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Architecture & Design

Ralph Hawkins: Urban Adaptive Reuse Opportunities

Owners and lenders are experiencing challenges as the marketplace begins to witness foreclosures of urban buildings across the country. With challenges, though, there are opportunities. As we have evaluated repositioning these foreclosed properties, we have uncovered exciting adaptive reuses that are emerging in residential, office, and retail markets. Architects can bring great ideas to help revitalize these older properties
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Ralph Hawkins

Owners and lenders are experiencing challenges as the marketplace begins to witness foreclosures of urban buildings across the country. With challenges, though, there are opportunities. As we have evaluated repositioning these foreclosed properties, we have uncovered exciting adaptive reuses that are emerging in residential, office, and retail markets. Architects can bring great ideas to help revitalize these older properties.

Many times, the base of a building can provide the most rejuvenation opportunities. Exterior skin treatment can update the façade of the building. In the case of a historical building, rehabilitation back to the original façade can provide excitement as a historical renovation. The landscape and walkways around the building also offer a chance to upgrade with new planting and hardscape—providing areas for sitting in the shade.

The lobby finishes also can be easily updated with new flooring, lighting, and colors. The elevators remain a place of impact, due to the amount of time a user spends in this small interior space. The interior of the elevator can be easily updated with both finishes and technology, allowing the passengers to be entertained with the morning news while being transported to other floors.  Mirrors in the elevators have shown not only to be useful for that last look before a meeting, but they greatly reduce vandalism.

In addition to the appearance of the building, there are multiple issues that may need to be addressed. Many tenants are looking for properties that can obtain LEED certification. Most companies are interested in making a contribution to the environment in their new offices. To be LEED-certified, it will be important to bring the buildings up to a standard energy, HVAC, lighting, and water usage to allow for tenant certification.

In older buildings that have received few or no upgrades, an environmental review may be appropriate. If it was built prior to 1972, the building may contain asbestos. Asbestos may be in the pipe insulation or even embedded in the vinyl tile. Lead-based paint also can be a concern. The Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as local building codes and zoning ordinances, will need to be applied to an older building for the health, safety, and welfare of the occupants, as well as access for all citizens.

Repositioning, along with adaptive reuse of buildings, may be one of the largest market sectors for developers, the design profession, and the construction industry. What currently may be a partially empty building can be turned into a vibrant, revitalized addition to our urban downtown areas.

H. Ralph Hawkins is chairman and CEO of HKS Architects, one of the top five architectural and engineering firms in the United States. Contact him at [email protected]