Architecture education is based around the studio. Each term in studio students design an architecture project, typically a building based on a real site location. At the University of Washington, studio projects are often chosen by the professor and are real sites somewhere in Seattle. Although students are taught to consider surrounding conditions like neighborhood character and local climate, the sites themselves start as bare ground. Studios don’t typically focus on adaptive reuse. We’re taught sustainability is good and waste is bad, but we’re not taught how to reuse buildings. Building reuse is an important issue, but it’s currently not important enough to be a required part of our curriculum.
Adaptive reuse can lead to interesting design projects and quality buildings, but it can also be great for the environment. When life-cycle costs of construction are taken into account, retrofitting existing buildings can be more sustainable than new construction. This should be on the forefront of every design student’s mind as they head into a new studio project.
Architects often view themselves as designers, as creators of buildings, able to bring an idea into the real world. This narrative is repeated across most depictions of architects in popular culture. But this narrative does not have room for accommodating existing buildings. The idealized building on paper becomes more complicated when you’re building in, with, and around an existing structure.
Studio professors at the University of Washington are beginning to change the narrative. There have been several studios in recent years that have an adaptive reuse component, but these are optional studios. To be a leader in sustainable design, UW should make an adaptive reuse studio part of the required curriculum.
The UW Architecture curriculum currently makes certain studios mandatory for every student. One term the studio focuses on urban design, and another term on building details and construction. The architecture department, realizing the influence architects can have in reusing and redesigning our existing building stock, should change the curriculum to require an adaptive reuse studio.
Adding an adaptive reuse studio to the curriculum will ensure graduates have experience thinking about reuse, valuing what currently exists in our neighborhoods, and finding ways to add to the built environment in a meaningful way.