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Five Exciting ‘Adaptive Reuse’ Projects that are Redefining Interior Architecture and Design

19 September 2016, By , 203 views

Recycling has become second nature to modern communities as we strive to sustain the earth for future generations. Adaptive reuse rests on the premise of restructuring the purpose of spaces; mostly to suit the present needs of society. Adaptive reuse projects all over the world have given new life to buildings that were either abandoned or left unused after a certain period in history. Interior designers across the world see this as a sustainable interior architecture practice that will help solve the problem of space.

Keeping the form or structure of a building intact while changing its function may seem like a challenge. However, adaptive reuse has significant benefits from an environmental, economic and historical perspective. For instance, tearing a perfectly structured building down to its roots only to alter its function would strain more resources, both monetary and natural, as compared to adapting its interiors and working within the existing skeleton. Sometimes, society might have a desire to preserve the history that a particular building represents, and that is reason enough for architects and interior designers to not play with the form of the building but instead alter its interiors. The interior design process is hence considered ‘reactivated’ instead of being reactive, as it adapts to the new proposed uses.

Many architectural firms worldwide are looking towards this method of adaptive reuse as the solution to some of the modern problems of built environments. With this in mind, here are some inspiring adaptive reuse projects from around the world:

Lunatic asylum turned University, Victoria, Australia

Adaptive Reuse Projects Australia

(Image via Border Mail Australia, 2013)

The Australian government, being supportive of sustainable design, recognizes the importance of adaptive reuse for the social, economic and environmental benefits it brings. Today’s La Trobe University in Beechworth, VIC, was once the Lunatic Asylum wing of May Day Hills Hospital. Much work was needed before the University was able to use the hospital building, which has historical significance, in its service to the state.

The hospital building was originally built between 1864 and 1867 and was used for the care of the mentally ill until its closure in 1992. The process of architectural upcycling began in 1996 and involved removing ailing trees, re-establishing the services and carrying out extensive sympathetic alterations to suit the University’s professional development.

This  project serves the needs of a modern society and gives the building’s interior architecture a new lease of life, while still offering benefits. It also serves as a heritage tourist attraction today, holding cultural significance.

(via Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004)

Abandoned toilet turned sandwich shop, London, United Kingdom

Adaptive Reuse Projects London

(Image via Attendant’s Facebook page)

This one’s probably one of the most dramatic adaptive reuse projects that we know of.

London’s Attendant Restaurant today stands as a coffee shop complete with wifi, tea, and cake. It was, however, a public lavatory for men, from the 1890s to about the 1960s. Situated at 27A Foley Street, the Victorian loos still stand, with a reversed aesthetic function- as décor segregating the tables and chairs.

The reconstruction took about $150,000 and two years, resulting in a quirky restaurant that now opens Monday to Saturday. Kudos to the owners, Peter Tomlinson and Ben Russell, for looking beyond the waste-strewn hole and thinking about food instead. They even added a touch of green stools to match the original Victorian floor tiles, improving and working despite the challenges posed by the existing interior architecture (the lavatory form).

(via Web Urbanist)

Jail turned five-star hotel, Istanbul, Turkey

Adaptive Reuse Projects Turkey

(Image via mrsoaroundtheworld)

Four Seasons Hotel, Istanbul was once Sultanahmet Jail, with the structure being built in 1919. The hotel, converted in 1996, celebrates its history, instead of hiding from its past. The 65 room neoclassical structure houses its courtyard in the jail’s old exercise yard and a former inmate’s scribbles remain on an old marble pillar.

The rooms are expanded versions of former cells and they retain their tiny windows. It is interesting how a space’s value in society can change once it is taken us as an adaptive reuse project. The prison cell, a place for punishment, has now turned into a luxury experience by merely altering its interior and changing its standing in society. The ideal location of the hotel also helps in offering the same experience, as it is situated in close proximity to popular tourist attractions like the Blue Mosque.

(via sfgate)

Abandoned building turned kindergarten, China

Adaptive Reuse Projects China

(Image via Inhabitat)

The adaptive reuse of Sooyoo Joyful Growth Center has doubly breathed life into the building. First, by giving it a place and function in modern society; and second, by serving as an educational institution for children.

It was once an abandoned building originally built for a financial district in Zhengzhou, a Chinese city that was also referred to as a “ghost city”. The same building now provides a creative and safe environment for children because of its open layout that encourages interaction and has plenty of space for activities.

For instance, the round architecture was kept intact and the architects and interior designers livened the mood of the space with brightly coloured tubes that protrude from the exterior of the building, also framing the view outside the building. This particular project showcases how creativity can allow hardened surfaces, such as this abandoned building, which is clad in stone and aluminum, to appear softer and happier. The architects also used natural light to their advantage as a large skylight brightens the lobby and central atrium.  

(via Inhabitant)

Cold storage turned bike manufacture office, Chicago, America

Adaptive Reuse Projects Chicago

(Image via Inhabitat)

Built in 1923, Fulton Street Cold Storage was one of the most technologically advanced buildings at the time, complete with elevators, cork insulation, and ammonia refrigeration technology. But over time, technology improved, the building lost its edge, and its use was discontinued. However, left behind were ice stalactite and stalagmite formations on the ceiling and floors.

When it was taken over by Sterling Bay Companies in 2012, the hardest task involved was defrosting the building. As it had not been used for a decade, inches of ice had grown inside. But this ice cave formation was not useful for the buildings reuse for a commercial purpose. Propane heaters were brought in, and the building today stands as the headquarters for bike components manufacturing, with dedicated bike parking and even an internal cycling test track. From  being a cold storage for frozen food to an LEED-certified commercial space in the emerging Fulton Market District, complete  with parking and retail facilities, the building has been brought back to relevance.


These are just a few examples of how an adaptive reuse project has added a dimension to the fields of interior design and architecture. Such projects tend to be environmentally friendly, cheaper, and add a wow factor to the built space without taking away from the history attached to it. As we think about addressing the ever growing challenge of creating more space for the human race across cities, countries, and continents, it is no surprise that adaptive reuse projects are growing in significance and scope as a specialization within Interior Architecture and Design. It is certainly a medium that facilitates the perfect marriage between the new and the old and allows us to cater to our current needs and add our own layer of history to a space while keeping intact its original architectural and cultural footprint.

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