Adaptive Reuse Roundup

The old adage says, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." While that is true in many instances, architectural firms across the country are developing efficient and eye-catching adaptive reuse projects - often the equivalent of making something special out of a less-than-stellar facility - for their higher education clients. Adaptive reuse, the transforming of a structure to fit another use, requires an eye for what can be based on a thorough understanding of what it is.

Three different projects illustrate the importance that adaptive reuse can have for college and university clients, when faced with expanding their facility holdings.

A New Campus

Rhode Island College (RIC), Providence, R.I., needed room to grow on its main campus. The solution was found when the state of Rhode Island transferred 10 buildings, formerly used by the state's Department of Children, Youth & Families for residential care, to the college for its use. This enabled RIC administrators to create a new east campus, within walking distance of the college's main campus, from the buildings they received from the state. Administrative functions were moved to the new campus, which freed up space in buildings on the main campus for additional classrooms and related facilities.

"The buildings were all built in the 1950s and are very institutional, one-story structures," says Bill Gray, AIA, principal-in-charge for Vision III Architects, Providence, R.I., a firm that has worked on five buildings on the new campus. "We had to restore the structures while also creating a visual identity and a connection to the college's main campus."

Gray says that one of the main challenges on any adaptive reuse project, which was also true in this case, is to understand the fabric, texture and structure of the building(s) before going any further.

"We did a detailed evaluation of the architecture, structure, roof and utilities on each building as our first step. You must understand both the physical (square footage) and structural limitations of what you have."

The building analysis was followed by an evaluation of user needs, including program goals and objectives. Every building has approximately 8,000 to 9,000 gsf and is home to multiple users. The extensive planning and investigative work established the foundation for successful reuse of the facilities to meet RIC's current and future requirements.

Exterior design solutions involved restoring the basic brick shell of the buildings and replacing the existing windows with elegant metal windows. On the two main buildings, buildings four and five, the flat roofs were replaced by pitched roofs, which were raised three to four ft. above the original height. This created the visual identity that was sorely needed for the new campus. Additional exterior treatments included zinc metal panels on facets and soffits around building entrances. Walkways link the main campus and the new east campus. Extensive landscaping rounds out the exterior environment.

Because the interior footprint is small, Vision III had to economize wherever possible. Common functions, such as conference and copy rooms, are shared between user groups within a building. This might not be ideal, but was required, based on the physical limitations of the buildings.

Replicating the Pratt Look

Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (EE&K) Architects, New York, was charged with replicating "the Pratt look," as principal-in-charge for restoration and adaptive reuse, Denis Kuhn, likes to call it, when the firm was hired to design a facility for the school. "Pratt has a look that fits with the style of the institution," Kuhn says. "Structural systems are exposed, and there are many strong architectural elements. They wanted to have the same look for their new facility, even though it is geared toward a different student base."

Courses at the new Manhattan site are geared toward individuals who want to further their skills and to corporations that want training classes for their employees. Pratt purchased a historic loft building on 14th Street in New York that borders on the Greenwich Village Historic District. Institute administrators believed that it was more financially viable to own rather than rent, and the strategy has turned out to be the perfect solution. Pratt occupies 100,000 sq. ft. of the 120,000-sq.-ft. structure with retail tenants occupying the remaining space. The retail tenants, located on the ground floor, contribute to the college's income stream while providing services for students, instructors and nearby residents.

"A major consideration on adaptive reuse projects is whether or not you can avoid major structural changes," Kuhn says. "Reusing older buildings can become noncompetitive - from an economic standpoint - compared with building a new facility if your costs run too high, and structural requirements often have the most significant impact. In this case, we were able to keep both the elevators and the fire stairs where they were, which helped us to avoid major structural modifications."

Work on the building's exterior included the complete restoration of the brick and terra cotta façade and the entire exterior shell. Inside, EE&K created a new lobby that gives Pratt a street presence and a connection to the retail tenants housed in the building. Banners attached to the building's exterior further advertise the location.

Interior work involved the creation of new spaces, including a gallery on the second floor to house exhibits. This provides space for showcasing the work of Pratt students while offering space to host traveling exhibits. Additional spaces include general and computer classrooms, art studios, faculty offices, lounges and a photo lab.

EE&K also faced the challenge of accommodating the technology that is required to meet the computer-intensive work that is done at Pratt. All new electrical and HVAC systems were installed in the building. The new ductwork and lighting were exposed to contribute to the "Pratt" environment.

From Retail to Education

Move from Manhattan to downtown Hartford, Conn., where an historic retail landmark has been transformed into a new $60-million home for Capital Community College.

"The G. Fox building opened in 1917 and closed in 1993," says Rob Van Akin, on-site project executive for Gilbane Building Company, the construction manager on the 300,000-sq.-ft. adaptive reuse project. (S/L/A/M Collaborative was the project's designer.) "The location fit the college's mission perfectly, but the building required extensive work to make it appropriate for its new use. The structure's listing on the National Register of Historic Places added further considerations to the design and construction issues that we had to tackle."

Structural modifications presented one of the biggest challenges. A new stairwell and fresh air intake were built through all levels of the 11-story structure. To create a new atrium, the team had to cut through the top five floors of the building. The atrium is capped by a skylight that allows natural light to flow into the building - a dramatic and necessary improvement to the formerly dark interior. A bank of five elevators was demolished, and the one bank that was saved was refurbished.

The exterior was fully restored and special methods were used to repair the brick façade. The original terra cotta was also restored, and the original 100 wood windows and 150 steel and aluminum windows were refurbished. The main steel and porcelain canopy, which measures 20-ft. by 170-ft., was also restored.

On the interior, the lobby columns received new fluted lines and black marble bases. The stainless steel and brass trimmings on the marble elevator cases were preserved, as were other art deco elements, which is in keeping with historic preser- vation standards.

Another major challenge involved the installation of new building systems to accommodate technological requirements. An entirely new electrical system was installed throughout the building and a fiber-optic backbone was added. Two computer closets are located on each floor, and a major computer room is located in the middle of the building.

"This project was completed within 13 months, which is amazing given the work that was done," Akin says. "Our success can be attributed to the extensive planning that was done and the level of detail and cooperation between the entire team. For example, we took out 15,000 lbs. of demolition debris from the building using just one elevator. We had a second shift that took the debris out at night so we could use the elevator during the day to bring construction materials into the building. It may seem like a small detail to some, but this tactic had a tremendous impact on our workflow and schedule. Careful and extensive planning is the cornerstone for every successful adaptive reuse project."

The three adaptive reuse projects profiled illustrate the creativity that higher education clients and their design teams are using to breathe new life into existing properties while meeting their own space requirements. Finding a new use for an older building may not always be the easiest road to take, but it may be the most rewarding.