As cities and towns grow, the prosperity that usually follows often brings with it new stores, office buildings, warehouses and other commercial facilities that can enhance the quality of life for local residents.


Unfortunately, when times get tough, these structures often get abandoned as commercial real estate developers and retailers either move out of town or shut their doors completely. In the worst-case scenario, abandoned commercial facilities are left vacant for years, sometimes falling into disrepair.

The result of abandoned structures can be urban blight, and with this can come crime and a lower standard of living for nearby residents.

Although there are various schools of thought when it comes to dealing with abandoned architecture, the idea of adaptive reuse has gained in popularity in recent years, and adaptive reuse initiatives may hold the key to breathing new life into old architecture.

What Drives The Need For Repurposed Structures?

Adaptive reuse is the process of adapting existing structures to fit new uses. Around the United States, shopping malls are one of the largest examples of commercial facilities that can stand to benefit from repurposing project initiatives.

Shopping malls became popular in the late 1950s, but they truly hit their zenith in the 1980s. As time passed and more shopping options became available, malls started to see a steady decline.

Credit: Archineerd

The dot-com era and online shopping signaled the end for the American shopping mall, and today, only about 1,000 remain. Of those remaining shopping malls, 25% are expected to shutter their doors by 2025.

What this means is that large, complex commercial structures have been and will be left unattended, but proponents of adaptive reuse see opportunity and potential in these abandoned structures.

Adaptive reuse projects seek to revitalize existing commercial structures that have been abandoned and/or have fallen into disrepair. One of the more popular ideas surrounding adaptive reuse architecture is converting shopping malls into residential communities.

Other ideas have included adapting large, abandoned commercial spaces into film studios and soundstages.

This has been attempted to varying degrees of success in cities like Buffalo and Oklahoma City, and video game developer Epic Games, makers of Fortnite, hasĀ begun moving its development studio into a fading mall property in Cary, NC.

Movie theaters and churches are other examples of large commercial and special-use structures that have been considered for adaptive reuse in recent years.

Following trends in popular culture, church attendance is down and televisions have become larger and offer better picture quality. This has led Americans to shy away from theaters and church services, leaving many buildings either hardly used or abandoned completely.

Why Is It Important To Reutilize Old Architecture?

Aside from the aforementioned urban blight and potential for social problems, abandoned or disused structures are also wasteful. They take up space, and they must also be maintained lest they become hazards to the community.

An abandoned building that does not receive regular maintenance may develop plumbing problems that can lead to flooding or a gas line may burst and become a fire risk. Further issues can arise when unattended structures decay and leak harmful chemicals and other hazards into the environment.

Additionally, the resources required to maintain an abandoned property could be utilized more efficiently. Even something as simple as regularly cutting the grass around an abandoned structure requires fuel resources that could be better utilized for other purposes.

Most structures will also need to continue receiving and using electricity for lighting and gas for heating depending on the area in which the structure is located. These resources not only cost money, but they are also largely wasted.

Adaptive Reuse Projects Around The U.S.

To tackle these challenges, architects, engineers and developers are working together. Another notable adaptive reuse project is the Quirk Hotel located in Richmond, VA.

The Quirk Hotel is a unique lodging facility that began as a dry goods store in 1916. After the building sat empty for years, local Richmond couple Ted and Katie Ukrop began transitioning the structure into a destination for artists.

In 2015, the space was converted into a full-time hotel, and the couple has also expanded the Quirk brand to other facilities, including an art space in nearby Charlottesville, VA.

In any type of adaptive reuse project, developers must spend a lot of time considering not only the impact on the local community but also the amount of investment needed in repairing and restoring structures.

Credit: CucombreLibre

In some cases, older architecture that has been targeted for reuse and revitalization may be considered historic or may hold certain significance to a local community. In other cases, major repairs and renovations are required to bring older buildings in line with modern building code requirements.

Because of these considerations, not every structure that has been abandoned or fallen into disrepair is suitable for adaptive revitalization. For those that are suitable, the potential to create something new out of a structure that was at one time written off can be of great value to neighborhoods and burgeoning population centers.

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