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The Magic of Adaptive Reuse
August 30, 2014 -- Just like your body, the urban fabric is continually renewing itself: buildings are continually torn down and new ones erected in their place in response to economic, demographic and political factors. But some parts of your body, such as adult teeth, need to last a lifetime. Likewise certain buildings should last the lifetime of a City.
These significant buildings play an outsize role in the City's history, because of their particular architectural or historical impact. Usually they get landmarked and afforded the highest level of protection.
Santa Monica, a City of 51,000 units, has only 110 landmarked structures. If these structures were evenly distributed in the City's 139 year history there would be less then one landmark worthy structure built every year. Its fun to guess which of the buildings being built today will be the landmarks of tomorrow?
But there’s another more common and efficient way the urban fabric renews itself and that is to take existing buildings and with minor modifications repurpose them to new uses (e.g. adaptive reuse) avoiding their outright demolition and preserving their presence in the community.
This adaptive reuse provides benefits that are shared by residents and developers alike:
The greenest building is the one not torn down.
If the amount of "new" construction in an adaptively reused or remodeled building is reduced in relation to new construction, this secondary waste stream is further reduced.
Finally, every building has "embedded energy" in it such as the energy needed to fabricate materials, the gas needed to bring the workers and materials to the site, the electricity needed to power their tools etc. etc.
When a building is completely torn down all that energy is totally wasted since it only appears as residual global warming with no ongoing benefit (and a considerable global penalty). But when a building is adaptively reused much of that embedded energy remains “in” the building to benefit future generations.
Adaptively reused buildings are quicker to complete
Adaptive reuse is typically cheaper than new construction
Adaptively reused buildings have more fans than new buildings
Fortunately, Santa Monica has many different adaptively reused buildings for its residents to enjoy for example :
A large private home became a bar and event/banquet hall (The Victorian, 2640 Main St); two large homes became museums (Angels Attic and the California Heritage Museum); an airplane hangar became an event venue (Barker Hangar 3021 Airport Avenue); a church became a home (2621 2nd Street); a googie restaurant became a dental office (The Penguin 1670 Lincoln); a car dealer/garage became a restaurant (El Cholo 1025 Wilshire); a small shotgun house is becoming a new Preservation Resource Center (2520 2nd Street); a 7 story office building is becoming a new hotel (710 Wilshire); and our former post office is probably becoming a new office (1248 5th Street)
The list could go on and on. Of course, the biggest collection of adaptive reuse in the City is all the buildings on the 3rd Street Promenade and the surrounding downtown area.
Finally, when you realize the concentration of older industrial buildings in the Memorial Park area and that the vast majority of buildings in our downtown and along the major boulevards are 1 and 2 story (in excess of 75%), the city would do well to establish a policy outlining the circumstance that buildings need or could be maintained profitably by adaptive reuse.
Small incentives would often be enough to push a building from being demolished to adaptive reuse. Even the preservation of a relatively small number of adaptively reused buildings is of tremendous benefit to the architectural experience and soul of our City.
SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
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