Looking Ahead at Adaptive Reuse: Designing for the Gain Factor

Chisholm Now that the commercial sector of design and construction has slowed to an imperceptible crawl, how are architects and interior designers going to prepare for the future? What can we do to keep going as creative, contributing, and prepared professionals in this situation that has confronted us? 

In reality, we have many alternatives for temporary or permanent career choices and alternative career paths that could lead us to make a living, keep busy, start a new life, and live life in complete bliss and happiness. But why get drastic? The game is not over by a long shot. It is merely the momentum shifting.

There will always be a need for architects and interior designers who can design with pragmatism and knowledge. This is as opposed to going downhill sans brakes with the previous "Dubaistic" buffet in design, which would take a client down the slippery slopes of a construction black hole and then suddenly owning an exotic white elephant who nobody wants to ride later on. We have all "heard" about those projects….never seen one? (You sure?)

The commercial architecture sector could really define any project that includes a pragmatic approach to gain, be it financial, perceptive, emotional, or spiritual. That definition certainly would include human beings temporarily or permanently using and or residing in such a structure. So then, you could easily justify any building as commercial due to the “gain factor.”

At any one time, any structure has or could have the gain factor in economics. That can be translated to the appeal of such a structure as a functional and aesthetically pleasing building so as to satisfy whatever future use this structure could have, as in retrofit and/or adaptive reuse. The future looks good for that sector: One of the most pragmatic approaches to a new building project that an architect can provide a client is the built-in flexibility within the confinement of a project program.
But why do historic structures in the USA fail to become recycled icons in a community as we see in quantity in Europe? Even though a lot of restrictions apply, Europeans adapt and conventional functional uses are also retrofitted to adapt and work within these given spaces.

It is simply because Europeans adapt to functional use and design based on what is frugally available instead of always starting on an abundant blank slate as we have grown accustomed in this country. In the USA, an “anchoring factor” adds to the appeal, meaning that a structure adds more to society because it is different and represents our evolving society.

The future of our design disciplines and service philosophies should bring a demand for increased ingenuity in design, flexibility, durability, and longevity in our buildings. The throw-away/disposable times should be over, as far as a lot of our culture is concerned, and it will definitely apply to the design and construction industry. There will be a focused expectation to return to basic fundamentals of rational approach, to problem solving and solutions, and clients in a new a new time of sobriety will demand it.

The evolution of professionalism and knowledge based involvement and provision of services in any aspect of business, including A&D, is already being much more emphasized than before. The architects and interior designers that can provide that level of knowledge, control, and visioning to a client will be at the forefront of that resurgence of new activity. Now, proof and evidence of studied knowledge is the requirement to undertake any endeavor. Is this a wish, a fact, a desire… or a real need after this recent economic lesson?

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Bob Chisholm, FAIA, is chairman of the board of R.E. Chisholm Architects. Headquartered in Miami, Fla., the firm has completed numerous high-profile projects since 1982. Current and other notable projects include Art Deco Historic Preservation Master Plan, Miami Baseball Park Stadium, Cuban Exile Museum and Library, U.S. Century Bank Headquarters Building, Everglades Farmworker Village (largest affordable housing community for the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and three comprehensive facilities for the homeless in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He can be reached at bob@chisholmarchitects.com or (305) 661-2070.

One Comment

  1. I am in Interior Design student in San Diego. I find adaptive reuse intriguing and I want to extend my education into that field. I may continue into graduate school later, but for now I want to try to gain real life experience in the field. I found this article while browsing for firms and specialists within the field in my area. Thank you so much Bob Chisholm for writing about this important area of design!