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Building Green

The Basics of Building & Material Reuse

You may be familiar with the idea of building reuse in design, but did you know “reuse” actually covers a wide range of project types and approaches? While each type is unique, and some might lend themselves better to certain project types, each kind is integral to sustainable building and design practices.

March 17, 2022

Building reuse capitalizes on something that new construction simply cannot achieve: the character and sense of place that can only be created through time. It’s an essential strategy for sustainable buildings. There are many ways to think about how building reuse can be applied, as well as how it can integrate into the design, demolition, and construction of buildings and interiors.

Reusing a building.

The most basic way of understanding building reuse is exactly what it sounds like. It involves reusing a building or building materials instead of tearing them down and or throwing them away.

What This Looks Like

You probably already know of a few projects that fall into this category of reuse already.

Colonial Restoration On The Hill – Historic Restoration – Board & Vellum
Highlighting Existing Beauty

Retaining existing structures is one of the most fundamental forms of reuse. Though this house was severely damaged in a fire, instead of tearing it down it was refurbished and updated for another generation to enjoy.

Building renovations, retrofits, upgrades, and tenant improvements fit into this notion, as do many home remodels. The update to the Space Needle is an example of building reuse.

Adapting an existing building into something new.

Changing the original intent of a building and/or space into a new use is what we call adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse comes with its own set of challenges and has varying levels of difficulty to achieve due to building condition, material value, and zoning complications. They are, however, my favorite type of architecture due to their creative and transformative nature.

What This Looks Like

A classic example of adaptive reuse is transforming industrial spaces into apartment lofts.

Ada’s Technical Books & Café – Retail Design – Board & Vellum
Same Same But a Little Different

This little treasure was once someone’s home, but now it’s a bustling café and bookstore. Adapting its use from “residential” to “commercial” kept the building’s charm intact while bringing a much-needed amenity to the community.

Famous examples include the Tate Modern Museum in London, which used to be an oil-fired power station, or the New York City Highline which transformed an elevated railway line into a 1.5-mile park.

Reusing materials.

Instead of sending construction and demolition waste to the landfill, building materials can be salvaged and repurposed with material reuse. Finding a deconstruction contractor can be helpful in making sure the salvageable materials are diverted to the right place. In Seattle, most demolition projects now require an assessment of how much material is salvageable, and a plan to make sure it goes to the right place. Then, these salvaged materials can be purchased and used again in future projects.

What This Looks Like

You might be surprised what can be salvaged during demolition. If you are thinking of obtaining architectural salvage materials to use in your next project, our region has some good local resources.

Nia Tero office interior design by Board & Vellum.
Turning Trash Into Treasures

Wood and other salvagable materials can be given new life in the right hands. Here, live-edge wood is reimagined as a one-of-a-kind reception desk.

I love to visit Second Use Building Materials, Ballard Reuse, Earthwise Architectural Salvage, or Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Some of these places also accept donations but call ahead to find out. Concrete, lumber, paint, and metals can all be recycled and, in some cases, reused. Plus you can find tile, sinks, faucets, carpet, windows, fireplace surrounds, knobs, pulls, doors, and so much more.

Resusing furniture, fixtures, or equipment.

Reuse doesn’t start and end with a building or the things built into the building. There are a lot of opportunities for reuse in the things you use to decorate a space. Vintage items can add charm to either contrast with or complement the style of a space, and they are often one-of-a-kind (or close to it).

What This Looks Like

Think textiles, furniture, light fixtures, mirrors & accessories, washer & dryer sets, ovens, and other decor and equipment.

Craftsman Bungalow Restoration – Board & Vellum
Old Becomes New

Vintage fixtures like this light are as usable as they were when they were first created, but now their uniqueness and character add a little something extra.

Sure, you can find some of this stuff on any street corner of the city, but, in addition to the architectural salvage stores mentioned above (who also salvage decor), there are many easy-to-access stores, warehouses, and marketplaces where you can find fantastic salvaged pieces.

  • Online marketplaces like Craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, etc.
  • Chairish
  • 1st Dibs
  • Auctions
  • Estate sales, moving sales & garage sales
  • Local & national thrift stores
  • Vintage stores

Using products with recycled content.

Another form of building reuse is through materials made with recycled content.

What This Looks Like

Examples are far-reaching and include steel structural members, countertops with recycled aggregate, floor finishes, recycled concrete, and more.

Scout Apartments – Board & Vellum
A Little Something Extra

Aggregate countertops (and backsplashes!) like the one seen here offer a variety of color combinations and styles to suit many design aesthetics. When you choose one with recycled content, you’re giving new purpose to what might have ended up in a landfill.

If you’re interested in using recycled materials on your project, talk to your designer or contractor about the best places to implement them in the design.

As you can see, reuse in design comes in many different forms and looks different on each project. You may have or be planning a project that relies heavily on reuse without you even realizing it!

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

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