Adaptive Reuse Strategies Breathe New Life Into the Built Environment

Following 12 months of economic stall, commercial real estate investors and developers are mobilizing across the nation to drive an industry-wide recovery. This is taking place amidst a burgeoning conversation about the disruptive nature of traditional building practices. In response to calls to embrace and integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards across the industry, adaptive reuse, the process of retrofitting an existing building for new purposes, has emerged as the industry’s “new normal.” Adaptive reuse projects can allow owners to incorporate the latest environmental considerations and building technologies while conserving resources and enhancing the historic value and public profile of architecturally significant buildings.

Buildings must evolve to support the ever-changing needs of their users. Adaptive reuse has played an integral role in the preservation of our built environment. Most often this involves a dramatic recalibration of the building’s function, triggering changes in space utilization, integration of technology and new, high-performance building systems. CNY Group, the New York City-based construction and development services firm, has prepared for an increase in calls for adaptive reuse projects to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as thousands of real-estate properties sit vacant. These projects fall in line with not only the company’s expertise, but the organization’s commitment to apply ESG standards to each facet of its business. ESG’s tenets—among them sustainability, corporate responsibility, social consciousness and ethical global sourcing solutions—run parallel to the effort to combat climate change through the built environment.

With global climate change and sustainable development now, once again, at the forefront of local and American politics, practices requiring the least amount of environmental disruption and waste generation will be vital components of meeting carbon neutrality goals around the world. Sustainable redevelopment practices, such as adaptive reuse, will play a significant role in reducing energy consumption and cutting down on the more than 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris produced in the U.S. each year.

CNY has been at the forefront of the sustainable adaptive reuse effort in New York City. The company’s preservation and repositioning of historic Tammany Hall at 44 Union Square was the realization of architectural vision, engineering ingenuity and construction execution—all to sustainably modernize a nearly 100-year-old structure into a Class A commercial space. (Read retrofit’s article about Tammany Hall in the January-February 2021 issue.) A few years earlier, CNY completed the conversion of the 19-story mixed-use commercial building at 1414 6th Avenue—itself an adaptive reuse of the 1923-era Park Chambers Hotel. Returned to use as a living space, the new 1 Hotel Central Park offers a wide array of sustainable features, including a 3-story year-round exterior green wall, rainwater recapture systems, an innovative Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) HVAC system and reclaimed wood paneling on guestroom walls and ceilings.

By breathing life into old existing structures, adaptive reuse and the vision to create powerful solutions to preserve and improve our existing built environment is preserving the United States’ architectural heritage while meeting the challenge of ESG and climate change head-on.

About the Author

Kenneth Colao
Kenneth Colao is founder, president and CEO of New York-based construction company CNY Group. He is a recognized leader and entrepreneur in the construction industry with more than 40 years of experience as a principal of several major firms, working on high-profile projects domestically and internationally.

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