Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Adaptive Reuse - Podcast: Kirsten Ritchie on Green Biz Radio

Adaptive Reuse is the term given to the retrofitting and repurposing of existing buildings to minimize new construction while maximizing energy conservation in the satisfaction of our demand for space.

This podcast, features Kirsten Ritchie, director of sustainable design with Gensler, the international architecture, design and planning firm based in San Francisco. In this interview from mid January, Ritchie talked with Green Biz Radio Associate Editor Leslie Guevarra about adaptive reuse — a practice that gives new life to old buildings.

Here's how it began:
LG: Please talk to us about adaptive reuse. Why are we hearing more and more about this strategy these days?

KR: Well, certainly, I'd love to chat about it with you. But what I'd first would like to do for our listening audience is to have them understand what adaptive reuse is. Or when we use that term, what we believe is.

Adaptive reuse is where you're actually taking an existing building and you're repositioning its function. So for example, you have a situation where you had an old manufacturing plant and you're transforming it to use as a commercial office. We have that example right here in our offices in San Francisco where we are located in the old Hills Brothers Coffee Building and it was originally a coffee plant built in the turn of the century. Now it has wonderful commercial offices in it.

Another example would be for our Ferry Building, which of course, was originally built as a terminal for all the ferries that were plowing the Bay. And now it is a wonderful market hall.

So when talking about adaptive reuse, that's what we mean. We mean taking a building and really repurposing it for use that is popular and needed in today's marketplace.

So why are we hearing so much about adaptive reuse? You see it in the newspapers, of course a lot on the design magazines, a lot in the development area.

And the reason for that is first of all, we have a huge amount of existing building stock and we need to be smarter about using it. Particularly if you look at the older buildings, they have wonderful bones from a design perspective. They have high floor-to-floor ceiling heights that allow us to bring in a lot of natural daylight. It allows for good circulation systems, it allows you to optimize how you set up your lighting systems.

And of course, the buildings themselves are pretty strong, sturdy buildings. They've been around so long and they have a lot of materials in them and you want to take advantage of that.

Also, buildings in particular that were built in the earlier part of the century were designed to optimize their performance in what we call the passive state. That is, being able to take advantage of solar orientation and wind and natural ventilation because we didn't have such reliance that we do now on mechanical systems for our comfort. So they're very smartly designed buildings.

The only thing is that their use or what they were originally designed for is no longer needed. And so what you now want to do is say how can I take this building that's, for example, plunked down in the middle of a city, an old manufacturing plant, and take advantage of it because we need housing or we need offices or we need hotels. And can we use these buildings to provide that function?

And the answer is absolutely yes. And so we're really looking to get so much smarter about repositioning and reusing and adapting the use of these buildings to meet needs that we have in the marketplace right now.
In this conversation, Ritchie explores the impacts of - and the long-term implications for - repurposing the "built environment" and concludes it is of necessity that adaptive reuse becomes the standard for how we approach our need for space - to live, work and play in - in the years and decades ahead.

LG: Now, we're talking about ways to transform the built environment. And it sounds like this is part of the same extended family of strategies that could include industrial infills and retrofits.

What you're looking at from an adaptive reuse perspective is saying, if we really want to do something about our energy consumption and we really want to do something about the carbon issue, we have to get, we have to improve the performance of the existing building stock big time. We have over 300 billion square feet of buildings in the United States that are already built and we have a lot of great green rating systems that are out there kind of more focused on new construction.

To get our energy down, we've got to go after those 300 billion square feet of existing building and by going into an existing building, adapting its reuse, improving its performance, being smarter about how you manage — for example, manage daylight and provide thermal comfort, we can significantly reduce the energy consumption associated with the operating of that building as well.

UPDATE: More on Gensler; awarded Green Space Today's February 2009 Firm of the Month.
See photos of Gensler's award-winning adaptive reuse designs and new project build-outs. And more from Sustainable Design Director Kirsten Ritchie.


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