Let’s polish off our crystal ball says Dan Sullivan, vice president of R&D at KOVA—a design and construction company that looks at the built environment in its entirety, from envelope to the smallest interior detail. This gives them a unique perspective on how to optimize adaptive reuse. Sullivan chats with our Senior Writer Janelle Penny about best ways to approach this all-important practice and how new technologies are developing products more well-suited to a continual rather than one time evolution for buildings and their interiors.
JP: Adaptive reuse has been a hallmark of sustainable design for a long time but often only the shell and core are reused and the rest is gutted.
DS: Adaptive interiors really begin with the idea that different parts of the building have different life spans: the site is forever; core and shell have a lifespan we hope of 100+ years; mechanical systems are 20 years; the interiors are unfortunately one of the most short-lived layers of the building, only hanging around for about 3-10 years depending on the building’s use. So, adaptive reuse is really about decoupling those layers in a way that allows them to evolve at their own rates.
When I first set out in architecture it was really about taking old factory buildings and converting those to housing or office. So, I think the way we used to talk about it was adaptive reuse was a one-time deal. You’re seeing an evolving definition now, where we’re not thinking about that one-time conversion anymore and instead thinking about what the uses could be in the future – the ones that we are not predicting. We’re evolving it as long as the core and shell of the building can support those changes.
JP: What are some of the emerging technologies that are extending the life span of today’s buildings and making them adaptable for tomorrow?
DS: It’s such a salient question especially with the advent of artificial intelligence and it’s still a big question on how AI will advance the building industry. But I think we could probably think of technology in the construction industry in a few different categories: there’s technology-enabled design like AutoCAD and the Revit family of tools; technology-vested products like those with occupancy sensors; the frontiers for technology at this point are the ones moving it toward productized construction, meaning software moving it over to practices of manufacturing and assembly, or enabling the pulling of components from various corners of the supply chain so when they end up on sight they are largely compatible with each other.
The current suite of technology enables taking a design and reimagining that into productized, multi-trade assembly and software that can actually export instructions for manufacturing. Now, the export is sets of digital instructions for products on an assembly line – that’s taking the design and creating the instructions for robots on an assembly line to make them. That’s where you’re seeing investment in technology today.
JP: What do people need to know about adaptive reuse, specifically as it applies to interiors?
DS: It begins with evaluating the core and shell for its appropriateness for reuse. You need to have a building that will last with generous floor-to-floor height, so that means relocating mechanical systems or allowing daylight to penetrate deeply into the floor plate. You’re also looking for large windows. You want long-span structure. You’re also looking for room onsite to potentially expand outward or upward. Is there appropriate exiting? As you change use you might need additional exit stairways. Make sure that zoning supports the change of use and expansion.
And then in terms of what you actually put inside of it, we look for products that don’t look modular, but can adapt to their context. We need interior products that have high acoustic performance. You want products that maximizes offsite construction. Onsite construction is messy and time consuming so you want something that can be switched out really quickly over the course of a couple days. You want products that take advantage of multi-trade assembly and already have integrated electrical, mechanical and fire protection components. You want products that are truly reconfigurable while minimizing waste and the addition of other custom components.
One thing that also tends to be a real obstacle to interior reconfigurability is the use of a lot of load bearing partitions across the interiors. Those can’t be relocated, or at least not easily. The parcelization of the interior space is typically an obstacle, which is not seen a lot in office or industrial buildings thankfully, but you do see it a lot in multifamily residential or single family residential so those can be very difficult with adaptive reuse.
To hear this conversation in its entirety, listen to the BUILDINGS podcast episode “Adaptive Reuse: A Solution for Interiors?”