There is something beautiful in breathing new life into old things. We do it instinctively, as a reflex, in many parts of our lives, be it through the re-use of clothes, cars, furniture, books, objects or artefacts. There is arguably something even more beautiful about examples of this in modern life, where commodities are now so easily replaceable with an affordable new iteration.
Re-use can sometimes be the more difficult option, and in architecture it can be likewise, where sometimes it would simply be cheaper and easier to level an existing building and create a tabula rasa for a new structure to arise from. However, re-use, and in architecture the adaptive re-use of one type of building into another, provides a crucial link in maintaining our connection to the past and our forebears, emphasizing that ours is a single thread of history, a continuity that we occupy at the present day.
The re-use of buildings is particularly interesting due to the way in which these are places of shared memories – general to the city but specific to us, and shared by all who encounter them – for there is no possibility to avoid a building the same way you could avoid a particular newspaper or television channel – its physicality and size in relation to our own sees to that. Which means that it is all the more important to treat a well-loved building with great care, for alongside its physicality and materiality – the bricks and mortar from which it was assembled – these are also repositories of individual and collective memory and as a result form part of our common culture.
It is in this respect that we admire the ethos of a particular project worth mentioning – the conversion of the High Line in Manhattan from 1.5 miles of disused elevated train tracks to a linear park which has helped transform the city’s Meatpacking District into one of the most dynamic and vibrant in New York. The care and respect shown for this existing structure in its conversion is an example of adaptive re-use done well, the mark of which is that the converted structure retains the spirit of its previous life – a result of the designer’s project motto - “Keep it simple. Keep it slow. Keep it quiet. Keep it wild.” – a manifesto for careful adaptive re-use if ever there was one.