Reusing Adelaide's old buildings

A new study by a CIAT Member at the University of Adelaide, Australia hopes to find ways to reduce the barriers currently preventing the city of Adelaide's empty buildings from being transformed into modern, usable spaces.

PhD student Gillian Armstrong MCIAT, from the University's School of Architecture and Built Environment, has begun an independent research study aimed at better understanding what the real challenges are to reactivating older multi-storey buildings in  city centres. Her research is focused on non-heritage empty commercial and retail buildings, many of which have little or no occupancy above the ground floor.

Building developers and owners, members of the building industry and the architectural profession, as well as businesses who cannot find the right space to use are urged to participate in the survey.

"The city of Adelaide has one of the worst-performing occupancy in all states in Australia for CBD (central business district) buildings," says Gill Armstrong, who is also a practicing architect with 15 years' experience as well as a member of the Chartered Institute for Architectural Technologists.

'If change isn't feasible, older and obsolete buildings will stand empty for years, or face premature demolition. Unoccupied buildings have a tendency to degrade faster and can prove to be potential hazards. Early demolition can be wasteful and empty buildings can create a negative perception that the city is in decline.

'Reusing existing buildings not only help cities stay vibrant, but reuse makes environmental sense too. As we strive to make Adelaide a carbon neutral city, we need to reduce barriers and help empty buildings to become useful again.

'Typical examples within Adelaide are older, lower grade office spaces that are simply left to slowly decay, even though they occupy prime city locations. Some are used for storage, while others just sit empty and lifeless with broken downpipes and faded blinds.

'The lack of utilisation of commercial buildings in prime urban areas carries with it real economic, social and environmental consequences. Existing  buildings offer real opportunities – they often have a good structural life left.'

Gill Armstrong says that within the building industry itself, there is significant discussion about building regulation acting as barriers to change-of-use conversion.

'Beyond the rhetoric, there is a lack of hard evidence to back up these claims of regulatory barriers,' she says, adding that there are some good examples of building conversions in Adelaide that have helped to bring about positive urban change.

'We've seen some significant conversions of redundant commercial buildings in Adelaide.  The Air apartments on Greenhill Road and the Unihouse development on the corner of Rundle Mall and Pulteney Street are two examples of successful adaptive reuse. These repurposed buildings are fully used again, no longer empty shells. So we know it can be done.'

A video about the research can be seen here: 

To take part in the survey, visit: