Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. One of these three green approaches hogs much of the limelight. Recycled materials make their way into almost all structures these days, yet reducing (building smaller) or reusing (not building at all) are fundamentally greener approaches. Two Texas projects show that creative repurposing of space can result in buildings any company or community would be happy to call home.
Jennifer Whitney for The New York Times
New York Times' recent article on Rackspace's new home in a converted mall in San Antonio is a great example of reusing a redundant structure. Rackspace needed space... racks and racks of it. The founder looked to the ghost of a mall where, he told the NYT, he had rented his tux for prom many years earlier. The decision has not only revitalized the shuttered mall, but also renewed the whole city. Bringing high paid tech jobs into a cash-strapped suburb has a trickle-down effect, and the mall which couldn't keep tenants is now a corporate campus attracting restaurants and other service companies to its perimeter.
The second conversion which caught my eye wasn't a mall, but a Walmart. The Daily Mail's photographic journey through McAllen, Texas', 124,000+ sq ft library shows that even the blandest big box space can be sliced and diced and refitted until it is inspiring. A small and unremarkable town on the US-Mexico border seems an unlikely location for the largest single story library in the US, however by reusing an existing structure, the town was able to think big, turning the acres of consumerism into a temple of learning and community.
It's tempting to replace - scrape a site clean and builkspace needed space. And it can feel like the green thing to do: many a developer manages to recycle some building materials on site, such as broken concrete downcycled to aggregate. Other materials may be recycled offsite: Boulder, CO's approach to construction and demolition debris exemplifies integrated thinking about the waste generated by scraping a site and building anew. But reuse makes so much more sense where the bones of the existing building can be repurposed. It takes much more than moving desks into an unused mall or books into an empty big box. The design challenge of repurposing large consumer caverns and making human-scaled spaces is exciting, and when done well, like in these two instances, inspiring.
I'm passionate about sustainable architecture + energy + food and how advances in their technology can help save the planet.