Making the Most of an Old Space

Adaptive Reuse is a term that refers to the conversion of existing older buildings to new uses, rather than simply demolishing them to make room for a new building.

Ordinarily, the basic structure (the load-bearing elements) and shell (exterior walls and roof) are retained, while the rest is reconfigured for the new purpose. Plumbing for restrooms or kitchens may guide the new design to either retain those spaces or locate their new equivalents nearby. Vertical circulation (stairs and elevators) might be better left in place, but in other respects the building may become a “blank canvas”. The obvious benefit is the avoidance of certain costs, like full demolition or new footings. But another benefit is the preservation of some of the character or charm of the older building. With care, this character can be celebrated in the new design.

Every building is designed for a specific use when built; therefore, its arrangement of spaces may not be optimal for another use. One might need to live with certain compromises. But at Childress & Cunningham, we often find that the constraints serve to inspire our creativity!

At Anthem Worldwide, we helped them relocate into a former warehouse facility that is now used for office suites. Since this firm deals in graphic design, they needed an exciting and memorable office space, with visual impact. Random facets of frosted glass are set against the regularity of the original flared columns, so that both old and new features accentuate each other.

The visual interest is concentrated in the more public spaces–the Lobby and Conference rooms–while elsewhere, the grid of columns is respected in the open office layout of workspaces. A similar aesthetic was incorporated in the offices of a related company, Schawk, when they moved into an adjacent suite.

Several years prior, Childress & Cunningham helped Schawk to renovate an old factory building to serve as their offices and production space. By exposing the original columns and spray-texturing the ceiling, the building’s original “bones” drove the overall aesthetic. The removal of part of the second floor opened up a two-story lobby space that highlights the juxtaposition of old and new features.


As another example of adaptive reuse, we helped a church body investigate the feasibility of converting a former grocery store building into a complete worship facility. We studied sight lines to show that a functional Sanctuary could be introduced under the existing roof, whether by elevating the chancel platform or by excavating a portion of the seating area to allow a gentle downward slope. Ultimately, a seating area of over 1,600 persons was shown to be achievable in the space.