Adaptive Reuse

Denver's Emerson School Building Reopens After Green Restoration

Posted on: May 30th, 2012 by Jim Lindberg


The flag of the National Trust is flying high over the historic Emerson School in Denver, Colorado! National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown returned to their 5th grade “flag patrol” days to hoist the National Trust's banner as part of last week’s grand opening festivities, which also included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house attended by more than 250 guests.

National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown preparing to raise the flags.

These events marked the completion of a $3.2 million “green rehabilitation” of the Emerson School. Donated to the National Trust in 2010, this 1885 schoolhouse is now home to the Trust’s Denver Field Office, as well as seven other nonprofit organizations, including Historic Denver, Colorado Preservation, and Downtown Colorado.

When we launched the Emerson School project last August, part of our plan was to demonstrate replicable approaches for making older buildings more energy efficient and sustainable. With the project now complete, we can point to four basic, adaptable strategies used at the Emerson School that we believe can apply to similar building retrofit projects. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


Written by David Alpert

I recently visited an American city with many downtown buildings from a long-departed industry. The city's downtown is now experiencing new life, and many of the historic buildings are finding new uses after sitting vacant for many years.

This is a complex of old warehouses which have now become retail and offices. The developer added a really amazing water feature, a long river which cascades down waterfalls at various intervals. There are small footbridges across the river and even stepping stones to cross in one place.

The old chutes for the products remain and now serve as decorative flourishes. In the center is an old railcar, like those that once transported goods to and from the facility.

At another location nearby, people have turned several old garages into bars and music halls. They've also become a popular spot for food trucks, and two were sitting outside as we passed by on a Saturday.

Both of these [examples] demonstrate the preservation concept of "adaptive reuse." Old, historic buildings can become a valued part of a changing community by taking on different functions that residents need today. The distinct architecture of the structures and the small details that nobody would build today adds character and interest.

Can you guess the city?

[Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington]

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington. He has had a lifelong interest in great cities and great communities.

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Friends of the High Line and the City of New York, co-creators of the now-famous park on a reused elevated railroad through the west side of Manhattan, unveiled their plans for the third phase of the landmark preservation project at a public meeting last night. Check out the slideshow below for images of how the newly-restored and reimagined section will look:

This phase addresses the rail yards portion of the project at the northern terminus of the High Line, where more than 12 million square feet of new office, residential, retail, and cultural uses are planned for the site as part of the Hudson Yards development above the rail yards.

Construction of the High Line will be closely coordinated with the development of Hudson Yards, with the park fully built out on the majority of the eastern section of the historic railway, and an interim walkway built over the western section. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Long Beach's Palace Hotel Reopens as Affordable Housing

Posted on: February 27th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment


Everyone loves a good preservation before and after. But for the community of Long Beach, California, the Palace Hotel (now just called The Palace)  restoration and reuse was about much more than the building. Last Wednesday, the community gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the renovated two-story building that now includes 13 apartments for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system.

The Palace as it looks today. (Photo: LINC Housing)

The renovation of the historic 1929 hotel was spearheaded by LINC Housing, a California statewide organization formed to preserve and create affordable housing. In addition to the 13 studio apartments, the building includes a manager's unit, common areas (like a great roof deck), and offices for program services. The ground floor retail space will be occupied by iCracked, a mobile phone and tablet repair service that will hire residents from The Palace.

The Palace Hotel, pre-renovation: old murals, boarded windows... (Photos: LINC Housing)

"It's been incredibly rewarding to watch the transformation of this historic building, and it will be even more rewarding to see these young adults successfully transition from foster care to independence," said Hunter L. Johnson, LINC's president and CEO.

The community gathered last Wednesday for the building's grand opening. (Photo: LINC Housing)

Like many adaptive reuse project across the country, this renovation includes a variety of green design features that up the building's efficiency and long-term sustainability. For example, the appliances are all Energy Star certified, there's a high efficiency HVAC system that services the building, and each apartment is fitted out with dual-flush toilets. Solar panels and fuel cell technology were also incorporated to help reduce utility costs. Although it's still going through the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED process, The Palace is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification.

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Preservation Green Lab Releases New Report on the Environmental Value of Building Reuse

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


For a long time we’ve known that preservation helps create quality communities that are character-rich, vibrant, and dynamic places in which to live, work and play.  And there’s also been lots of good news over the years about the economic value that preservation brings – especially in tough economic times.  But today, with the Preservation Green Lab’s release of The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, we have the most comprehensive research to date showing preservation is good for the environment too. The findings from this study offer additional compelling evidence that preservation makes sense for communities.

Each year, approximately 1 billion square feet of buildings are demolished. The Greenest Building explores the environmental impacts associated with the decision to demolish and replace existing buildings – and especially the carbon dioxide savings that might be offered by reusing and retrofitting these places instead of demolishing them. With generous funding from The Summit Foundation, this effort brought together a team of leading thinkers with unparalleled expertise in building and life cycle science.  The study team included Cascadia Green Building Council, Green Building Services, Quantis, and Skanska.

Using life cycle assessment, an internationally recognized approach to evaluating the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their respective life cycles, this study compares the reuse of existing buildings to demolition and new construction.  Six different building types are examined: single family; multifamily; commercial office; mixed-use (main street style); elementary school, and warehouses converted to multifamily and commercial buildings.

Notable study findings include:

  • Building reuse typically yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size, functionality and energy efficiency.  This result was found to be true irrespective of climate – though differences in climate can affect the extent of savings
  • The absolute carbon-related impact reductions can be substantial when these results are scaled across the building stock of a city.  Consider this example: In Portland, Oregon retrofitting just one percent of the city’s office buildings and single family homes that would otherwise be demolished and rebuilt over the next ten years would help to meet 15 percent of the entire county’s total CO2 reduction targets.
  • The study also explores how the reuse of an average performing existing building would stack up against a new, efficient building; it’s often assumed that a new, green building will rapidly compensate for any climate change impacts that occur during the construction process. The Greenest Building analysis finds that it can take 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to compensate, through efficient operations, for the climate change impacts created by its construction.  The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to overcome the initial carbon impacts from construction.
  • The design of buildings matters. Those buildings that tend to use the fewest materials will have the most significant environmental savings – and in fact renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.  It’s important to make sure buildings (whether new or existing) are designed to minimize material inputs -- and to make sure designers have the tools needed to select materials with the best environmental profile.

The bottom line:  As preservationists, the work we do to save buildings makes sense for our communities, our pocket books and our environment!  For more information on The Greenest Building, download the full report or see our report webpage.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Round-Up: Infill, Adaptation, and Discovery Edition

Posted on: November 17th, 2011 by David Garber


691 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston carries the rhythm of its older neighbors into a more contemporary look. (Photo: Chang Zhang of Urbanica, Inc.)

Contemporary building artfully fills a gap in South End neighborhood - The Boston Globe

"You might not even notice, walking or driving by, the new apartment building at 691 Massachusetts Ave. in the South End. That’s because it fits so beautifully into its historic neighborhood. But take a second look, and you realize that this building isn’t just deferential to its surroundings. It’s also fresh, inventive, confident, and contemporary. (So were its neighbors, long ago, when they were new.)"

372 Lafayette Street – Take Two! - Off the Grid

"Back in August, we wrote about 372 Lafayette Street, the proposed new building designed by Morris Adjmi that will – once given the go-ahead by the Landmarks Preservation Commission – occupy the site of the existing one-story garage on the corner of Great Jones Street in the NoHo Historic District. ... Today, the architect returned to the LPC with a revised design, which the Commission unanimously approved."

Details on Pearl’s hotel still sketchySan Antonio Express-News

A week after the Historic and Design Review Commission gave conceptual approval for a hotel at the Pearl, the developers are keeping the details close to the chest. According to preliminary plans submitted to the HDRC last week, the hotel is an adaptive reuse project of the Peal’s historic Brew House and Cellar buildings with selective demolition.

Jamestown Thought to Yield Ruins of Oldest U.S. Protestant Church - New York Times

For more than a decade, the marshy island in Virginia where British colonists landed in 1607 has yielded uncounted surprises. And yet William M. Kelso’s voice still brims with excitement as he plants his feet atop a long-buried discovery at the settlement’s heart: what he believes are the nation’s oldest remains of a Protestant church.

4 Groups Vying To Own Historic USS Olympia Pass Muster So Far - CBS Philly

The process of transferring the USS Olympia to a new caretaker is moving forward. Four of the six organizations that applied for ownership of the historic warship have made it through the latest phase of the transfer process. The Olympia, commissioned 116 years ago this month, saw action in the Spanish-American War as Commodore Dewey’s flagship, and after World War I brought the body of the Unknown Soldier back from France.

Lego Architecture’s Robie House: My Favorite Lego Kit Yet - Wired

"After opening the box, I was immediately drawn to the instruction manual with its thick and glossy pages. I had to get right to building, but I also wanted to read through the other information. In addition to the many, many steps for building this model, the manual includes plenty of history and background about the Frederick C. Robie House and about Frank Lloyd Wright to put your build in context. It includes some detailed description of the design and construction of the house, and plenty of photographs and copies of the house plans."

How times have changed in New York City! Extraordinary colour photographs reveal 1940s life in the Big Apple in all its glory - The Mail

It’s been 70 years since an Indiana photographer visited New York City and returned home with an amazing collection of holiday snaps. But Charles Weever Cushman’s pictures are even more impressive today, as they were taken on pricey colour Kodachrome and look far more recent than they actually are.

Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s - The Atlantic

As the 1960s came to an end, the rapid development of the American postwar decades had begun to take a noticeable toll on the environment, and the public began calling for action. In November 1971, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a massive photo documentary project, called DOCUMERICA, to record these changes. More than 100 photographers were hired not only to document specific environmental issues, but to capture images of everyday life, showing how we interacted with the environment and capturing the way parts of America looked at that moment in history.

 David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.