Adaptive Reuse: Breathing New Life Into Existing Buildings


Major cities around the world compete to have the most iconic new buildings to distinguish their skylines. It is breathtaking what can be done with new technology and innovative design and engineering to create inspiring structures. However, there is another equally inspiring, if more subtle approach to design in urban landscapes that uses existing structures to create breathtaking results.

Adaptive reuse is the term used when an old building is updated or converted for a new purpose. It breathes new life into existing structures, showcasing their hidden potential. By honoring the past and looking towards the future, the design can seamlessly blend historical charm with innovative modern aesthetics and functionality. There are some incredible advantages of this approach.


For starters, reusing existing buildings holds immense potential in terms of sustainability. Construction of new buildings consumes vast amounts of resources and energy, whereas renovating existing structures reduces the need for raw materials and minimizes waste. It helps mitigate carbon emissions and conserve resources.

Moreover, renovating old buildings often proves to be more cost-effective than starting from scratch. There is the potential for substantial cost savings in terms of land acquisition and infrastructure development when opting for renovation, making it an attractive choice for investors and developers alike. There are also many government grants, subsidies and tax breaks, such as Historic Tax Credits, that are often available to help mitigate costs.


The challenges with adaptive reuse are most prevalent during the design phase. Existing buildings come with unforeseen conditions and constraints, such as floor to floor heights and column spacing. In addition, code compliance, uneven surfaces, outdated systems and older construction methods must be addressed so that the building will ultimately meet the demands of today’s user groups. This calls for the expertise and ability to navigate through the challenges posed by existing conditions.

Historical & Cultural Heritage

Because we live in an area with a proud past, one of the most enticing aspects of renovating old buildings for us is the preservation of historical and cultural heritage. Each building carries a unique story and by revitalizing these spaces, we contribute to the preservation of a community’s identity. Adaptive reuse of historic buildings helps maintain a connection to our shared past and fosters a sense of place. Renovation projects often become cultural landmarks, drawing visitors and creating a vibrant tapestry of old and new. As brand ambassadors for the built environment, DxDempsey gets to employ our proprietary Strategic Branded Experience Framework when we work on such projects, thereby becoming both storytellers and custodians of heritage.


DxDempsey has expertise with both new build and renovation, but due to our focus on sustainability and our location in a region with many existing structures and wonderful, historic turn-of-the-century buildings, we have become particularly adept at the complex design requirements of renovation and adaptive reuse. In fact, we often get to know our buildings better than we know our own homes! We spend hours inside learning about all of the structure’s eccentricities. We also get the building scanned, take drone footage, do investigative demolition, take critical measurements, explore dingy basements, analyze building systems and basically do a forensic analysis on what exists.

We have employed all of this expertise while designing one of our current projects in partnership with Kreiger Architects–the new Headquarters for Fidelity Bank in the historic Electric City Building in downtown Scranton. The building has been empty for years suffering from the effects of deferred maintenance and neglect. Fidelity Bank, who has long been a staple of the community, stepped in and purchased the 60,000 square foot structure with a vision to save the building and resurrect it as their regional headquarters. The process has begun with a team of consultants to repair and refresh the exterior and fit out the interiors with modern systems and spaces while enhancing some of the historic features that preserve a sense of time and place, such as the original ceiling of the 8th Floor Assembly Room and the original materials and wood work on the 1st Floor and 7th floors.

Don’t get us wrong, we believe there are compelling and important reasons to design new buildings. However, we also believe that if there is an option to transform an existing building that it should be carefully considered. Renovation and adaptive reuse provide an exciting opportunity to redefine the urban landscape while helping to create vibrant, sustainable, and culturally rich communities. So if you have the choice, it will be worth your time to consider it–and if you need some guidance, we are always here to help!

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