Home / Post / 8 Projects That Showcase How Adaptive Reuse Architecture Can Revitalize Older Buildings

8 Projects That Showcase How Adaptive Reuse Architecture Can Revitalize Older Buildings


In the world of architecture, fresh new builds aren’t always better. It is paramount that projects show respect to the communities they are entering and the culture they will become a part of. Meeting these goals can be difficult for a new building that feels disconnected from its surroundings. Building upon existing designs is a strategy to help projects avoid this pitfall, achieve many other goals, and create opportunities that just wouldn’t be possible with new construction.

This practice is known as adaptive reuse architecture. Specifically, it entails adapting an old structure to function in a new way. It is often employed when preserving a site’s heritage is a priority, or a site is underutilized. Adaptive reuse is also leveraged in cases where conserving some or all existing architecture is the most economical or sustainable strategy, and can have incredible community impacts. 

In this post, we examine the virtues of adaptive reuse. Additionally, we explore 8 real-world examples that have built on the aged structures of the past, uplifting both their significance and beauty and establishing a legacy for the future.

Advantages & Value of Adaptive Reuse Architecture

More architects, developers, and municipalities are embracing this type of architecture because it allows owners and users to get the most out of existing buildings, and they appreciate the unique impact of the final product.

“Adaptive reuse respects the past and builds on old ‘foundations’​⁠ for the future—figuratively and literally. Many times it takes a space that has not been utilized in the best form and elevates it to its full potential”.

– Aaron Benefiel, principal architect at JRDV

From matters of community impacts on resource management, the range of benefits generated by adaptive reuse is impressively broad:

  • Community Strengthening & New Investment: Adaptive reuse architecture many times serves as a catalyst for revitalization. The symbolic transformation of an abandoned building in a blighted area can create a hub of activity that overflows into the surrounding locale. Many Adaptive Reuse projects become an icon of pride a community can center around. This icon can form a beacon for new investment, bringing new opportunities to the area. By reusing and uplifting existing properties within neighborhoods, adaptive reuse projects also slow urban sprawl. Furthering their functionality, some adaptive reuse projects are uniquely positioned to meet a community need. One example is accommodating residents and businesses at a lower price than new construction can.
  • Preservation of History and Character: Our very own architect Aaron Benefiel explains that adaptive reuse projects offer “a unique blend of aged and new elements that creates a link to the past. They have a quality that is very hard to match in new construction. A special contrast of old and new that is complementary and helps put both into a new light…the evolution of space is tied to the community, roots, and history. Starting anew sometimes lacks that connection and it can’t be artificially created”.
  • Cost Minimizations: An adaptive reuse approach can reduce project costs across the board. Not only do fewer new building materials need to be purchased, but the need for expensive demolition and debris removal is eliminated (or at least dramatically decreased).
  • Funding Opportunities: Pursuing an adaptive reuse project opens up unique funding sources and financial incentives. Grants from federal, state, and municipal governments are widely available for projects that restore and preserve historic properties, as well as some tax credits or other provisions.
  • Energy and Resource Conservation: Adaptive reuse is architectural recycling in its ultimate form. This reduces project resource consumption and demands less energy and labor than a new build. The end product is also “greener” in that older buildings typically incur lower energy and operational costs.
  • Accelerated Timelines: Because adaptive reuse gives a head start through existing architecture, projects can be completed much more quickly. Additionally, the existing portion of the property may be ready for tenants to move in sooner than the rest of the spaces, generating early financial returns.

Adaptive Reuse Projects Designed by JRDV Architects

West Oakland Adaptive Reuse Project

West Oakland Specific Plan

This massive project represents one of the most pioneering approaches encouraging responsible revitalization, development, and investment in America. In an effort to reinvigorate 4 square miles of a historically neglected and disenfranchised area, JRDV, along with community leaders and city officials, spearheaded a master plan that would incentivize development, with a focus on adaptive reuse to infuse the area with fresh vitality.  

The West Oakland Specific plan laid the groundwork for streamlined development. Through an accompanied detailed EIR, 6,000 new housing units and over 6 million gross square feet of commercial space were pre-approved. A number of empty or underused buildings were also highlighted as opportunities to be adapted and renewed. This elevates the area’s ability to host a wide range of profitable businesses, as well as local artists and makers.

Design guidelines were created in order to respect existing homes and structures while injecting innovative new spaces, encouraging adaptive reuse and outlining its incentives. This master plan is the foundation bringing potential newfound wealth to the area in a way that benefits the community as a whole.  


1960 Mandela American Steel

1960 Mandela – American Steel 

Once the factory warehouse for American Steel, and more recently known for its long history as a hub for artists and creators, the property at this West Oakland development site presented a major opportunity for JRDV to honor the city’s manufacturing history and the building’s longstanding cultural importance. All of this was to be done while creating a thriving new hub that supports 21-st century businesses and continues to expand opportunities for artists and manufacturers

The industrial spaces were re-envisioned in a flexible way, pivotal to facilitating an evolution that was flexible and responsive to the community’s and marketplace’s needs. Adaptability was a priority in the design plan, as we aimed at forming a facility that could flexibly change to meet the evolving needs of commercial tenants, artisans, and small manufacturers. 

The under-used factory buildings now have a plan to add density in a way that will offer a multitude of possibilities to the growing arts and innovative business space, from modern co-working spaces to an indoor makers market. This plan leverages the creative capital in the building and promotes collaboration across the commentary fields the building attracts.


San Pedro Square Market

San Pedro Square Market

JRDV gave the city of San Jose a one-of-a-kind retail venue by constructing one new building and adapting two existing structures. One of these was the Peralta Adobe, Northern California’s oldest building, which has been standing since 1797. The development site also takes advantage of the formerly neglected parking facility across the street. 

Serving as a vibrant new urban attraction, the market hall provides a home for unique businesses that offer alternative products and services, including a medley of artisanal dining options. This differentiating quality cements the market as a venue with a strong identity and exclusive value. 

Furthering the site’s role as a community hotspot are indoor and outdoor event spaces that regularly host live music performances and other occasions. Additionally, this adaptive reuse project has become a catalyst for the emerging high-density urban neighborhood that surrounds it. Continuing improvements can be seen in this evolving area.


Global Harbor Village Aerial View

Global Harbor Village 

Where previously there was only the hum of mechanical equipment, JRDV transformed a mechanical rooftop into a lively experience for residents, workers, and shoppers. The building site was located atop Shanghai’s Global Harbor shopping mall, creating an entirely new level for the shopping destination, complete with dining and events spaces. Around 60 restaurants were added to the once empty space, as well as an expansive 2,500 square meter event plaza.  

The goal of the project was to evoke a cosmopolitan essence, marrying international design motifs within a location that appealed to travelers. Our design also capitalized on the rooftop’s vantage points to provide patrons with breathtaking views of the city. By giving the old rooftop such a dramatic makeover, JRDV elevated the mall into a must-see attraction for all who visit Shanghai.  


Four of Our Favorite Adaptive Reuse Projects From Around The World

Tongji Architectural Design Group’s Shanghai Office

Image Credit: Archdaily.com

Tongji Architectural Design Group’s Shanghai Office

Setting out to create their own inspiring headquarters, the TJAD firm of China (a frequent partner of JRDV) took on the ambitious transformation of a hefty bus parking garage. A strictly utilitarian design dominated the three-level, concrete-framed structure. Despite having ample space to work with, the architects faced a tremendous challenge in turning this inhospitable building into a humane and artful workplace 

One creative solution instantly brought new life to the sterile environment: inserting two open-air courtyards within the facility’s center. This didn’t just add beauty to the setting, it also balanced the building’s scale and improved traffic flow. Other invigorating touches included the introduction of curved forms within the interior, atmospheric lighting installations, and striking geometric wall surface inside and out. 


We Work Wiehai Lu, Shanghai

Image Credit: Wework.com

We Work Wiehai Lu, Shanghai  

Set among the vibrant mix of history and luxury that is found in the Jing’An district, the site of the WeWork Weihai Lu office was once an artist’s haven. The London-style mansion formerly housed numerous art studios and galleries within its European form.  

In renovating the space, We Work aimed to honor the building’s heritage and regality while providing staff with a modernized workspace full of amenities. From a sun-filled open atrium to a showstopping green spiral staircase, the building’s new architectural features build upon the structure’s character rather than obscure it.


Chinati Foundation - Marfa - TX

Image Credit: Chinati.org

Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX

Few would expect that a military fortress could become a home for creative expression, but that is exactly what was achieved in the Chinati Foundation Museum project. Fort D.A. Russell had been closed since shortly after the Second World War. But in the late 70s, the Dia Art Foundation funded the repurposing of the fort’s buildings to house a wide variety of art.  

Artillery sheds, barracks, warehouses, and other military buildings were redesigned into galleries and exhibit spaces, as well as accommodations for lectures and performances. Some of the buildings on-site serve as canvases themselves, being transformed by artists into 3D artworks that visitors can immerse themselves in full. 



Image Credit: Heatherwick.com

Zietz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa 

What used to be a massive concrete grain silo metamorphosed into an inventively designed art museum. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront municipality approached London-based architectural firm, Heatherwick Studio, to bring the new attraction to life as part of a 123-hectare mixed-use development.  

Heatherwick leveraged the building’s unusual structure, using many of the 42 concrete silo tubes as individual exhibit spaces. The architects also created an open space within the facility’s center to serve as a social hub, and geometric glass installations reveal a majestic view of Table Mountain, perhaps the museum’s best art on display.


Adaptive Reuse Opens New Opportunities 

Looking at the projects above, it’s easy to understand how working with existing architecture can help projects achieve grander visions, as well as more practical goals. To see more examples of successful adaptive reuse projects, we invite you to view the abundant examples in our portfolio.  

Many of our clients have trusted us to revolutionize their pre-built properties with innovative and creative solutions. If you’re seeking help with your own adaptive reuse project, you’re welcome to reach out to our team for an expert assessment.

Maximize the Potential of Your Project – Contact JRDV