It’s been said that the most sustainable building is an existing one, and the evidence is undeniable. Adaptive reuse has been one of the fastest growing trends in the architecture and construction industries for years now, and with good reason. Quite apart from the enormous reduction in time, energy, and work required when working with an existing building (as opposed to demolishing it, and building a new one), it’s often a lot cheaper - which is a major benefit given the economic uncertainty the industry is facing.

In addition - and to quote another well-worn phrase - they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. And that holds true for buildings of all types - often, the double-brick construction or thick sandstone walls that were built to insulate occupants in a time when heating wasn’t so crash-hot still provide those same benefits today. Add to that the fact that older style buildings possess a sort of singular charm that cannot just be reconstructed, and it’s clear that this will continue to be one of the most sustainable trends in the construction industry as a whole.

Circular Economy

Australia has really upped its game when it comes to the industry-supported recycling and reuse of building materials, and our industry is all the better for it. Everything from carpet tiles to electronics and structural materials can now be consciously recycled, with a growing number of companies offering whole-of-lifecycle programs that incentivise customers to act responsibly when the time comes to refurbish or redesign a space.

Multi-functional spaces

Obviously the way we think about our spaces - particularly in urban areas - has undergone some significant shifts over the years, and this creates exciting opportunities to use existing constructions in new and different ways. This could be anything from the addition of a rooftop garden, to the construction of a speakeasy in a basement. Finding new and innovative ways to use existing spaces - or better still, spaces that were previously disused - is one of the defining characteristics of adaptive reuse and, as such, a sustainability trend that will only pick up pace in the coming years.

Community engagement

Community engagement is a key aspect of the adaptive reuse philosophy, particularly where larger buildings or public structures are concerned. Developers are becoming increasingly attuned to their social responsibilities and dedicating portions of reuse sites for communities -

whether they’re gardens, community centres, or parks and communal spaces. Providing these spaces has been shown to increase sustainability at a societal level through the sharing of knowledge and expertise, as well as increasing the functionality of shared space.

It’s hard to find something that has the potential to impact the sustainability profile of the construction industry as a whole as much as adaptive reuse. It has not only a direct and measurable effect on the sustainability of a particular project, but ripple effects throughout innumerable subsidiary industries. And we’re looking forward to seeing the trends above grow and flourish in years to come.

If there is a project of yours that adheres to the trends mentioned above, we'd love for you to submit it for consideration for the 2023 Sustainability Awards. To do so, click here.


Image: Sue Hutton's Stephenson's Mill, designed by Hector Abrahams Architecture.