Category Archives: architecture

Dig, dig, dig

(Photo by busymonster)

This blog developed from our search for adaptively reused quarries and when we relaunched it back in April last year our first post was about the adaptive reuse of a cement works near Vancouver, now the Butchart Gardens, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Canada. We were trying to prove that the abandoned cement works at Portland, a few kilometres from where we live, was a great asset that could one day be revived in a new role.

It should’nt be a hard point to argue. Throughout the civilised world (ie countries not controlled by extremist right wing economic ideologues) quarries are often highly sought after redevelopment sites. Even fairly isolated sites have “infinite potential” (as real estate agents say) in the hands of people of imagination.

(Photo by dulcie)

We thought we would revisit the subject but we’ve been a bit slow posting lately due to a combination of home and garden renovations, upgrading to the latest WordPress version (problems!) and installing new (pre Vista) computers that all have to be set up to dual boot Linux and Windows XP (ah if only Linux really was perfect, but it isn’t, it’s just better than becoming a slave to Microsoft) and since we began slowly writing this post a few weeks ago two bizarre quarry stories have appeared.

The first was a story in The Guardian about Monsanto in the 1970s using a Welsh quarry to secretly dispose of toxic waste. We have some doubts about the safety of genetically modified food but we are much more concerned about GM as a tactic being used by Monsanto to control the world’s food supply. If you still need evidence that Monsanto has indulged in deceitful and criminal behaviour, just read this story, then consider whether you still believe the rosy stories they now tell about GM food.

The second is this post in the admirable BLDGBLOG about a different sort of toxic quarry. The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana is an abandoned open cut copper mine whose polluted waters have become home to a range of “novel forms of fungi and bacteria”, many with unexpected medicinal potential. So humanity is creating mass extinction on one hand and on the other creating unlikely environments that demonstrate the extraordinary resilience and adaptive ability of life. It makes you wish you could live a few centuries just to watch the amazing events that are about to unfold.

That’s one of the things about quarries and similar abandoned industrial sites, even the most contaminated can become havens for wildlife, often because their polluted state protects them from destructive redevelopment. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be adaptively reused, however, if only as wildlife refuges. The Brick Pit Ring aerial walkway on the Sydney Olympics site is a spectacular example.

The long disused brick pit, with the massively contaminated but partly remediated Homebush Bay on one side and the various Olympic stadiums on the other,

(Photo by yewenyi. Check out his Homebush Bay set including interpretive signage by Wendy)

is at the geographic centre of Sydney. It was found to contain colonies of the now endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog ruling out any reuse that might injure the frog’s habitat. Even its use as a study centre for the frogs had to be handled with extreme sensitivity. The resultant structure by Durbach Block is not just sensitive, it’s beautiful. (Wendy was part of the Australian Museum consortium that were the runners up for the job so we’ve watched its development with wonder.)

But frogs aren’t the only thing swimming around in quarries, there are frogmen and frogwomen as well and they’re studying rather than being studied.

One of the most successful diver training centres in Europe is the Stoney Cove Diving Centre in a flooded granite quarry in Leicestershire, UK.

During the quarry’s working life, the spring water was a constant problem. Pumps were used to prevent the quarry from flooding. When all quarrying ceased in 1958, spring water was allowed to flood the quarry workings. Five years later, the flooded quarry had already become popular with local pioneers of diving and waterskiing.
The discovery of North Sea oil was important to the development of Stoney Cove. During the 1960s and 1970s, the flooded quarry was used to train commercial divers en route for the North Sea.

Stoney Cove is very popular with around 100,00 dives a year

(Photo by flibber)

(unlike another flooded UK quarry used for diving, the suicidally deep and cold Dorothea Quarry in North Wales, probably best avoided.)

There are also other sorts of study centres in adaptively reused quarries.

The most obvious example must be the Eden Project, a sort of botanical theme park built in a former clay pit near St Austell, Cornwall, UK.

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

Wikipedia as usual gives an excellent overview

At the bottom are the two covered biomes. The larger, the Humid Tropics Biome, is for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature. The smaller of the two, the Warm Temperate Biome, houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various pieces of sculpture. The Outdoor Biome represents the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops and hemp. A third covered biome representing the dry tropics is planned for the future.

It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK, proving yet again, again, again,

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

that the average person is more aware of environmental issues than are the pygmy politicians manufactured and sold to them by the corporate media. Perhaps they are all sizing the place up for adaptive reuse as their future home, a wise move given the way things are going (again thanks to BLDGBLOG for the link).

There’s only one Silver Bullet

The Silver Bullet Cafe at Alice Springs in outback Australia is like a pattern book of adaptive reuse and recycling projects.

In fact it has more than 90% recycled materials. Consisting of several 4.2m x 15m Silver Bullet caravans once used as remote area schoolrooms it also incorporates the remains of a WWII ordnance depot.

It’s all set within an arid zone garden furnished with buses, trucks, recycled oil drums,

clothes hoists, road sign tables and more. They’ve even got a tyre swan – bliss! Is this the Mad Max future as heaven rather than hell?

We love it because it looks a mess and where we live “tidiness” is regularly used as an excuse to destroy heritage sites. We think messiness is next to genius – as Einstein once remarked “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

All photos by jogaroopy

This printed life

If there is one thing we are looking forward to this year it’s the test run of Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting 3D House Printer in April 2007. You could call it printer technology adaptively reused but it’s more a case of evolved.

So, print yourself a house then pop out to your shed where you keep your Acme MakesEverything

(evolved from the Fab@Home fabber) and print out anything else you need.

You could even print a plane.

And in a different way you can already get printed furniture. O brave new world, even if it does at times resemble a Goon Show dystopia.

PS It is worth persisting with this valley girl interview with Khoshnevis to hear him talk at the end about his course in creativity – he’s our sort of guy!

The return of the dispossessed

(Photo Sean Hemmerle)

You will have noticed that we’ve been updating our links since new year. While trawling our bookmarks we noticed a thread of links about apocalypse that we discussed in our last post but also about attempts to adapt to catastrophes/war/dystopias, providing visions of a future that is all too possible.

Beirut seems to be the test bed of cataclysmic adaptation. The most interesting Beirut link, because of its clear personal tone, is the unbuilt architecture blog, the source of this image

which did the blog rounds recently.

After destruction through war or any other inhumane deployment of technology, capital and energy, we are left with sites, minds and societies unbuilt. Leveled to the ground. Making room for denial, doubt and a divided society. Understandable but unacceptable. This condition needs those who dare to envision perspectives beyond the ruins…

Bullet holes adaptively reused as art or lighting? or their public space project?

Unbuilt do their public space project in Beirut’s dysfunctional public spaces but the lack of public space is common throughout the developed world, a physical reflection of the atomised social pathology. First world cities increasingly consist of private spaces pretending to be public where you are welcome only if you have money to spend,

(Photo helixblue)

places like Boca Raton, Florida where the only genuinely public spaces are the roads.

ArtAfterCrisis, ” a weblog reporting on the role of art in crisis areas” also visits Beirut. Author Chis Keulemans describes his mission to document creative adaptation

I am interested in the ability of artists and intellectuals to reinvent society after the peace has been signed or the dictator has been toppled. How does their work reflect the horrors of the past? How do they reclaim public space in their cities? Do they contribute to or criticize the new collective identity of their society? How do they communicate with the world outside?

Talking about Hassan Choubassi’s map

of the (fictional) Beirut Metro he says

Riëtte, my girlfriend and photographer, spent hours with Choubassi visiting several of the most prominent stops on his fictional Metro Map: places that were crossroads on the demarcation line between the Christian East and the Muslim West parts of town during the civil war of 1975 to 1990.

How do these places look today, and what were the stories behind them?

Adaptive reuse is the only possible way to live in a war torn city.

In the book Traces of Life (2003), the result of a research [Tony Chakar] did with colleague Naji Assi and their students of architecture into the maze of a poor laborer’s neighborhood called Rouwaysset, he describes how densely populated slums like these create their own urban space. ‘The relationship of a building in Rouwaysset with the surrounding buildings and spaces is a relationshiop of mutual and continually renewed violence – a violence that both defines the shape of these buildings and spaces and is defined by them.’

What strikes me is the use of the word violence. Building places for people to live, eat and make babies in is not usually associated with violence. And he is not talking about the violence that may come with the razing down of whole neighborhoods to create spaces of power (like in Ceausescu’s Bucharest) or commerce (like the Jakarta shopping malls), he uses the word to describe the day-to-day push and shove of new additions to existing infrastructure, the perpetual festering of concrete, glass and iron that goes on so stubbornly in Beirut, that it makes it seductive – here more than in many other cities – to compare it to a living organism. Layer upon layer, it grows into a never-ending palimpsest of histories.

Finally, there is a section about Beirut in Worldview,

a web-based project of the Architectural League of New York that invites architects from around the world to present reports on what is new and interesting in architecture and urbanism in their cities, with a particular focus on cities and regions that are not adequately reported on by the mainstream architectural press.

Elie Haddad edits the section on Beirut and he comments

Some historians have attributed the destruction of the city to a latent hatred for what Beirut had come to represent for many of those living on its margins, i.e. an exclusive concentration of economic and political powers that reduced the rest of the population to a condition of subservience. In one post-war documentary, a militiaman candidly recounted the feeling of satisfaction that he and his comrades felt as they entered one of the grand hotels, heretofore a symbol of those in power, and violently took their sweet revenge on the place and all that it symbolized.

Therein lies the warning that cities like Beirut pose, that the exploited and dispossessed will have their revenge. The most immediate and effective solution to global warming would be the immediate and complete destruction of western industrial consumerist society. The disastrous consequences of consumerist greed are now being visited unfairly on the vast majority of the planet’s population who never received any of its benefits. Who could blame them for the most violent retaliation, especially as the destruction of our industrial economies would put an immediate end to the source of all emissions?

(Photo Abdallah Kahil)

Anyone who believes that would be impossible has not learned the lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan and now Iraq, that a low tech society can always ultimately defeat a high tech military. And a low tech society will be best adapted to survive the next few centuries of chaos.


The history of prefab buildings is long and honorable (even the First Fleet sent out to set up a British colony in Australia in 1788 brought prefab buildings), and the importance of old prefab buildings cannot be understated for they are among the most vulnerable elements of the built environment. It is especially true of commercial prefabs. That makes this a real gem, a beautifully restored and reused porcelain enamel metal panel prefab garage from the 1950s now beautifully adaptively reused as a frozen custard shop.

Starting life as a gas station, it was moved from a location near Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in the 1970s and turned into an auto repair shop, complete with an “updated” look of fake brick and a mansard roof. The new owners Steve and Vicky Uhr realised the underlying classic nature of their building and employed KKE Architects to restore and modify it for their Liberty Frozen Custard business.

The brick and wood was removed and the original gas station was discovered mostly intact underneath.

Essential elements in the restoration were exposing the building’s original porcelain panels and incorporating the original red, white and blue patterns. The existing garage doors were used as functional architectural elements, opening up the indoor dining area and connecting it with outdoor seating. A complementary 500-square foot addition was constructed, and the interior was modified to its new use.

What can we say, it’s beautiful

and it fully deserved the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota‘s Adaptive Reuse Award it received in August 2006.

There is more on their flickr site.

Big sustainability ain’t hard

One of the main arguments for adaptive reuse is sustainability, by extending a building’s life you save its embodied energy, and the bigger the building the more you save. If the building is in the US and you can achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification as a sustainable building you gain other advantages as some US states now provide additional tax incentives.

The Montgomery Park adaptive reuse of a 1925 Art Deco style warehouse is a typical example. The 1.3 million square foot Baltimore building had been abandoned for 15 years when it was purchased by developers Himmelrich Associates and converted to offices. The State of Maryland came to the party with tax credits worth 40 cents in the dollar that ensured its financial viability.

LEED certification came through a range of strategies. The most important in adaptive reuse terms were

  • the redevelopment of an existing urban site.
  • it involved remediation of a brownfield site (although contamination was limited).
  • The site’s easy access to the city’s major bus lines enabled a public transport strategy.

Other sustainability techniques included retention of stormwater on site and some used in greywater system, partial green roof to minimise heat island effect, waterless urinals and energy efficient ice storage air conditioning system, recycling of building waste as paving, reuse of existing carpet tiles, insulated glazing with minimum perimeter offices to maximise daylight combined with energy efficient motion controlled lighting and low formaldehyde interior finishes and materials.

The finished building demonstrates how a considerable degree of sustainability can be achieved fairly simply.

The fact that the developer seem to have developed a taste for adaptive reuse projects is probably proof that sustainability pays. Montgomery Park is their second project, they have another smaller development nearby of Mt Washington Mill, Maryland’s oldest surviving cotton mill, dating from 1811, now housing retail and offices.

Broken Angel

(Photo Douglas LeMoine)

Broken Angel, the Brooklyn house made famous by Dave Chapelle’s Block Party, may have been saved by an adaptive reuse deal according to the New York Times.

(Photo Douglas LeMoine)

The spectacular example of outsider architecture has been suffering a near death experience following a fire in early October 2006. According to the owner’s son, Christopher Wood,

The building Broken Angel is a unique melding of art and architecture designed by my father Arthur Wood, and located in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. The original building was bought at a city auction in 1979, and major construction was completed in 2002. On 10/10/06 a structure at the top of Broken Angel caught fire. Thanks to the quick action of the New York City fire department no one was harmed, and only minimal damage was done to the building. Unfortunately the fire brought the attention of the department of buildings (DOB) who vacated my parents, the owners and guardians of Broken Angel. My family is currently working with the architecture firm, Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture, to bring the building to code, however we are still being threatened with demolition by the DOB.

It is unclear how much of the Wood’s constructions will survive. They have agreed to submit engineering plans to dismantle the building’s 40-foot rooftop structure, the main violation of building codes. The Woods have also entered into a tentative agreement to share ownership with a local developer, Shahn Andersen, who would turn most of the building into condominiums including some form of community space, along with living and studio space for the Woods. Mr Wood says he was forced into the deal because he was running out of time and afraid the buildings department would tear down his home.

(Photo Douglas LeMoine)

Although it’s debatable whether Mr Wood is an outsider artist in the usual sense of the word there is no doubt that his building is intended to be a complete environment and any demolition will depreciate its eccentric charm. (There is an excellent article by Samantha Krukowski about the complete environments created by outsider artists and their difficult relationship with art markets) Despite a few prominent examples like Watts Towers, outsider architecture usually ends up being demolished, unlike the bleaker monstrosities produced by developers.

There are numerous interior and exterior photos of Broken Angel at Christopher Wood’s flckr site .

Refugee chic

Just as it has become fashionable for designers to give a nod to adaptive reuse, it is also fashionable for architects to create show houses for refugees. You get a few extra brownie points if it involves a bit of adaptive reuse.

Here’s an example by Cubo Arquitectos of Santiago, Chile.

Its made entirely of doors, pallettes and some plastic sheeting. It looks great, as a shack we love it, it’s got honesty and style.

But as emergency housing? You must be joking? The tsunami or hurricane or earthquake hits so what do you do – of course, you jog down to the nearest big box hardware store and buy thirty or more doors.

And so do the other tens of thousands of homeless in your area. Assuming you have a big box hardware in your third world country, assuming it’s still standing, assuming it has several hundred thousand doors in stock, assuming you have money, assuming you have transport etc, etc, etc.

But it looks cute and that’s probably all that matters.


(Photo Colin Gregory Palmer)

It’s one of the most recognisable buildings in the world, certainly the most famous power station. You would think its adaptive reuse would be so obvious and simple, yet the devious twists and turns in its recent history, the trickery and betrayals, would make baby Jesus weep. Yes, it’s Battersea Power Station, roofless, vandalised, the empty shell slowly being demolished by neglect, but one of those buildings that, once seen, forever haunt the memory.

(Photo Tom Maloney)

The saga has gone on for years despite the devoted efforts of its admirers and maybe just maybe there is finally a resolution at hand. After receiving approval for its redevelopment plans in late 2006 the property company Parkview, owned by the Hwang family, almost immediately sold the site to another development company Real Estate Opportunities. Right from the time of their initial purchase in 1993 it had appeared that Parkview was not acting in good faith and would never carry out their development proposals. Given the severe deterioration of the heritage listed building on their watch their exorbitant profit leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. Now that they are finally gone real progress is possible although there is also still plenty of room for it to go wrong.

But this could be the start of something big. A growing awareness of global warming is finally getting through to even the most reptilian brained corporate leaders. The Conscious Earth reports that Exxon-Mobil, having spent US$16million since 1998 funding “global warming disinformation campaigns” (or lies, as they are usually known) has announced that it is accepting reality and will cease funding organizations that deny climate change science, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI made the unintentionally but grimly hilarious “CO2 – They call it pollution, We call it life” television ad. Exxon-Mobil will now concentrate their efforts on crippling legislation (they didn’t put it like that, exactly). Also this week the European Commission is calling for an unprecedented common energy policy.

“Europe must lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say post-industrial revolution – the development of a low-carbon economy.”

This all makes one thing clear, there will be more and more redundant coal fired power stations. Few of them are as architecturally impressive as Battersea, the largest brick building in Europe, but most will be candidates for adaptive reuse.

(Photo Dan Taylor)

Going batty

The world was does not belong only to humans, notwithstanding the deluded ravings of right wing religious extremists.

We share it with a still unknown number of other species and most of them can be pretty awe inspiring once you get to know them better.

What better way to spend your life than trying to make the world better for them rather than worse as we have for the last few thousands of years? (Photos:JJ Kaczanow/Bat Conservation Trust). The Bat House project by 2004 Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller sets out to do exactly that.

Although not an adaptive reuse project in the strictest sense of the word, it is an attempt to adapt the environs of the city of London to make it a more bat friendly place.

Jeremy Deller and the Bat House Project Partners are pleased to invite you to join a collaborative initiative to imagine and design a home for bats in London.

The Project highlights the potential for architects, builders, home-owners and conservationists to work together to produce wildlife-friendly building design. It connects the worlds of art and ecology to encourage public engagement with ecology issues. The Project builds on the Mayor of London’s policies to raise awareness of urban biodiversity and to support the survival of London’s ten bat species.

Each month there is a challenge and the first, ending on January 15, 2007, asks What is it like being a bat in London?

Imagine you’re a bat in London. Where do you hang out? What do you see, feel, hear, eat, need? What attracts you? What gets in your way? Use any medium you like to communicate your idea .

Like Natalie Jeremijenko’s rooftop for pigeons, this is another example of art that gets our stamp of approval.