They don’t make ’em like they used to. So developing our environments in sustainable – and beautiful – ways means making the most of existing architecture no longer fit for its original purpose. Adaptive reuse is expensive and time-consuming, but the rewards are evident as we return to our inner cities, our coastlines and the postindustrial wilderness to live, work, eat and play. Here are some of the year’s greatest successes.
Newlab at Michigan Central
The city of Detroit is a postindustrial incubator for adaptive reuse. Its latest master plan incorporates four abandoned heritage buildings over 30 acres, each repurposed as a hub for next-generation mobility startups. The 90-year-old Albert Kahn book depository was the first to complete this year as the Detroit HQ for Newlab, a Brooklyn-based collective of entrepreneurs focused on prototyping high-tech mobility solutions. Brooklyn architects Civilian reimagined the interiors for Gensler‘s building restoration, using Knoll furnishings and massive planters for greenery.
Trevarefabrikken, Henningsvær, Norway
A master of reinvention, Jonathan Tuckey sojourned in Norway’s remote Lofoten Islands to breathe new life into a 1940s-era cod liver oil factory. Subdividing the concrete structure into guest rooms and a restaurant, he retrofitted bespoke wood berths for beds and baths and fitted new shutters around existing windows. A café in reclaimed wood has become a welcome meeting place for the community. The sauna takes advantage of the seafront location, opening wide to the fjord, with views of the snow-capped mountains beyond. See more on the Trevarefabrikken hotel.
The Refinery at Domino, New York, USA
Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Refinery lost none of its iconic appeal throughout its long-anticipated reinvention by New York’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism. The 19th-century riverfront plant has become an elegant envelope around a glass co-working campus, built anew within the existing heritage structure. The new inner tower overtakes the original shell with a multistorey domed penthouse event space; at street level, it accommodates retail, concierge services and a ‘bicycle lobby’. In the four-metre gap between the glass interior and the old bones, the architects incorporated abundant greenery that climbs to the upper storeys. Peek inside the landmark redevelopment.
Pressoria, Aÿ-Champagne, France
Completed during the pandemic but opened to the public this year, this old grape-pressing plant sits amid vineyards for Bollinger and Henri Giraud. The Champagne region enlisted Atelier Phileas to oversee its conversion into a museum of oenology, with exhibits at its core demystifying the process of Champagne-making. Expanded windows at the rear separate a new bistro and tasting rooms from the deep dining terrace. Outside, visitors can carry a flute down into the fields for a stroll between rows of vines.
5×7, Shaoxing, China
This disused electrical backup station by a river in Zhejiang province presented an opportunity to small Shanghai practice Greater Dog Architects. The 5×7-metre eponymous box had sufficient head height to function as a teahouse for tourists visiting a nearby goose-down factory. The team added an entrance canopy and pillar, coloured to recall a goose leg, and added roof lights to the expanded southeastern-facing windows to draw in sunlight and improve insulation. The aluminium and orange exterior palette runs up through the 6.8-metre interior.
Laguna, Mexico City
Accents the colour of fresh-cut grass have transformed this dilapidated century-old textile factory into an inviting co-op, where 25 creative artisans work around two landscaped courtyards. A major employer for the neighbourhood for decades, the building survived the 1985 earthquake to become a shelter for dispossessed citizens – so the building deserved a compassionate rethink. Mexican practice Productora added and enhanced walkways, staircases and elevators to create easy circulation around the complex, from workshops to galleries to bathrooms in each section. The vibrant ironwork demarcates the new interventions from the original concrete structure and creates a striking identity for the place.
Dabang Café, Jeonju-si, South Korea
Three decaying rooming houses and a rubble-strewn alleyway are now unrecognisable after a refurbishment by One-Aftr, a Seoul studio with a penchant for translucent gridwork. Enlisted by an entrepreneur with plans to run a café on the site, the team demolished all but two exterior walls and bits of roof and let metal lattices create diaphanous distinctions within the larger area. After restoring the existing infrastructure, they added raised seating, walkways and dining surfaces that flirt with the outdoors through wide openings and exposed roof lights. Sunken flower beds bring more of the outdoors in.
Houlton Secondary School, Warwickshire, UK
This Grade II-listed sixth-form college northwest of London began life as a radio transmission complex built in 1926. Architects at Van Heyningen & Haward designed a cohesive quad around the former power hall, transmission hall and water tower, converting the heritage brick and steelwork into functional teaching and dining facilities. New courtyards, stairwells and a large canopy at the entrance serve as the glue to hold it all together. Part of a larger master plan outside the town of Rugby, the school will sit alongside a new community of thousands of newly built homes.
Taiza Studio, Kyotango, Japan
Local craftsmen specialising in time-honoured traditions came together to convert this heritage fisherman’s cottage on the seafront outside Kyoto into an exhibition space and atelier. Curator Kayo Tokuda of Tomorrow Field rounded up plasterers, potters and cedar joiners to collaborate on the project, which finally opened to the public this year after the lockdown restoration. Masters in wood-block printing, rice-paper art and tatami mat-weaving provided the finishing touches. The building will also function as a temporary lodging for artists in residence, while the main public spaces host temporary exhibitions of grassroots design.
Battersea Power Station, London, UK
One of the highest profile projects this year was the final reveal of London’s art deco icon, Battersea Power Station, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, brought back into being as a multi-use social and retail space by local firm Wilkinson Eyre. The centrepiece in a massive regeneration project that brought thousands of new residents to southwest London, it showcases to spectacular effect its original ironwork and brick, with banks of clean glass in the atrium and a new glazed lift travelling up the northwest chimney to a panoramic lookout. Take a look inside the landmark.