Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than that it was designed for and there’s a long tradition of this in the higher education sector.
An old nunnery was used as the basis for Jesus College in Cambridge in the 1490s and an old coaching inn provided the home to Bangor University when it opened at the end of the 19th century. More recently and the University of Huddersfield has repurposed former canal-side mill buildings into teaching spaces too.
As many universities look to enhance their teaching provision with new spaces, adaptive reuse can certainly be a worthy consideration. Repurposing existing buildings, perhaps former offices, public sector buildings or community spaces, can help universities to expand their portfolio while keeping close to their existing site. For those looking to expand city centre campuses or open partnerships and alliances with educators in other cities, adaptive reuse is a far more cost effective, viable and speedy option. After all, it’s unlikely there’ll be the perfect piece of affordable, well located land in the heart of London – but there are countless disused buildings which could do just the job.
Certainly not the quickest route to opening new learning facilities, adaptive reuse requires imagination (something helped with the right architectural and interior design partners) and a willingness and appetite to repurpose and reimagine. It’s not the cheapest option either, particularly as some older buildings may have listed status or present spatial imitations, but it can add colour and depth to the learning experience by returning landmarks and buildings to use and strengthening the communities they are part of. Some educators may choose to use this as part of their brand storytelling and a point of interest or inspiration for students, for others it’s simply about making use of the resources that are available and in budget.
Other parts of the commercial property market have seen adaptive reuse in different forms with vacant Grade B office space being repurposed as residential space in a bid to deliver better returns for investors. It’s not an unusual concept and it will be interesting to see how the education sector responds to the closure of several University Technical Colleges across the country. These world-class facilities are ready made flexible teaching spaces just waiting for other educators (or perhaps even the private sector) to come along, move in and open up.
As educators and students see the value of a much wider variety of teaching spaces and styles, adaptive reuse is bound to increase in popularity. It’s not all lecture theatres and seminar rooms anymore, there’s a strong appetite for educational hubs that comprise individual and group study spaces as well as areas for social events and gatherings.
Look around you – the vacant buildings in your community could be the answer your college or university is looking for.