by Regan Shields Ives
Adaptive reuse, or adaptive use as it is sometimes referenced, plays an important role in the history of design. From historic preservation to modernizations, buildings must evolve to support the ever-changing needs of their users. Most often this involves accessibility, space utilization, integration of technology and new, high performing building systems. Reimagining existing buildings for a new use is both challenging and exciting. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our clients’ thinking about potential adaptive reuse projects.
Not surprisingly, many adaptive reuse conversations are centered around education. From higher education at colleges and universities, to local K-12 public schools, we’re seeing a desire to evaluate existing classrooms, living spaces, libraries, and athletic facilities. The pandemic has forced institutions to take a closer look at their existing building stock and reevaluate their space needs now and in the future. The integration of virtual technology in the classroom and at students’ fingertips, as well as the ability for more remote instruction, is redefining the physical classroom. As more students have the ability to access remote learning this may also impact living spaces.
Until recently, many of these same institutions were focused on creating signature building projects to draw students to their campuses. This focus has now shifted to a reimagination and transformation of the building stock they already have and addressing deferred maintenance issues that had been overshadowed by the development of new, larger projects. While we all hope to see the return to active, student-centric campuses, remote learning will be part of the conversation as campuses determine the future of post-pandemic higher education.
As the construction cost for schools has skyrocketed in recent years, the K-12 sector is seeing an increase in districts wishing to utilize their existing building stock, yet transform their schools into future-forward learning environments. The pandemic has increased the appreciation for outdoor learning areas, flexible spaces outside of the classrooms including small breakout nooks, cafeterias that can be utilized for instruction before and after lunchtime, and the integration of increased ventilation capacity in building systems. The goal is to maximize the utilization rate of learning spaces within schools to ensure every tax dollar is spent efficiently.
Finally, in recent years we’ve seen a shift towards decarbonization for educational institutions, and we anticipate an acceleration of this trend in 2021. This focus is driven both by the demands of students of all ages who prioritize climate change as one of the biggest issues of their generation, as well as operational costs for institutions. Now, more than ever, municipal and higher education clients are focusing on sustainable design strategies and setting higher goals for decarbonization, which puts more emphasis on retaining existing buildings. As a result, Finegold Alexander Architects has seen an increase in adaptive reuse projects cutting across all educational sectors and expects the adaptive reuse trend to be the “new normal” in 2021 and beyond.
Regan Shields Ives, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, is principal and secretary at Finegold Alexander Architects.