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Design Challenges and Solutions Pertaining to the Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings

Author: Michelle L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 2008
Program: Master of Science in Interior Architecture, Chatham University

This paper critically analyzes published information on adaptive reuse in reference books and periodicals through a content analysis. Particular attention was recorded pertaining to the challenges associated with adaptively reusing old commercial and residential buildings into new uses. The study analyzes and evaluates nine categories of challenges, which occurred most often in residential and commercial adaptive reuse projects and explores any possible similarities among them. The nine categories identified were: sustainability, space planning, structural, mechanical, maintaining historical integrity, codes/ADA, zoning, urban development and other (acoustics, lighting, etc). Of the 39 buildings researched from a randomly selected sample, a total of 93 challenges were recorded. Of these, 43 challenges were found to be associated with commercial buildings and 50 challenges were found to be associated with residential buildings. In comparing the occurrences of the top challenges between commercial and residential projects from the sample, the study revealed there are similar occurrences among the top three challenges in each group. The most occurring challenge in each project type was associated with space planning. The study concludes the residential and commercial buildings reused for new uses had unexpected similar major challenges in their transformations. In addition, the study intended to evaluate which type of project seems to be more difficult. When the challenges were compared for the entire population, an analysis using confidence intervals revealed that the challenges between the building types cannot be considered statistically different. The study acknowledges the idea that while all buildings may not be same structurally, historically and spatially, common ideas can be utilized to successfully retain old buildings. It would be advantageous within the design community to be mindful of the specific challenges associated with each type of project and be prepared to address similar issues during their design process. By understanding one of historic preservation’s treatment plans, adaptive reuse, as a viable and valuable design approach, many of the cultural and historic resources will continue to tell their story in every community.