Sustainable buildings for reuse – new strategies for more energy efficiency

Use an external facade made of perforated structures and concrete for sustainable buildings

After shutting down or giving up sustainable buildings, adaptive reuse can be the perfect way to breathe new life into an old building. In doing so, we can conserve resources and historical value. Whether for environmental reasons, land availability, or an effort to preserve a historic landmark, countless architectural firms around the world are turning to adaptive reuse to solve some of the modern problems of the built environment. They give old structures a new, revitalized form.

The idea for more sustainable buildings

stone walls of old chapel in nature with a huge meadow and forest

Awards and standards for sustainable buildings are mostly required by professional architectural organizations. However, they often only stop on the day of opening and do not take into account the daily energy consumption of a building. If the current format is unlikely to change, how can we rethink the way sustainability means in architecture today? The first step might be to forego the rewards of dedicated architecture and instead look at the buildings we already have.

renwick gallery front from listed architecture

At the first conference in Rio de Janeiro on the global environment in 1992, three facts became clear: the earth has indeed warmed up; fossil fuels were no longer a viable source of energy; The built environment would have to adapt to this new reality. An essay entitled “Architecture for a Contingent Environment” was also published that year. In this it is suggested that architects join forces with naturalists and conservationists in order to face this situation.


The preservers of listed buildings then suggested that the profession incorporate the adaptive reuse of historic buildings into its sustainability strategies. This is because reuse consumes such wasted energy in new buildings that generate less waste. In their first guidelines, the engineers who formulated LEED (low-energy electron diffraction) criteria ignored all existing sustainable buildings. Adaptive reuse wasn’t on the radar until recently. This huge blind spot has lingered in the AE professions, albeit not among conservationists in the global community.

New perspectives for old sustainable buildings

brooklyn bridge over an old theater building with brick walls

In 1990, with the full support of its members, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) established its Committee on the Environment (COTE). However, climate change remained a secondary concern for most architects for more than a decade. But the AIA members have followed the recent announcement by climate scientists. This states that the earth will likely warm up so much that sea levels will rise and the species will perish.

interiors with pictures on the walls and sustainable design

As announced in the November issue of the organization’s official magazine, AIA members now have a range of metrics that can be used to measure “green” performance for sustainable buildings. Prices for buildings that meet these standards are equated with the LEED criteria in this regard. A lively cover story made it clear that the COTE top ten awards would play a prominent role in subsequent issues of the magazine.

staircase with seating and rustic interior design, steel column

With this in mind, it is worth looking at these award winners more objectively than the cheerleaders paid by the AIA to spread their messages. In addition, there are reasons that the leading advocacy group in this industry is becoming more aggressive. So it urges government officials to support the infrastructure, energy and sustainability policies that will directly confront this crisis.

Opportunities for energy efficiency

Exterior view of the floor plan and construction workers building and reusing materials

The good news is that some of the award winners were designed for adaptive reuse of existing buildings rather than new build. A school, a brewery and a museum, for example, are among the old building structures that have been given a new “life” through reuse or modernized systems. An award was even given for an energy-efficient retrofit for the historic Renwick Gallery in Washington. These are Victorian and sustainable buildings with wonderful materials but serious challenges with any HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) upgrade. Sewer lines and high-tech heating, ventilation and air conditioning are nothing new, but for a historic structure this can make all the difference.

architecture with concrete walls for a gallery with large paintings

According to the tables that evaluated ten projects, the systems for adaptive reuse could help save energy and promote sustainability. A puzzling case, however, was the Kieran Timberlake atelier in the former Ortlieb’s Brewery in Philadelphia. It’s a very popular example of using sensor technology to maximize energy savings through passive ventilation. One photo posted the message that intelligently built and renovated sustainable buildings could do things that old, non-renovated versions couldn’t offer.

large work area with cip pool and several desks in one hall

In the 1970s, tons of air conditioners were the only means of keeping users comfortable. So nothing beats a challenge to replace those outdated settings related to thermal comfort. This enables consumers to use freon-cooled air instead of natural fresh breezes. Many historic buildings also do this quite effectively without mechanical fans by relying on convection and using roof louvers or monitors.

Climatic conditions

old theater building renovated with wooden elements and modern roof reuse

However, there is no point in subjecting ignorant staff to an experiment that looks foolhardy from a tenth grade physics standpoint. The increase in heat under any glass roof will make plants happy, but people also increase temperatures through constant energy consumption. Adding many sensors into space promised nothing to tell researchers that a thermometer couldn’t.

reading corner on the stairs set up for visitors and large reading room with curtains

In fact, a summer under the sun was uncomfortable for the staff, although there was hope that opening and closing roof vents would regulate temperature and humidity. Shorts and T-shirts didn’t help either. After three years and hundreds of employee surveys, the school principals admitted their ventilation system had failed and installed air conditioning upstairs. A double system allows natural ventilation in moderate weather, but not on hot summer days. Apparently, the builders looked at old sustainable buildings the same way they looked at their new designs. They want to prove that new technologies will always outperform the proven solutions of previous designers.

public sustainable buildings to reuse new strategies for energy efficiency library

In fact, many projects in the first “top ten” have achieved modest performance even under the specified basic criteria. Apartment buildings, like Australian passive houses, are empty in many cities and require innovative adaptive reuse solutions. Are a few sustainable buildings better than dozen of reused historic building structures with improved thermal performance in their windows, walls and roofs? Low-tech improvements like organic gardens and rainwater cisterns gave a new theme for educational programs.

Innovative solutions for sustainable buildings

renovated hall and steel construction with modern minimalist elements and plants

The British suggested in 2008 that only 15% of global construction should be used for new projects before 2050, while the rest should be used for re-use and energy-efficient renovation of existing buildings. AIA’s lobbying, however, is vague about the benefits of this type of sustainability and ignores the positive effects of such investments in Europe and Asia.

old chapel church renovated with new red windows as a vacation spot for tourists in usa

So it is time for architects to develop a clear agenda on infrastructure and reuse. Just as maintainers should devote themselves to reuse rather than mere restoration work, architects should focus their attention on additions and renovations rather than praising high-tech green machines. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of such creative, adaptive projects below. Each of which uses an ancient structure to create a revitalized shape in its own way.

The Jaegersborg water tower in Copenhagen

jeagersborg water tower in copenhagen denmark newly renovated houses students

In 2004, Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter ApS won the competition to convert the Jaegersborg water tower into a mixed-use building. The building now houses students who live on the upper floors. Each unit has a protruding crystalline structure that provides additional daylight and views of the city.

House of Vans in London

house of vans is in old brick arch railway station waterloo in london

The House of Vans in London is located in the 150-year-old brick arches of the railway lines that leave Waterloo Station. It’s a creative venue for van and skateboard lovers. This also houses an art gallery, creative rooms, a projection room and a live cinema. There is also a music venue, café, several bars and a three-tier indoor concrete skate park.

Renovation of old residential buildings in Venice

renovation of old buildings in venice renewing the exterior facade of the factory and residential areas

This project is based on the existing urban fabric of the Venetian island of Murano and revitalizes a former industrial site with two new residential complexes in a disused factory. The new residential complexes with units will be built in the factory, parts of which are to be retained. The project for the residential units relates to the existing urban fabric of the region.

Reuse old war bunkers

old war bunker renovated as a holiday resort combining rustic concrete walls with wooden furniture

As part of an advertising campaign for the “Famous” office, the architects transformed a run-down bunker in the Netherlands into a holiday home for two families. This is inspired by Le Corbusier’s “Le Cabanon”. Due to the success of the renovation, it was decided to keep the bunker permanently open for accommodation. The half-buried bunker is located on the grounds of Fort Vuren in the Netherlands in a green area. The building was protected and had to be addressed with respect. The Dutch Commission for Monuments has taken the project to heart and supported it.

Professional cooking school in an antique slaughterhouse


The project involves converting an old slaughterhouse, built in the 19th century, into a professional cooking school. In this example, the architects created new sustainable buildings from the old building. In these, the old building uses various other materials under a new ceramic roof, which are reminiscent of the origins of the building. Medina is a historic city in the hills of Cadiz in Spain. The houses there are known for their whitewashed walls and ceramic roofs.

Example of green sustainable buildings from the USA

Transforming old haberdashery stores in chicago into sustainable buildings in industrial style

Based on the relationship between design and sustainability, the architects’ office used a 115-year-old former haberdashery in this case. The team created over 10,000 square meters of mixed-use commercial space using sustainable technologies such as a green roof and rainwater collection system. Solar panels and geothermal wells are also part of the project.