Banhof commercial space, Sweden
Transforming old buildings into something new is hip and, under the watchful eye of innovative public administration, can do great things for cities. Washington Times writer Lisa Rauschart says, “Repurposed buildings often allow for mixed-use opportunities and the introduction of residences into neighborhoods that once had little life on evenings and weekends.”
John Ryan Dentistry for Children, Washington
According to Rauschart, repurposing is also a great way for urban planners and city officials “to broaden an area’s economic base.” Abandoned historic buildings, run-down remnants of once-thriving industries, and even old vehicles can all be brought back to life. It seems that the only limit to adapting these spaces is our imaginations.
10. ElevenTH Architectural Firm (PEMCO Gas Station) – Tulsa, USA
Tulsa architectural firm ElevenTH wanted to be right in the middle of the action instead of holed up in some isolated high-rise building. So, they bought a 1950s PEMCO gas station on iconic Route 66 and fixed it up. As you can see, the results are amazing – repurposing at its best. The building boasts reclaimed light fixtures and salvaged cedar planks, creating an authentically vintage ambiance.
Meanwhile, the strategic placement of the business right at the birthplace of Route 66 is inspirational and accessible for its clientele. The building’s re-adaptation allows the firm to become a part of the surrounding area’s history. What’s more, it’s helping to bring this part of Route 66 back to life.
9. John Ryan Dentistry (Disused Locomotive) – Washington, USA
Situated on a sizable commercial lot in Spokane, Washington, this incredible looking three-car train served as the John Ryan Dentistry for Children for 30 years. We think the playful setting is so imaginative that it might have actually made us want to go to the dentist! It would certainly have made the experience more enjoyable.
Adam Genteman, who went to Dr. Ryan as a child, remembers the train fondly: “The locomotive was the waiting room/admin, you could climb in the cab and play with the levers. Even the horn worked!”
The second car held six dental workstations, while the caboose housed the dentist’s private office, complete with an old railroad wood stove. Unfortunately, the dental office was closed and auctioned on eBay in 2010. A sad loss!
8. Kraanspoor Office Building (Crane Gantry) – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ontwerpgroep Trude Hooykaas, an Amsterdam architectural company, built a beautiful office building on top of an abandoned crane gantry as their take on reuse. The solid gantry is 885 feet (270 meters) long and reaches out into a shipyard across the River Ij. Many elements of the original structure were adapted for use in the office building. For example, catwalks used by crane operators became a fire escape, original stairways were repurposed as elevators and emergency staircases, and the space below has been converted into a huge storage facility.
The building itself rests on a steel frame three meters (9.8 feet) above the solid foundation, which creates a striking aesthetic. Chris Morrison, a principal at Cunningham/Quills Architects in Georgetown and mid-Atlantic Regional Director of the American Institute of Architects, says that part of repurposing “is about valuing the cultural asset of architecture. It’s imperative that we look for uses for buildings that help create the future of the city.”
And it’s not just architects that hold this view. In the Washington Times article mentioned earlier, Lisa Rauschart writes, “In the past few decades, terms like ‘repurposing’ and ‘adaptive reuse’ have been on the lips of nearly every city official and developer.” And rightly so.
7. The Hub Madrid, Shared Office Space (Garage) – Madrid, Spain
Located in the heart of the Spanish capital, the Hub Madrid was an old garage built between two train stations. It was abandoned in the 1940s and after that remained unoccupied. Nowadays, though, it’s a shared office co-op where professionals and designers meet and collaborate.
Since the building was basically intact, the architectural team decided to leave it the way it was – peeling paint, scratched walls, and all. They used secondhand furniture, old wooden fruit crates and recycled wool to make everything from tables and shelves to lining for the rooms. The result is an eclectic, homey space which writer Bridgette Meinhold describes as “a blank canvas for inspiration and a space for entrepreneurs to change the world.”
For many people, it’s the patina of age and the well-used feel present in repurposed spaces that makes them so attractive and unique. As Lisa Rauschart puts it, “While you easily can construct a new house, history is harder to manufacture.”
6. Urban Outfitters HQ (Navy Shipyard) – Philadelphia, USA
For retail giants Urban Outfitters, finding an office venue to match their rustic vibe led them to an old Navy shipyard in Philadelphia. “When we moved in here I can tell you there were a great number of skeptics, inside and outside of the company,” recounts Urban Outfitters founder Richard Hayne. “Four-and-a-half years later, we have created the nicest corporate campus in America, I would say with all due humility.” The photos are certainly pretty convincing.
Taking great care of the company’s employees, the funky office includes a coffee shop, a fitness center, a library, a courtyard, and a cafeteria. And the harbor setting and vaulted ceiling create quite an ambiance.
5. Office and Residential Space (Cement Factory) – Barcelona, Spain
Architect Ricardo Bofill bought this abandoned Barcelona cement factory in 1973. Then, within two years, he had transformed it into a grand, castle-like complex. It includes stunning office and residential spaces, which are now covered in ivy curtains. And it’s surrounded by a garden that features palm, eucalyptus, cypress and olive trees.
The interiors were stripped down to reveal the former factory’s inherent textures and character. Meanwhile, the cavernous rooms, still hung with gigantic structural receptacles, create tension and a strange, raw kind of beauty. According to Inhabitat.com writer Lori Zimmer, “Bofill has transformed an abandoned industrial ruin into a complex with the magic, wonder, and grandeur evocative of a historical chateau.”
Bofill’s vision is a great example of what companies like Maryland’s 20-year-old Heavy Timber Construction also aim to accomplish. “We look for the writing on the walls to read and interpret these old buildings,” says CEO and president Dean Fitzgerald. “We look for shadows of things that once existed. You just have to take a little time to flip the pages.”
4. Café and Home Office (Prison/Military Police Station) – Istanbul, Turkey
Although you might never guess it based on this photograph, this building was used as a civil prison between 1904 and 1919, and then as a British military police station until 1923. The walls still have several squares of plaster etched by bored prisoners.
Architects Mete and Nadire Göktu? bought the building in 1990. They renovated the interior, creating a fabulous home office located above a cozy restaurant/café on the first floor that serves ethnic dishes and is popular with tourists. We just hope they don’t start feeling claustrophobic!
Restoring historic buildings is a way to give back to the community, without putting in something modern and garish. “It’s about welcoming people back to the city,” says Cleveland businessman Nick Kostis. “We’re not just who we believe ourselves to be in this moment in time. We are the sum of all that comes before.”
3. Arras Keathley Agency and LeanDog Offices (Steamship) – Cleveland Harbor, USA
Relocating to a 120-year old steamship in Cleveland Harbor proved inspirational for young software company LeanDog. “It changes the way you think about work when you step onto a boat,” says Chief Operating Officer Jim Gorjup. And the unique setting also attracted innovative, creative-minded staff and peaked customer interest.
However, LeanDog wasn’t the only company to jump on the idea. Jim Hickey, president of Arras Keathley Agency, wanted in as well, and his company ended up sharing the boat with LeanDog. “I wanted a creative location, to get people’s minds to stretch,” says Hickey.
What’s more, the innovative office setting may be just the beginning for Cleveland’s watery downtown. Administrators have implemented a lakefront development plan, complete with ideas for an office harbor. According to Cleveland.com writer Robert L. Smith, “Architectural renderings depict a small fleet of businesses moored just west of Burke Lakefront Airport.”
2. Daiken-Met Architectural Office (Shipping Containers) – Gifu, Japan
When Japanese architectural firm Daiken-Met Architects couldn’t find a suitable office space, they decided to put their skills to use and built a temporary office on a leased plot of land. The “Sugoroku Office” is a repurposed stack of shipping containers supported by a three-story mobile framework. Storage systems were made using found materials from construction sites like packing bands and plywood.
Despite the inexpensive-sounding materials, the end result is both innovative and stylish. And what’s even better is that once the lease runs out, the structure can be taken apart and moved somewhere else with relative ease. Since the office space didn’t require any below-street level construction, it has a lower impact on the surrounding environment. Plus, it’s also a great example of the firm’s work for potential clients.
1. Bahnhof Data Center (Atomic Bomb Shelter) – Stockholm, Sweden
The Pionen White Mountains facility in Sweden takes the cake for offices in repurposed spaces. This high-security data center for Swedish Internet provider Bahnhof used to be a nuclear bomb shelter – and it looks like something out of a James Bond film!
Located 100 feet (30 meters) beneath Stockholm’s granite bedrock, the office is only accessible through 16-inch (40 cm) thick doors, and it can withstand a near hit by a hydrogen bomb! And if that’s not enough to convince you, German submarine engines generate its backup power.
Named after its military codename, the facility includes waterfalls, simulated daylight, greenhouses, and even a huge salt-water fish tank. Just 15 lucky full-time employees get to work there. Albert France-Lanord Architects, who converted the facility for Bahnhof, explain that “the starting point for the project was to consider the rock as a living organism.”
The office space was also inspired by science-fiction movies and outer space. “The unique design makes it a ‘talk about’ facility,” says Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung. “If you have been inside Pionen you will for sure tell somebody else about it.” We bet!