or the staff/faculty member who can now train our best and brightest business majors in a facility that will prepare them for their 21st century careers.