Strategic Adaptive Re-Use in a Growth Mode

In most circumstances, the term “adaptive re-use” conjures up images of aging structures and clients desperate to find something, anything, for which they can be used.  Where clients are in a growth mode, however, buildings can be designed from the outset to enable future re-purposing, an approach that gives the term “adaptive re-use” an entirely different context.  This requires a firm grasp of the design issues surrounding the variety of facilities types envisioned by the Owner, and also necessitates sound knowledge of modern building technologies and their inherent capacity for adaptability.

Planning for future adaptive re-use begins in the present.  Among the first stages in facilities development is the Strategic Plan (Figure 1), which takes the client’s vision and mission, and describes what will be needed to implement these within a specified time horizon (for more on mission and vision development, see other writings by the author).  For example, a non-profit will assess how its mission and vision will be enacted through its various programs.  For example, a school will define its curriculum, student life program, extracurricular activities, and so forth.  Each client will describe a set of strategic parameters to guide its operations for a period of time, and state specific goals that are derived from the strategic plan.

One of the strategic plan’s outcomes is a statement of Facilities Goals—a generalized and prioritized outline of needs in the built environment, a roadmap that henceforth guides the decisions that impact adaptive re-use strategies.

To reach these facilities goals, the Facilities Plan (or “master plan”) is developed.  Its first stage is “programming,” in which specific project requirements are enumerated.  A simplified way of looking at this would be that an amount of space is assigned to each of the facilities goals previously outlined.  The second stage is “planning,” during which the actual physical layout of spaces or buildings is defined, including phasing.  During creation of this Facilities Plan, adaptive re-use strategies are first brought into play in a significant way. 

Specific strategies are affected by three principal factors.  First, the anticipated rate of change shapes the degree of permanence and the amount invested in the principal building components.  Rapid growth, for example, drives decision-making toward minimal investment in non-structural components and also pushes toward initial concentration on flexible support facilities in lieu of permanently configured structures.  (e.g., religious congregations might focus on fellowship and education space in their initial phase, not on a permanent worship space).  

Second, specific programmed needs also influence strategy.  First phase structures may be planned to satisfy alternate needs for a specific, limited time period, thus spurring along the “next phase” project.  When that next stage comes along, the first phase project reverts to its original intended purpose, or is adapted to something else. 

Finally, existing physical conditions also impact strategy.  Where a “greenfield” site is involved, no particular constraints hinder the flexibility of the first stage plan.  However, utilities, drainage, and parking infrastructure are all sized for the ultimate master plan.

Construction economics must always be kept in mind.  Planning approaches are driven by the different rates of depreciation in the basic building components (Figure 2).  By creating a “core” structure comprised of building elements that hold their value, other components can be designed according to their desired lifespans.  Figure 2 illustrates the decline in value of the basic building systems over a fifty year time horizon.

Figure 02

Thus, a building design is created around the “basics” (structure, building enclosure, vertical circulation, building services, and major mechanical and electrical equipment), and adds “plug and play” demountable or movable elements to finish out space in its “final” form.  This approach is well-suited especially for education, meeting, and administration buildings.

Adaptive re-use, then, is a concept which can be applied to planning and design at any stage in the life cycle of an organization’s facilities.  While its common context involves dealing with aged structures in need of re-purposing, it also offers a sensible strategy to plan in the earliest stages for long-term cost-effectiveness for a variety of building uses.


Greg Turner, AIA, LEED AP, MBA, APF
Architect, MBA, and Professional Futurist Greg Turner can work with you to augment your organization’s strategic direction and financial performance, through his focus on the relationships between external environmental conditions and internal strategic development.

Stretgies for today