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Adaptive Reuse: Not Just a Design Trend

Adaptive reuse has become a buzzword in the real estate development, design and architecture industries, but it is not just a trend.

With the push to become more sustainable and thoughtful with commercial and industrial properties, reusing structures that already exist makes perfect sense. However, what buildings were used for in the past doesn’t always align perfectly with the needs of today’s employers, employees and residents. Although we have talked before about the uptick in the design of industrial facilities, there are still many more defunct warehouse and manufacturing structures in America than are needed today.

Adaptive reuse is a sustainable and innovative design movement that involves repurposing existing buildings and structures for new functions, rather than demolishing them and starting from scratch. This movement is important for several reasons including environmental sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and cultural and historical preservation. Ideally, an adaptive reuse project will restore and preserve historic or architecturally significant buildings to maintain a connection with a community’s past, while also adapting to its current needs. It also often comes with tax incentives and support from local governments and preservation organizations.

For property owners and investors, adaptive reuse can be a cost-effective decision. Retrofitting and repurposing materials and structures, rather than buying or fabricating all new ones, can reduce construction costs while also creating a unique and functional space. This is good for overhead and for the environment as it reduces waste and the carbon footprint of new materials being produced.

A big reason for the success of adaptive reuse is how it has become a catalyst for urban revitalization. Transforming old industrial warehouses or factories into mixed-use developments with residential, retail, and office spaces can breathe new life into previously neglected or underutilized areas of cities. At the same time, converting these types of structures into new use requires designers and architects to bring creative and innovative ideas to the table. The constraints of the existing building and environment can lead to unique and visually striking results that further fuel a community’s engagement with a place.

Because both our Charlottesville and Baltimore offices are in communities with a plethora of older and historic buildings that no longer serve their original purpose, adaptive reuse is a daily part of our work. For all the reasons listed above, these types of projects also fit really well within our own core values of sustainability, community engagement and creative design. In fact, over half the projects we work on involve adaptive reuse of some kind.

The Parker Metal Building in south Baltimore was a 1900 manufacturing facility that now houses a variety of businesses including our client, Insightin Health, a tech startup that builds software which helps connect healthcare data for better patient outcomes. The problem was that they were outgrowing their current lease, so the building owners offered them a much larger adjacent area in the building that would take their offices from 3,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet of raw, open, formerly-industrial space. While it was an awesome opportunity to fuel their own internal growth, it was also a daunting task to make that much space functional and fun for their expanding team.

Our Baltimore team took the lead on design concepts and programming, construction documentation and administration. The design, which was completed in Fall of 2021, is a perfect example of how adaptive reuse can benefit property owners, tenants, and the community.

Like many startups, Insightin Health embraces collaboration over the traditional corporate hierarchy and department silos. While they operate with distinct teams and highly involved executives, they also needed the flexibility for everyone to be able to meaningfully interact with each other across concentrations. The design places the executive offices in the center, with flexible workstations surrounding the perimeter in three “neighborhoods” which also allows for abundant natural exterior light to filter throughout the space.

Rather than covering the industrial elements of the building with drywall or ceiling tiles, metal beams, brick walls and concrete were left exposed. This retains the connection to the structure’s history, while also providing a sleek, modern environment for this savvy startup.

The internal core of the office space is lined with custom marker boards for brainstorming as well as collaborative “bars” and benches for informal meetings. Multiple breakout areas of different sizes and characters were created to work for different needs and teams.

A large, communal double-height space off of the kitchen and break area was designed to host social events, while the mezzanine offers a casual lounge, mingling and meeting area. Each design decision embraced the building’s character as well as the values and work ethic of its residents.

Adaptively reusing this former factory for new, innovative companies who are expanding and creating new jobs and life-improving products and services is a boon to the whole city. Whether it’s Charlottesville, Baltimore or beyond, we’re excited to be a part of reincarnating American architectural history for today’s greatest needs.



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