School Design: Making Adaptive Reuse Work

School Design: Making Adaptive Reuse Work

Schools are re-examining and repurposing existing spaces.

For education institutions looking for ways to expand, there is good news: they already may have the space they need, right on campus.

Limited financial resources are inspiring education institutions to be more creative by enlisting the help of architects to re-examine existing built assets. By thinking differently about space—the space within their own buildings—institutions are renovating and reprogramming instead of building new, and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Analyzing use

According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 1997 and 2007, student enrollment at degree-granting institutions increased by 26 percent. Many universities, however, are unable to devote the financial resources necessary to build new structures to accommodate increased enrollment. Spending on education construction decreased 11 percent from January 2010 to January 2011, as shown by recent U.S. Census Bureau economic indicators.

Underutilized space within existing buildings can appear in many forms: underprogrammed space or inefficient layouts. These are common because campuses often grow incrementally. In most cases, opportunities for replanning are revealed only through analysis; namely, examining how a building is used throughout the day and evening, and whether it can be reorganized. Strategies for reusing existing space can entail changing only selected areas to dramatically improve the efficiency of the entire building.

Areas that are used only at night, or during special events, can form new links between spaces that already are very active, affecting an entire building. For instance, in a library, sections can be reorganized or relocated to free up space for other uses, such as prefunction event space. Furniture can be specified that is flexible and able to be stacked easily.

Reasons for replanning are varied: New requirements or technologies may have evolved or emerged since the building was designed; or the faculty’s needs and goals may have shifted. The most basic reason is increased enrollment.

Once redesigned, these new "found" spaces within the building can be identified and linked to existing spaces through the creation of new centers or nodes of activity. These can become new destinations unto themselves, and their adjacencies to active spaces can create synergies between new and old construction.

Taking the time to brainstorm about new uses can help education institutions plan for expansion, even if administrators do not yet have a specific intended use for the space. Careful planning can set the stage for incremental work to be carried out. Education institutions can control the amount of financial resources allotted and also schedule work to avoid shutting down existing facilities during times of heavy use.

Many education institutions have underutilized facilities, and it often is possible to satisfy needs by reconfiguring existing space, which saves more than 50 to 60 percent of the cost of construction. However, replanning a building also can benefit institutions in other ways that are beyond the financial.

Reorganizing the circulation of students or incorporating a new cafe or learning space in an area that previously was empty can bring vibrancy to a building, and increase the density of activity. Activating and changing relationships between different components can bring a fresh, modern feel to an entire building, creating a new place without having to build one from the ground up.

Sidebar: Center for Activity

In the case of Fogelman Library at the New School in New York City, the approach to creative reuse of existing Arnhold Hall, which housed the school’s Technology Center, worked well with the university’s interest in reimagining a contemporary library. It wanted a library with a decentralized collection and a new program, such as cafes and social breakout spaces, infusing the existing building with increased activity, integrating technology, books and food. This created a new center for student activity on campus.

For the project, an in-depth analysis of the existing building revealed patterns of use for different spaces in the building over the course of the day, as well as a week. A more dense and active space for learning and social interaction was created through a variety of moves: relocating the main circulation desk to the ground-floor lobby; repurposing an underutilized ground-floor dance studio as a main reading room; and activating the perimeter of the third-floor computing center by lining it with bookshelves. Whenever possible, adjacencies were created between areas for food service, circulation, library resources and technology.

Twenty percent of the space was repurposed, and the existing heavily used areas were maintained, resulting in a building that is 15 percent more efficient in its use of space. The construction cost for the New School project was $2.5 million, about $3.5 million less than an entirely new facility of the same size and type. The overall reorganization filled in the gaps in an already vibrant building, increasing the density of use per square foot throughout the day, and making a place in which students could study, collaborate and gather while enjoying Fogelman’s physical and digital resources.

Sidebar: Filling a Need

At Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, administrators wanted a 500-seat lecture hall, but had no site. While on a tour of the campus, the architects took interest in the Paramount Theatre. The theater, built in 1928 and owned by the university since 1962, had been divided into a multipurpose hall. A previous renovation of the balcony had created several small lecture rooms, which had been out of use for years. Reworking the building is expected to save the university time and money.

The multi-tiered design provides ADA access (including a new elevator) and emergency egress, along with a greater row depth than the existing seating (required for seating with tablet arms), new HVAC systems and minor structural elements, such as changing the rake of the floor.

An important component of the project is the audiovisual design; it incorporates technology and addresses acoustical challenges. The hall is conceptualized as a room within a larger room; it has its own ceiling and acoustical treatment in order to mitigate any noise from the multipurpose hall below. The architect has completed conceptual studies for the university in order to assist the school with fund-raising efforts for the project.

McCready, AIA, is director of the SOM Education Lab, New York City, a 45-person studio within the firm that creates highly effective learning environments by focusing on light, blexibility, program and context. He can be reached at [email protected].

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