7 Excellent Examples of Adaptive Reuse

It’s often hard to imagine that a building can be used for anything other than what it was intended, yet when they are left abandoned, having outlived their original purpose, many dilapidated structures cry out to be transformed rather than fall fowl to the demolition ball.

Whether due to conservation issues, the limited availability of space for new ventures or because public campaigns are successful in saving beloved landmarks, adaptive reuse projects are on the increase. Old buildings breathe new life, albeit in an altered state, offering a chance to embrace past designs while looking to the future. Here we share seven excellent examples of adaptive reuse from around the globe.

1. Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station
Images: Battersea Power Station and Keith Evans

Easily one of the most recognised landmarks on the banks of the River Thames in London, Battersea Power Station has been lying abandoned for decades. Like the old power station just around the bend of the river – the Tate Modern – there have been calls to pull down the dilapidated structure, for a number of reasons. Some said that due to its size it would be too expensive to redevelop, others claimed that the elements had given it such a bettering over the years that it had become relatively unsound. Now, after numerous failed attempts to revive the building and immediate area, plans for one of the biggest redevelopments the south bank of London is yet to see are afoot, and they certainly look impressive.

Proposed by Dublin-based Treasury Holdings, the new design will see a mainly industrial area of London go green, which is what the potentially lucrative Nine Elms area around Battersea has been crying out for. The new £5.5bn scheme includes plans for 3,700 homes built alongside offices, shops and restaurants on the 40-acre site. The famous chimneys are to be restored to their former glory and the landmark building will house a conference centre, among other things. The new plans will also offer uninterrupted views of the Palace of Westminster on the opposite banks, one of the stipulations of the new development, and the reason Treasury Holdings earlier plans, which included a huge ‘eco-dome’ (pictured above) were rebuked.

2. Sewage Silos, Netherlands

Sewage Silos
Images: Arons en Gelauff

Early in 2009, Amsterdam city planning ran a competition for an adaptive reuse project concerning a former sewage treatment plant in the Zeeburg district of the city. The winning design was a proposal for a multifunctional cultural centre, which would house exhibition spaces, a media centre, movie theatre and theatre hall, crowned by a rooftop restaurant in one silo and an open rooftop playground in the other.
The winning plan was inspired by Holland’s most popular children’s book author, the late Annie MG Schmidt, hence the playfulness of the design. Arons en Gelauff, architects involved in the project, said the main aim was to “breathe new life into the silos, transforming them into an inspiring and lively place, which will help shape the character of the new Zeeburgereiland housing district.” The Annie MG Schmidt House is marked for completion in 2011.

3. Gasometer City, Vienna

Gasometer City
Images: Andreas Poeschek and via Dornob

One of the most successful residential reuse projects is Gasometer City, in Vienna Austria. Four immense disused gasometers were successfully revamped in the late ‘90s and have since become infamous in the world of adaptive reuse.

Built in 1896, when Viennese authorities decided to invest in large-scale coal gas and electricity supplies, the gas plant serviced the locale and beyond for a good 88 years, until it was shut down permanently in 1984 after natural gas supplies took over. Although, life in the cylinders didn’t completely disappear; raves were hosted from time to time, popular because of the acoustics inside the drums, and one housed a set for the movie James Bond: The Living Daylights. Then, in 1995, the decision was made to revitalize the gas plant.

With the proviso that the brick exterior of the gasometers was to be kept intact, each gasometer was remodelled by a particular architect: Jean Nouvel (Gasometer A), Coop Himmelblau (Gasometer B), Manfred Wehdorn (Gasometer C) and Wilhelm Holzbauer (Gasometer D), all four with specific zones for living, working and entertainment. The result produced a vast walled city within a city. The unique redevelopment has since become a sought after place to live with a close-knit inner community, and is looked upon as a very successful example of adaptive reuse.

4. Tate Modern, London

Tate Modern
Images: Walk Talk Tours Jim LinwoodBleuchoiAndrew Dunkley and The First Word

Reaching high into London’s skyline is the Tate Modern, a magnificent old oil-fired power station, which now houses an international collection of contemporary art dating from 1900 onwards. It has become the most visited tourist attraction in London, surpassing even the National Gallery and the British Museum, and the most visited modern art museum in the world.

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who incidentally also designed Battersea Power Station and one of Britain’s other iconic symbols – the red telephone box, the original Bankside Power Station was built in two stages from 1947 to 1963, finally turning off the pumps in 1981. For a long time the building was under the beady eye of developers who were quick to mark it for demolition, but after impassioned pleas by campaigners to save the building were heard a competition for redevelopment ensued, and at the beginning of 1995, Swedish architects Herzog and de Meuron won the battle to build London’s next big thing.

The gallery opened to much acclaim in 2000 and has attracted more than 30 million visitors since. Its success is partly due to its situation on the banks of the Thames but also because of the use of space within the building. The main Turbine Hall, a huge space of 3,400 square metres that once housed the main electricity generators, was fortunately left in its original form, providing a vast gallery for art installations that often require public interaction and appreciation of the space. It is this space and its ability to be so successfully transformed time and time again that has changed people’s perceptions of art, which is no doubt so much more than the architects were hoping for in their redesign.

5. Water Plant, Berlin

Berlin House
Images: via One Eight Nine

When two artist friends, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, decided to set up a live/work space, they didn’t bargain on getting such a good deal. For just US$700,000 the Danish/Norwegian pair purchased a disused water pumping station in suburb very close to Berlin City Centre. The building had been left empty since the early 1990s, with few interested buyers as it was located in the middle of a residential district – no longer right for industrial use, and too awkward to be tackled by some developers – so Elmgreen and Dragset jumped at the chance to work their magic on the generous space.

The artistic partners, who have exhibited around the world, enlisted the services of two young architects, Nils Wenk and Jan Wiese to help transform the pump house into an artist’s workspace and home. It was important they applied concepts from their art into the redesign, and a love of spatial challenges saw them breaking down more walls than were built.

“We deliberately made the borders between the work and living spaces fleeting,” Ingar Dragset told the New York Times. “The combination of vast floor space and the small, quirky nooks means you can be very hidden here, or very exposed depending on your moods or needs.”

Even after getting happy with a sledgehammer the old water pumping station now accommodates two separate private areas for the artists, a generous kitchen, four bathrooms, an attic living room and some of the most spectacular light-filled living and working spaces.

6. Café Restaurant Amsterdam

Cafe Amsterdam
Images: Wili_hybrid and Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam

Housed in a former water-processing plant, Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam is one of the city’s chicest eateries. Dating back to the late 1800s, the building is left mostly intact, with the main pumps proudly on display in the main part of the restaurant. The large space is lit with huge floodlights in the evenings, reclaimed from the former Ajax and Olympic football stadiums in the city. The interior may look crude to some, but to other it offers a unique dining experience, and will always provide a talking point when there’s a lull in the conversation.

7. CasaComvert, Milan

Casa Comvert
Images: Giuliano Berarducci and studiometrico

A number of years ago, clothing design company, Comvert asked Milan-based interior architects Studiometrico to find a new HQ for their growing company that would fit a very particular brief. Comvert – a company founded by four skater friends in 1994, design, produce and distribute snowboards, clothing and accessories for both skate and snow boarders under the brand name bastard – wanted their new space to house their flagship shopfront, a design studio, office, warehouse and a useable skate bowl, all within the one building. And in spring 2005, Studiometrico came up trumps; they had found an old 1950’s cinema big enough to fulfil all Comvert’s needs.

Studiometrico retained as much character of the old building as possible; in fact, the foyer, which is now the administration centre of the building looks relatively untouched, while the dress circle has been converted to an amazing design studio and office space, providing the perfect creative working area. But it is the suspended skate bowl that makes the refit so successful. Hanging six metres about the warehouse space, the skate bowl, affectionately known as bastard bowl, fills what was once the void above the seating area in the cinema, and is the main pride and joy of the Comvert partners, who must have to pinch themselves when they go to work every morning – if only everyone was so lucky.

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This article was written for Archininja >>>