Upscaling of Old Buildings – Adaptive reuse

With the advent of the increasing population and demand for land, it has been a necessity to maximize the available resources. Limited land availability and increasing demands of the population had to be taken into balance. The solution to meet the demands with available resources suggests opting for sustainable options. This may include qualitative preservation and adaptive reuse of the existing buildings.

The idea of finding a purposeful building which is about to be demolished can help rejuvenating is known as ‘urban mining’.  The process of urban mining includes several factors for project viability:

  • Locating the right asset
  • Extracting the useful contexts
  • Cleaning and Maintenance
  • Re-purposing the existing function of a building
  • Prospects

Upcycling is finding economic value in old buildings, materials, parts, or imagery and adds to the existing heritage value of itself.  Though, it is the need of the hour to suggest adaptive reuse of buildings and intricate considerations have to be taken. The old buildings were designed to serve a purpose and adaptive reuse may designate them with different considerations. So, there might be a case to reconsider the architectural and structural safety measures.

Image of a building upscaled

Note: This is just a representational image and is not a building project executed by Happho. Credits of this picture will be updated once true source is know.

Why Consider Upcylced Old Buildings?

Builders and Contractors develop functional spaces at cost-oriented products. And often the cost of Rehabilitation and Restoration can be more than building a new structure after demolition. Here are some reasons to consider adaptive reuse:

A. Superior grade of materials

Retro-materials are unique and are not even available in today’s market. These seasoned building materials like close-grained wood are stronger.

B. Sustainability

Adaptive Reuse promotes sustainability through Upcycling the existing resources for future considerations.

C. cultural value

Heritage Value of a building in the local context has a great impact on Architectural Scenic.

D. treasured land value

Upcycling promotes a new function in an old building, thus it eliminates the idea to buy a new land piece. This results in Low land establishment cost.

Points to Ponder While Upscaling Any Building

1. Financial Viability

Restoration and Upcycling any old premises requires intensive maintenance and quality checks. These processes may result in a costlier option than constructing a fresh structure. However, adaptive reuse promotes sustainability and potentially saves land with enhanced community character.

These types of projects offer Increased market value, Encourages investment due to Heritage and character, Potential Tax Advantages, and Lower Establishment Cost. All the factors somehow contribute to financial efficiency too.

Thus, it is the choice of the client to assess the advantages of Adaptive-Reuse considering future returns.

2. Structural Feasibility

Any building designated with a new function has to come up to the benchmark standards of structural integrity for the new purpose. Professionals need to check if the building can sustain further maintenance. Also, Will the structure be structurally sound enough to sustain new activities in the building or it requires additional structural supports.

Often, new activities may require alteration in fenestrations or walls. These types of actions need to be consulted beforehand with a team of professionals.

Questions to be listed for structural consultation:

During the installation of mechanical systems, Will there be any forced structural modification? What will be the new structural loads? Are there any new fenestrations offering load deviations?

3. Defining the purpose (Choosing the right candidate)

While there may not be any checklist to identify the ideal building for your project goal. But, defining the purpose can be helpful, like in some cases:

  • Clients reuse existing spaces for a cheaper solution.
  • While on the other hand, clients can opt for adaptive reuse to capture the essence and character of the old building.

Analyzing the goals for space can be cost-benefiting. Choosing a structure similar in the function can help adapt to the previous function of the building. 

4. Planning the new function in restricted premises

Architecturally, any building is designed for a particular purpose unless it is open-plan or multifunctional. However, adaptive reuse can be challenging for architects and designers to fit a function into a fixed volume with minimum alterations.

These types of projects offer non-negotiable structural alterations like column shifting, beam replacement, or slab casting. Thus, Architects and Conservationists have to plan the new functions and services in the existing old buildings.

5. Opportunity to maximize

During an Upcycling project, alterations in the building envelope are considered to be negligible or minimal. So, it is important to maximize the available fenestrations. New functions should be moulded architecturally such that natural light and ventilation purposes are maximised without any major alterations.

6. Does it require any upgrades

Old Prehistoric structures are sound in heritage but lack modern amenities. When these types of structures are chosen for luxurious and modern purposes by clients, there is a possibility to opt for mechanical services upgrades like HVAC.

There may be a possibility for electrical services upgrade like a lighting scheme for a new design proposal. Not only mechanical upgrades, while considering these types of additions structural additions have to be added to counter increased loads.

7. Flexible functioning (Comparative Ergonomics: Earlier vs Recent)

Heritage Structures were built on monumental scales with minimal restrictions of current byelaws. These buildings were huge in volumes purposed for low occupancy. But adaptive reuse functions are mostly oriented to cater to large crowds to ensure money recovery.

New functions include museum spaces, hospitality projects like hotels, resorts, farmhouses. These types of activities require spaces that can cater to large crowds at a glance.

Thus adapting to old architectural volumes with ergonomically feasible design schemes according to the current time is a must in rejuvenation projects.

8. Municipal Guidelines and Byelaws

As much as possible, these types of projects require repair than a replacement to ensure a minimal change in the urban fabric. However, the heritage value of these buildings comes under high conservation norms.

Municipal guidelines and byelaws suggest that no building and site precincts with heritage value must be harmed during rehabilitation.

It is advisable to consult architects to ensure the conservation and rehabilitation of building within the Archaeological Acts of India for heritage projects.

9. Considering Context

Most commonly these projects do not allow exterior changes in the building envelope to avoid disturbing urban contexts and character. But, clients can opt for interior design proposals that can be done in two ways:

Cohering to the building Context: Using the similar material palette and services scheme as the old building without any alterations.

Juxtaposing the building Context: Using a completely different material palette that contradicts existing old building structure with modernized equipment and services.

10. Incompatibility and complexities

As these structures may be built prehistorically, there may be a case of inaccuracy of available information i.e. important missing details and drawing of the structure.

The lack of information and complex additions to the existing material scheme can be potentially negative in impact. Often the addition of innovative installations and techniques used on old structures can be difficult due to material incompatibility. However, challenges are expected to be solved for improved results.


There are many perceptions about Adaptive Reuse and Upcycling old buildings with loads of misconceptions due to lack of awareness. The process of Upcycling might seem expensive at the initial stages and may require adaptation to new building codes and zonal plans. But surely benefits the clients through tremendous advantages like overall environmental impacts, economic value, historical value, and Lower land establishment cost.

Adaptive Reuse preserves the history and saves a structure and utilizes it for current use by giving life to an existing building.

– Anshul Kulshrestha