Adaptive reuse is when an existing building is reused for a purpose other than which it was originally built for. A typical example is an old warehouse that is turned into an art centre.
Adaptive reuse is often associated with urban regeneration projects, where a redundant historic building becomes the centrepiece of the revitalised area.
Reusing old buildings is a way of preserving historical buildings that no longer serve their original purpose. Prolonging a building’s life has the added benefit of being a more sustainable form of development, saving the environmental cost of demolishing and rebuilding with new materials.
The repurposing of old structures is not restricted to historic buildings. An obsolete office tower could be stripped down to its concrete shell and turned into apartments. This is something more cities will be facing as remote working makes office buildings redundant
Adaptive reuse is common in Europe, where cities have buildings spanning centuries to work with. Old docks such as in Hamburg and Liverpool are two classic examples. A church turned into a bookstore is another.
In North America, historic warehouses that survived the post-war demolition mania are now coveted buildings. The phrase “New York Loft” has entered the lexicon of real estate agents around the world to describe an industrial building that has been turned into a residential space.
In Australia, the government has published a guide on adaptive reuse, which highlights the environmental, social and economic benefits of the adaptive reuse of historic buildings.
So how does Southeast Asia compare with adaptive reuse?
Adaptive reuse in Southeast Asia
The concept of adaptive reuse is not as widespread in Southeast Asia, and I have seen historic buildings get demolished during my time in the region. I saw the destruction of the historic Ba Son Shipyard, I’ve lamented the loss of the fabulous 1960s hotels of Bangkok, and I’m still mad about the demolition of the Scala Theatre.
[Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok, demolished in 2020.]
There are some positive signs though that the concept is catching on. This is a list of some examples of adaptive reuse in Southeast Asia. This will be an ongoing archive of examples, so feel free to send in an example to add to the list.
To qualify as adaptive reuse, a building has to be converted into use other than its original purpose. So a historic mansion that is just a restored mansion doesn’t count, or a renovated shophouse doesn’t count either.
Factory Phnom Penh
Factory Phnom Penh is a good example of an unremarkable warehouse site being repurposed into a vibrant mixed-use IT and creative hub.
This was a garment factory from the 60s that has been converted into a space for cultural events, cafés, and offices.
The project was designed by local architect Bloom Architecture.
Factory Phnom Penh news
New Phnom Penh space is no ordinary factory – [02/05/18]
REXKL – Kuala Lumpur
REXKL turned the Rex Theatre on Jalan Sultan into a community and cultural hub. The former theatre has become a space for exhibitions and events, and it includes a food court and cafe. On the top floor is a bookstore that overlooks the theatre area.
If you care about the fate of old theatres, then follow The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project.
The Warehouse Hotel
The Warehouse Hotel is a 19th-century spice warehouse on the Singapore River that has been converted into a boutique hotel.
The Warehouse Hotel news
Singapore’s The Warehouse Hotel creates a “distinctly local experience” – [06/04/18]
Tearing down Singapore’s love of brand-new buildings – [01/12/23]
“To place the Republic’s built environment on a more sustainable footing, developers need to turn away from demolishing and rebuilding, and move instead to adaptive reuse.”
Asiatique The Riverfront – Bangkok
Asiatique The Riverfront is an open-air market and mall at the former docks of the East Asiatic Company.
Warehouse 30 – Bangkok
Warehouse 30 is a former warehouse that has been turned into an art, lifestyle, and creative space. The old warehouse is in Bangrak district between Charoenkrung Road and the Chao Phraya River. This area is rich with history from when the river was the main port of the city.
From the Warehouse 30 website:
“The inside of the renovated Warehouse 30 is full of shops, cafés, restaurants, and galleries, which is a far cry from all the machinery and locomotive parts of the past. Duangrit Bunnag restored the outside of the building, so it would not lose any of its appeal. He also left much of the inside unchanged, except for the few scenarios where the interior needed to be adapted to fit the requirements of the tenants. The one thing that was not negotiable on the inside was the original wooden floors. Those needed to stay to retain the old warehouse feel.”
[Art gallery at Warehouse 30 with old wooden floorboards.]
Siriraj Museum And Siriraj Bimuksthan Museum – Bangkok
[Siriraj Museum And Siriraj Bimuksthan Museum (image by TAT).]
Further reading about adaptive reuse in Thailand
The real value of city’s architectural heritage – [20/02/23]
“Repurposing old buildings for new uses can be as profitable as the endeavour is noble.”
The Cocoa Project – Ho Chi Minh City
The Cocoa Project is a former modernist villa from the ’50s that has been converted into a cafe. There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of these houses across the city that flourished during the Southern Vietnamese Modernist era. Most of them are showing their age and are usually demolished and replaced with a new building.
Local architects T3 Architects kept to the ethos of adaptive reuse by reusing as many materials as possible. From their website:
“T3 intention was to make this project as sustainable as possible, first by preserving the main structure of the existing buildings (always better than demolishing and rebuild). Then, we have reduced the number of new materials as much as possible. All of them are sourced and produced in Vietnam, to avoid unnecessary transportation costs and pollution. Finally, T3 specified natural or low carbon materials as much as possible to ensure a proper air quality (zero chemical): non cooked local cement tiles, solid wood for all furniture, knowing that a large part are antic furniture, lime painting, etc. The bar counter and mirror frames have been tailor-made by T3, using materials composed by recycled tetra packs & plastic produced by our friends from Plastic People.”
The cafe has been featured in ArchDaily.
3A Station (closed) – Ho Chi Minh City
3A Station (Alternative Art Area) was located in 3A Ton Duc Thang in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The old warehouses were converted into galleries, independent shops, and cafes. The site was originally used by government intelligence agencies during and after the war.
In keeping with the theme of its name, after a 3-year run the site was closed down and handed over to developers.
Further reading about adaptive reuse in Vietnam
Industrial heritage reconstructed in creative cultural spaces – [31/10/22]
“With the decision to relocate nine old factories and industrial facilities out of the inner city, Hanoi has been witnessing an opportunity to develop and expand cultural spaces, art and creative centres towards the promotion of cultural industry through the reconstruction of industrial heritages.”