Adaptive Reuse Projects vs New Construction Projects
The consensus within the development community is that new construction is easier and faster than a full renovation (adaptive reuse) of a structure. This is undoubtedly true, but is new construction better? From an investment and developer’s standpoint, yes, new construction is easier to plan, less time consuming, and much more predictable. When valuing a new construction project, it is much easier to forecast timing and returns. But from a buyer’s standpoint, no, adaptive reuse projects are likely to be better.
Adaptive Reuse: Frame Construction vs Masonry Construction
There is a major difference between frame construction rehabs and masonry construction rehabs. Frame construction structures are susceptible to major deterioration and are not good projects for rehabilitation after a number of years. This is specifically regarding the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of masonry structures in the City of Chicago. To understand why a masonry structure built 100 years ago is better than a new construction structure, we need to consider the structures built in Europe that are still in use today. With many of them reaching over a thousand years of use, I question why so many structures in Chicago are demolished instead of being reused.
Adaptive Reuse of Masonry Construction
When looking at a masonry structure built in the early 1900s, the quality of construction is clear. This method uses solid bricks with varying courses providing incredibly thick and stable exterior walls. It is not economically feasible to recreate a solid masonry wall with current cost of both materials and labor. For this reason, new construction masonry homes are built with a combination of CMU (concrete masonry units) and brick veneer on the exterior, or simply CMU that is sealed or painted. I am not here to say that this type of construction is inadequate; I personally use it on most of my new construction projects. My critique here is that these construction methods have only been in use for tens of years as opposed to thousands. The only true way of knowing the longevity of a construction type is with time. The masonry structures built 100 years ago were built with similar methods of the ones built 1000 years ago and still standing.
Why demolish a structure that can last 1,000 years to replace it with one that will last 100?
As communities change and cities develop, the needs of residents change. With these changes, come new developments to support the new needs. These developments often overlook the option of repurposing structures that are in the early stages of their life spans. Using these structures, more often than not, allows for incredibly unique layouts with the character and longevity that communities need. Why demolish a structure that can last a thousand only to replace it with one that will last 100? I am a developer, and I develop new construction with longevity in mind and special attention to structure. I am a preservationist, selecting the buildings that can be repurposed and continuing their lifespan as originally intended.