Understanding Adaptive Reuse Diversity: Heritage, Brownfield Sites and Obsolete Buildings

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Understanding Adaptive Reuse Diversity:

Heritage, Brownfield Sites and Obsolete Buildings.

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Name 1 and Name2

1School of XXX, The University of XXX

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Vacant buildings have become a frequently discussed issue in South Australia (SA) and beyond. Strategies to deal with existing building under-occupancy are being proposed at local and state government levels. One such strategy being currently promoted is adaptive reuse (AR) or change-of-use conversion of existing structures. The diversity of developments being described as ‘adaptive reuse’ is growing, resulting in a body of AR case studies that have little in common, except a desire to avoid demolition or further periods of redundancy.

Definitions of adaptive reuse are broad and cover a wide set of different conversions, including reuse of buildings, spaces and landscapes. Whilst there is growing acceptance of the social and environmental benefits, a lack of critical understanding of AR limitations and poor examination of perceptions of AR barriers has the potential to fail to address existing building obsolescence. Building regulation is one barrier to AR feasibility repeatedly cited by literature and industry stakeholders. Projects which are publicised in SA as good examples of existing building conversion, disclose how blurry the notions of AR are. Claims about the value of AR are often highly politized when coupled with CBD office vacancy rates.

This discussion paper adopts a critical view of AR. It contributes to an understanding of AR in a policy context in SA and highlights recent policy developments in light of regulatory barriers cited as inhibitors of AR. A sociotechnical perspective of adaptive reuse and building regulation is valuable given the critical review of AR undergoing a politicisation.

Keywords: adaptive reuse; regeneration; obsolescence; building regulation; policy

AR is increasingly becoming a widely used term across different built environment sectors: from heritage conservation to urban planning and regeneration. Recently, AR has been recognised by the World Architecture News (WAN) Awards and in 2012 adaptive reuse became a distinct category of architectural design (WAN, 2012). AR is also mentioned within Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) award categories (AIA, n.d.). It is recognised as a strategy to conserve built environment heritage (ICOMOS, 2013; Shen & Langston, 2010); avoid premature demolition (Huuhka, 2016; Bullen & Love, 2010); aid urban resilience in dealing with under-occupied or empty existing buildings (Wilkinson & Remoy, 2015). Promotion of AR is being reported for both heritage and unlisted existing buildings of all typologies. It has been included as one possible strategy within larger urban regeneration visions. Within South Australia, this includes a range of commercial and industrial centres: from Commercial Business Districts (CBDs), shipping ports and manufacturing/industrial sites where there has been a change in industrial and economic activity.

It is more appropriate to view AR is as a ‘process’ rather than an output or building typology, although in many AR developments, the process is evident in the resultant architecture itself. Within Australia, The Burra Charter, encourages new additions to existing older buildings to be identifiable as new under Article 22.2. (ICOMOS, 2013:7). The diversity of developments undergoing an AR process of change is growing, resulting in a body of AR case studies that have little in common, except a desire to avoid demolition or further periods of redundancy.

Umbrella definitions of ‘adaptive reuse’ are often insufficiently precise to helpfully explain the activity it refers to. The lack of precise understanding of each variance of adaptive reuse also creates difficulties when attempting to critically evaluate AR designs against policy objectives in attempts to disaggregate commonly cited barriers to AR feasibility. One frequently cited barrier to AR, yet so far unevidenced, is building regulation and its enforcement (Armstrong, 2016). Within SA research is ongoing by the author, to establish to what extent building regulation is a significant barrier to conversion of multi-storey, non-listed office buildings in Adelaide CBD.

AR definition

Adaptive reuse defining descriptions have been offered from a range of different perspectives. A pragmatic definition of existing building adaption, useful in defining AR is provided by Douglas (2006). Douglas suggests, ‘any work to a building over and above maintenance to change its capacity, function or performance, in other words, any intervention to adjust, reuse, or upgrade a building to suit new conditions or requirements’ (Douglas, 2006:4). There is a long list of terms associated with adaption, such as those outlined by Wilkinson et al. (2009:46): “renovation”, “refurbishment”, “remodelling”, “reinstatement”, “retrofitting”, “rehabilitation”. These terms however are merely adjectives and adverbs to the process of adapting a building. They are also not specific to adaptive reuse as they can be applied to more general existing building upgrades. Whilst Wilkinson et al., 2009 highlight AR as ‘across-use adaption’ (p.46), Olivadese et al. (2017) gives an example of AR as ‘an office building can undergo adaptive reuse, through an improvement of its characteristics, and still be an office buildings or it can change use’ (p.161).

Another useful description is offered by Langston et al. (2013). This description highlights reuse or change-of-use element in the term: ‘Adaptive reuse is an efficient way to reuse existing buildings that have become obsolete by ‘recycling’ them in-situ through giving them a new functional purpose’ (Langston et al.,2013:233). This definition introduces the idea that the reuse is done ‘in-situ’. However, there are other suggestions to reusing or recycling existing building materials and components for use elsewhere. Langston et al., (2008) describes this as ‘urban-ore’ (p.1710). Both reuse concepts share alignment with circular economy principles whereby resources are used for longer before being disposed (Ghisellini et al, 2016).
The diversity of projects considered to be AR is creating a lack of clarity, and the label AR is being used to describe many different urban developments with mixed agreement. In what follows, several contentious AR examples are highlighted. It could be argued that due to the strong and increasing avocation of AR and its association with environmental and social benefits, AR labelling in some cases could be argued to be similar to ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing refers to the practice of PR spin and marketing used promote the perception that an organisation’s product, policies or objectives are environmentally friendly (Holz & Sigler, 2015). AR is susceptible to a similar spin because it is connected to environmental agendas as was discussed earlier at the start of this paper. Indiscriminate marketing use of AR could be described as ‘adaptive-reuse-wash’.
Critical understanding of AR

Literature and policy rarely mentions change-of-use cases or examples when adaptive reuse is not suitable. Nor does literature and policy sufficiently detail draw backs and limitations of AR, as studies are typically focussed upon positive strategies for enabling adaption. This focus on advocating for AR has meant that any critical evaluation is limited to exploring ways to increase AR. Previous works critically evaluating adaptive reuse are comparatively few (Armstrong, 2016; Yung & Chan, 2012). This bias, in favour of AR, rarely acknowledges the diversity and complexity of reasons which prevent AR uptake, including social and political considerations (Langston et al, 2013:236).

Given the widely reported benefits of adaptive reuse, it is important to thoroughly review adaptive reuse for two reasons: firstly to add a sense of balance to our understanding of AR as a practice or architectural strategy; secondly to acknowledge there are a diverse range of reasons which make AR unviable. A critical understanding of AR needs to be achieved if we are to address to whether barriers often repeated, for example building regulation technical compliance, could be reformed to enable adaptive reuse viability.

One potential criticism of literature is that it is often too optimistic in advocating adaptive reuse. For instance, studies of unfeasible adaptive reuse project are rare in published literature, although they may of course exist out of the public domain as feasibility reports for individual buildings in industry and private practice. There appears to be interest in such studies by local government and industry professionals. After private communication with officials at City of Perth WA, the researcher is aware of ongoing case studies of existing commercial office buildings. The research, titled ‘C Grade Office Case Study’ is due to be completed in 2017 and aims to evaluate change-of-use options for several existing grade C commercial office buildings in Perth CBD. It is not yet known whether any publications arising from this research will contain a critical analysis of cases beyond a general promotion of AR.

The lack of criticality in discussions of AR is also not addressed in recent attempts to develop technical models to aid AR viability decisions. Langston et al (2013) make impressive attempts to abstract out and quantify adaptive reuse potential and test it within a Hong Kong context involving heritage buildings. The model intends to offer a generalisable model which can ‘rank existing buildings to determine the most effective time to undertake adaptive reuse intervention’ (p.233). Whilst Langston et al (2013) incorporates strategic decision-making about AR viability in their model of adaptive reuse potential (ARP), the more fundamental question of whether adaptive reuse should be undertaken in all cases is beyond the scope of the study presented.

Encouraging AR uptake is the main objective of current research and emerging policy which seek to address sustainable urban regeneration. This focus upon enabling AR typically precludes any critical examples of unviable projects as detailing what is not possible does not align with the promotion of AR. Rigorous analysis of cases, which have been deemed unviable, offers a more holistic (and realistic) understanding of AR enablement. Research into projects that have been deemed unfeasible could therefore be valuable for policy and practice intended to increase AR uptake.

One helpful perspective to enable a deeper understanding of AR, for policy initiatives, would be to identify the minimum and maximum thresholds of what is AR, so that exemplar and replicable case studies could be more easily identified. Minimum and maximum thresholds could identify when the project needs to be categorised as ‘other’. Clearer definitions of what constitutes as adaptive reuse could assist in building replicable case studies to act as pathways to encourage adaptive reuse uptake. If the AR label is applied to projects will little or no reuse of existing building structures and materials, it loses its usefulness, other than as a marketing tool. The examples selected below, highlight the complexity of AR diversity.

Another criticism of adaptive reuse is the extent of existing building that is reused. If only the façade is kept, or perhaps just the roof, there can be accusations of facadism (Bullen & Love, 2011a). If only a small portions or tokens of the existing building is reused, the question should be asked if the project is really AR or something else, such as brownfield site redevelopment.

Misusing the term adaptive reuse is unhelpful when identifying case studies to increase stakeholder groups’ (building owners, developers and investors) interest in AR where the adaptive reuse market is currently unrealised or non-existent. Case studies that are too niche and restricted to higher-income groups are not going to be useful in increasing AR uptake, particularly in office to residential conversion.
AR Diversity in Adelaide, SA

Regeneration of industrial and manufacturing sites beyond CBD boundaries have also been reported to include adaptive reuse of existing building stocks. Examples of these within Adelaide metropolitan area are: urban infill site Bowden, which sits on the fringe of the city, 2.5km of Adelaide CBD; urban renewal initiative Tonsley, a regeneration of redundant Mitsubishi car manufacturing site; and Port Adelaide Renewal Project and Precinct revitalisation, which seeks to revitalise the historic shipping and industrial port to a contemporary urban area.

The range of new uses in AR projects is as vast as for uses for new building developments. As a community or precinct scale, urban regeneration initiatives often involve a mixture of new uses for adaptive reuse projects, including housing and retail. Propose redevelopment of the Royal Adelaide Hospital site includes residential, education, leisure and retail.

Within the CBD, and from a State-listed heritage perspective, one office building adaptive reuse example can be seen at: Old Treasury Building into the Grand Medina Hotel (142-160 King William Street) (Ma & Yu, 2017). Examples of a non-listed office building conversions are: 9 level office building conversion to 98 student residential units over 7 storeys, known as Unihouse, 156-160 Rundle Mall (RP Data, 2012); King William Tower at 65-73 King William Street 1970s office 20 storey converted to residential apartments now known as Adelaide Tower Apartments (RP Data, 2012); and just outside Adelaide CBD, on Greenhill Road, is Electricity Trust SA (ETSA), a 1960s Modernist office development converted to residential apartments which was unlisted at the time of conversion.

For individual heritage-listed buildings, adaptive reuse should involve new uses which are ‘compatible’ with the existing building scale, form, layout and construction, as detailed in Article 7.2 of the Burra Charter (ICOMOS, 2013). On a single building scale, a common change-of-use conversion result is to residential conversions, demand are not new and are occurring with increasing frequency (Forsythe & Wilkinson, 2015; Remoy & van der Voordt, 2014; Shipley et al., 2006; Heath, 2001). Examples can be found internationally but at present, these types of conversions in Australian CBDs are still uncommon (Wilkinson & Remoy, 2015). Office of Design and Architecture SA have however highlighted, ‘growth in adaptive re-use is more likely to occur in buildings and structures that are not heritage-listed, those facilities that are marginal in straight heritage value, or are not yet of an age to be recognised as of heritage interest’ (ODASA, 2014:2).

The following four projects have been selected as interesting examples to highlight the diversity of projects in SA. Three adaptive reuse project examples (1, 2 & 3) were found from searching local and state government websites. Example 4 has been selected by the author for the purposes of argument. Examples 1, 2 & 3 are respectively: a small-scale project involving a laneway change-of-use on Rundle Mall, Adelaide CBD; and a large-scale 8 hectare project involving Main Assemble Building (MAB), Tonsley; partial reuses at ground floor and roof top of a larger commercial banking building. These cases are described as adaptive reuse projects within SA on local and state government websites. Example 4 is not described as AR projects in the public domain. However, it could be argued to possess AR attributes when compared with 1, 2 and 3.

Example & description of former use


Description of AR

1. Former section of Laneway (Arcade Lane) adjoining Rundle Mall, Adelaide CBD

Existing external laneway space between state heritage-listed Adelaide Arcade and Regent Theatre Façade, Rundle Mall

DENR (n.d.)

Adaptive Reuse Examples

Fact Sheet

Available at:


Change of use of section of Arcade Lane laneway between two existing buildings (RP Data, 2012).

New structure, roof and façades. New structure spans and transmits loads to two existing facades on site boundary. Reuse of the sites’ perimeter existing buildings.

2. Former Main Assembly Building (MAB) of Mitsubishi Motors’ Plant, Tonsley Park, Adelaide

Large scale industrial assembly building

ODASA (2014)

Adaptive Reuse: Design Guidance Note July 2015

Available at: www.environment.sa.gov.au

Reuse of existing built fabric: primary and secondary structure of MAB roof. (8Hectares of existing roof structure retained)

Reuse: 5 hectare retained as identify/memory of place plus some re-modelling of the existing roof form for passive heating and cooling strategy and renewable energy collection, 3 hectares retained as functioning roof to educational facility (Renewal SA guided tour, July 2017).

3. 2-12 King William Street, former Bank of New South Wales and Westpac House

(MLT, 2016)

Leader of State Opposition website


Two partial conversions of 9 storey banking building (RP Data, 2012): ground floor level banking chamber converted to restaurant; and roof terrace converted to bar and cafe.

The majority of levels between ground floor and roof terrace continue to be long-term vacant.

4. 223 North Terrace Multi-storey car park (built) and hotel above (unbuilt)

Authors own selection.

New proposal for existing multistorey car park originally designed & constructed as part of a hotel building (unbuilt). New building is 7 storey residential tower of apartments using multi-storey car park structure (RP Data, 2012).

Table 1.1 Diversity of projects in South Australia

The question is not whether any of the buildings described in Tale 1.1 count as AR or not, but to highlight the diversity and niche status of buildings which are held up as examples of AR. It is for readers of this paper to reach their own conclusions of whether the label of AR is meaningful or ‘adaptive-reuse-wash’. Consideration can be paid to the question of whether the building as a whole meets any reasonable threshold as an AR case that can inform effective policy as discussed later in this paper.

Following Foong et al. (2017), and their analysis of building regulation policy in NSW, examples of AR in SA could be argued to be niche and not yet widely adopted as innovative practice at a wider scale. This fits with Wilkinson & Remoy (2015) observation that AR uptake in Australian CBDs is still small scale. The implications of AR as a niche practice are further discussed in the conclusion to this paper.

AR CBD Office Vacancies

Adaptive reuse often starts with underoccupancy of an existing building. A recent published industry report has highlighted a high office building vacancy rate in Adelaide CBD (PCA, 2017). This reported issue is seen to be problematic as low occupancy rates of buildings in CBDs have adverse impacts upon social and economic activities in urban environments. In addition, it is suggested there can be an environmental impact: with under-occupied buildings are reported to decay at faster rates than buildings that are used and occupied (add ref here). Dilapidated buildings are also prone to demolition. This Adelaide is not, however, alone in dealing with the issue of office building vacancies. Other State capitals, such as Darwin and Perth, have also seen a recent rise in C and D grade office building obsolescence, with Darwin having the highest office building vacancy rate in Australia of 22.5% (PCA, 2017). Calls to reform the legal requirement of building regulation has been suggested by stakeholder organisations such as the Property Council of Australia (PCA, 2017). Similar These claims are also made by political leaders such as State Opposition Leader, Stephen Marshall: ‘The current Building Code provisions are a barrier to redeveloping older buildings; they are designed for new building structures which means that it is unnecessary and ill-fitting for the adaptive re-use and upgrading of heritage properties’ (MLT, 2016).

Barriers to AR

Within academic literature, for example research published in peer reviewed journals, report that building regulation is a barrier to adaptive reuse uptake within Australia and internationally. Armstrong (2016), suggests however, that this repeated perception of building regulation as a significant barrier to building regulation is insufficiently critical. Whilst it is a view held by both academic researchers and adaptive reuse stakeholders, such as building owners and architects, the published studies provide little or no evidence beyond anti-regulation rhetoric to support their claims (Armstrong, 2016).

In addition to this, much of the published research examines heritage-listed existing buildings. There is little available research which examines building regulatory barriers of the under-occupied buildings that are currently reported as problematic – the low grade non-listed office buildings in Australian state capitals such as Adelaide (PCA, 2017).

As detailed earlier in this paper, AR can be argued to have become a political issue. Calls to amend legislative barriers perceived as impeding AR feasibility and AR uptake are being made from State government opposition (MTL, 2016). Requirements for existing buildings to comply with building regulation BCA standards are documented in Article 53 of SA’s Development Act 1993 (SAGov, 2014:63) and the Development Regulations 2008 (SAGov, 2016).

State government departments are making steps to examine what can be done to clarify building regulation requirements for AR projects – see table 1.2 above. The driver for policy initiatives in SA is regeneration: both economic and urban. In addition to developing the Ministers’ Code (GovSA, 2016), an initiative to offer economic support to improve existing buildings’ energy performance was recently launched in SA: Building Upgrade Finance (BUF). Whilst both of these policies relate to building regulation requirements for existing building upgrades, it is unclear what, if any research evidence they call upon when identifying barriers to adaptive reuse. Applied research to examine adaptive reuse barriers, beyond stakeholder rhetoric should be a priority for informed policy on AR. Without critical analysis of adaptive reuse barriers claimed by industry, it is unclear if they have any basis in fact (Armstrong, 2016).

Calls to amend building regulation for adaptive reuse developments need to be further examined and disaggregated (Armstrong, 2016). Technical standards within the National Construction Code’s (NCC’s) Building Code of Australia (BCA) reported as problematic to change-of-use conversion include: fire safety performance-based requirements (Bruce et al., 2014); disability access (Ma & Yu, 2017). The BUF initiative does not however specifically address fire safety and disability access, but it concentrates energy performance, which is not reported as the most significant concern to adaptively reusing existing buildings in SA.

Some parts of the regulations, highlighted as problematic by research, are there to protect life eg: fire and structural requirements. The cost benefits of reducing building performance requirements, so as to make more AR projects feasible on economic grounds, could mean economic ‘cost’ savings are transferred onto increase risk to occupants. Other building codes ensure social inclusion eg: access for users with disability. It is important to note that legislation to enable access to buildings for people with a disability, sits at federal level and therefore cannot be amended by state policy. Federal disability access requirements are simply interpreted by the National Code of Construction (NCC) in a building design context.

Calls to relax BCA requirements risk an overall relaxation of building code for all AR projects. There are a range of options documented in literature, that do not rely upon relaxations and dispensations. For example, having a separate BCA for existing buildings. However, as discussed earlier, the diversity of architectural projects that have been labelled AR is problematic. Separate building codes for existing building do exist in jurisdictions beyond Australia: in the Netherlands (Olivadese et al, 2017) and New Jersey, USA (Burby et al, 2006). The question needs to be asked: what aspects of building regulation code can be identified and consistently deemed problematic for all existing building adaption projects, given the range of building adaption projects? One other promising alternative is to examine risk-informed performance-based building regulations (Meacham & van Straalen, 2017). It is also interesting that Meacham & van Straalen (2017) argue for building regulation to be recalibrated within a socio-technical framework.

Politicisation of AR

There are two senses in which politics can be applied to examining regulatory barriers to adaptive reuse. Firstly, a broad definition of ‘politics’, often referred to in political science, refers to the exercise of power by the state (Scott, 2004; Smith et al,2012). Adaptive reuse is regulated through planning and building legislation which involves the use of state agencies and an exercise of power. (SAGov, 2016; SAGov, 2014; ICOMOS, 2013). Secondly, politics can be defined in a narrower, conventional sense as in the electoral campaigns of the Australian Labor Party and Liberal Party of Australia (Smith et al,2012). Adaptive reuse has figured in political campaigns and party manifestos of state government opposition within South Australia and elsewhere (OSM, 2016; Yung et al, 2014).

Adaptive reuse has become increasingly politicised in South Australia and the interest in AR can be explored in both senses of politics. This phenomenon has parallels with politicisation of heritage conservation in South Australia. Mosler (2015) charts the political history of Adelaide’s heritage conservation, since the 1970s, noting that whilst heritage regulation can offer a space for social good within the built environment, it can also be used by powerful stakeholders who ‘opposed progressive modernisation partly in order to conserve their privileged lifestyles’ (p.4).

AR Legislation in SA

Jurisdiction Level

Policy and initiatives


Description of provision



Adaptive Reuse State Planning Policy (SPP)

In development

New & developing planning policy for adaptive reuse


Ministers’ Code for Upgrading Health and Safety of Existing Buildings


Consultation ran from Nov 2016-Jan 2017

Guidance providing clarification on the extent of BCA compliance triggered by legislation when altering existing buildings

GovSA, 2013


Local Government (Building Upgrade Agreements) Regulation 2016 / Amendments to Local Government Act 1999 Clause 12 (2)(b)(ii) Sched. IB


Consultation closed 20.01.17 (GovSA, n.d.).

Building Upgrade Finance (BUF), including:

draft ‘no worse off’ methodology (draft approved methodology)

GovSA, n.d.

State guidance

Managing Existing Building Compliance


A Guide for Government of SA Agencies (gov. buildings only)

GovSA, 2013


Rate Payers’ 5 years holiday

Motion passed by Adelaide City Council 30.05.2017

5 year exemption for residential owner-occupiers of recently purchased off-the-plan properties in Adelaide City, including adaptive reuse developments


City of Adelaide 2016-2020 Strategic Plan


Strategic plan sets out ACC vision, primary goals and principles for 2016-2020

ACC & GovSA (2016)

Table 1.2 Examples of supportive AR legislation in South Australia

Adaptive reuse has been gathering momentum in SA state policy for some time. Recent and impending policy pronouncements seek to support adaptive reuse as a part of wider urban and economic regeneration agendas. Table 1.2 highlights examples recent policy initiatives which are reported by SA governments as supportive of adaptive reuse. This mounting policy support for adaptive reuse is primarily a response to state government’s agenda to regenerate Adelaide against a backdrop of falling manufacturing industry and a wider economic malaise.

Beyond the SA state government, there has also been moves to examine building regulation enforcement and technical codes. Research has been undertaken by the inter-governmental organisation Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB). In terms of enforcement systems, ABCB has recently undertaken examining why ‘alternative solutions’ are not a well-used tool for building design teams to achieve building regulation compliance. This has importance in recognising the need for flexible compliance pathways for projects involving existing building that have been built to previous but now outdated building codes, including existing building adaption and AR.

Case studies for Policy

If we are serious about incorporating AR into local, state and federal level legislation and policy, as a driver for economic and urban regeneration, a more systematic attitude towards what counts as AR is needed. Case studies of AR pathways need to be identified, documented and shared.

Examples currently publicised as exemplar AR projects (see earlier table 1.1), lack an ability to offer insights for obsolete building types commonly found across SA, such as non-listed low-grade commercial office buildings and small-scale retail/industrial units. AR recognition has been stretched beyond any practical use: this is a problem for policy, which requires concept definitions (AR) to be identifiable in practice through specific features, as well as generalisable across building types. Cases claiming to be AR in SA are so lacking in commonalities that they are unhelpful for policy and practical application. This is a potential problem for policy, in that the developments are too unique and idiosyncratic to be generalisable. Effective policy requires clear criteria if it is to be applied and generalised across a population of buildings and developments. If generalisability is impossible to achieve, then the alternative is for explicit targeting by policies to address local problems, such as low AR uptake in CBD with problematic levels of building vacancies. This pragmatic solution is however contradictory, as one strength of policy is that it can apply as a guide which is generalisable and scalable beyond a small number of cases.

Parry et al. (2013) comment that public policy initiatives need to scalable and reproducible for them to be successful. They suggest policy need to be optimised ‘for replication and spread’ to be sustainable (Parry et al., 2013:23). Foong et al. (2017) add to this within a built environment policy context. They discuss how policy initiatives/policies in building regulation, aimed at encouraging sustainable building techniques, need to be generalizable across a range of building typologies and developments to be successful. The generalisability of policy is important and opposite to multiple policies of small-scale application, commenting ‘sustainable building regulation, as opposed to niche development, is best placed to create widespread adoption of sustainable building techniques within Sydney’ (Foong et al. (2017:9).

In addition to scalability and generalisability in policy, for an effective increase AR uptake, in-depth studies of AR barriers also need to be undertaken. These studies need to be independent of the politisation of adaptive reuse. They also need to have evaluative scopes, which go beyond a simplistic and uncritical encouragement of the principles of AR. Examinations of AR of existing buildings need to be balanced and have criticality, addressing the legal frameworks, such as planning approval and building regulation compliance, in which AR exists.
Conclusion: promise of a socio-technical perspective

There are problems inherent in this use of the term AR. If there is such diversity in projects labelled as AR, it become more difficult to encourage the conversion of more obsolete buildings. This is because the term is too broad and catch-all to be operationalised in building regulations.

In light of the political narratives outlined in this paper, how can we assess the widely espoused benefits of Adaptive Reuse that this paper began with? More evidence of quantifying the benefits if AR is to be more than rhetoric or a vehicle for interest groups to lobby for change which suits their own financial or political interests.

Problematic issues for AR feasibility stemming from building regulation, needs to be disaggregated. There needs to be greater clarity for policy as to whether the problems lie within the technical requirements of performance-based standards; or how state legislation is interpreted by the social actors (regulation certifiers, building designers and building owners) in the compliance process. Imrie & Street (2009a) argue that building regulation is as much a social entity as it is technical. Any policy supporting AR, in addressing the commonly cited barrier of building regulation, needs to disaggregate and identify building regulation’s social barriers and technical barriers of specific performance standards. A socio-technical understanding of adaptive reuse and building regulation could be helpful in analysing and enabling a more flexible practice of applying and enforcing performance-based building codes (Meacham & van Straalen, 2017). A socio-technical view of building regulation is described as accounting for ‘complex interactions that exist between regulators and the market, the roles stakeholders play in characterizing risk for use in building regulation’ (Meacham & van Straalen, 2017:1).

In addition to recognition of regulation as a socio-technical system, socio-technical transitions theory (STTT) also offers a potentially helpful framework for policy development in its drive to support AR. STTT calls upon Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) in considering change and innovation in policy (Foong et al, 2017; Geels, 2011). Foong et al. (2017) explore the application of STTT to facilitate building regulation changes in favour of sustainable building practices in NSW. They make the observation that building regulation is often led by a conservative ideology at the expense of sustainable building practices (p.2). This critical view of building regulation could also apply to AR and indicates the need for sustained disruption to the building regulation regime in SA.

As this paper began with outlining how adaptive reuse has been previously defined in literature, perhaps it is appropriate to conclude with a definition to attempt to clarify AR: an existing building that has undergone a process of in-situ technical modifications to avoid substantial disposal of the existing building fabric and structure, enabling a social change of functional use to suit new socio-technical use requirements.


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