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The joys of recycling a building: How to get your adaptive reuse project on track

March 05, 2020

By Roger Tulk

Thinking of turning that abandoned building into a modern, mixed-use space? Consider these elements before diving into your dream project.

There’s something incredibly rewarding about reviving an old space and creating a new one. Throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed opportunities to get involved in adaptive reuse projects, where an older, existing building is transformed for a new purpose.

I felt particularly excited about working on the Hew & Draw Hotel, a new 36-room boutique hotel and attached microbrewery (Boomstick Brewing) in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Corner Brook, a vibrant community on Newfoundland’s west coast and a four-season hub for tourists, is currently experiencing a revival in its downtown. And Hew & Draw, the city’s newest hotel in decades, provides locals and residents with opportunities to recharge and connect with friendly people year-round.

For this project, we worked with Major's Contracting and the interior designers at Carvel & Helm to transform an old building on West Street. Before it became Hew & Draw, the building was most recently a bargain retail store.

Are you currently looking at reinvigorating a building in your community? Are you gazing at an abandoned warehouse and picturing a modern, mixed-use space with a restaurant, hotel, brewery, or retail area? Well, through this project and others before it, I’ve learned a few lessons that might help you with your dream project. If you’re considering an adaptive reuse endeavor, here are some things to keep in mind.

The Hew & Draw Hotel is a new 36-room boutique hotel and attached microbrewery in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

Consider foundations and geotechnical work

Here’s an essential component, but something that feels unexpected: If you’re looking to expand your property—either upward or outward—you may encounter issues with the foundation. So, it’s important to bring in geotechnical experts before you get too far along in your project.

It’s key to do a bit of homework before buying an existing building. Does the current owner have a geotechnical report that they can provide when you purchase the property?

Design your exterior so that it blends in with the neighborhood but also stands out. How can you make your building feel distinct?

You may need to consider upgrading foundations, especially if you’re planning to expand upwards. From a structural engineering point of view, you need to make sure that the soils beneath your building can support building up.

For our Hew & Draw project, we made modifications to the foundation, including tearing out the existing concrete slab, digging down, and adding onto the existing foundation to make it bigger and provide the capacity for the additional level.

Think about space planning for mixed-use occupancy

It’s critical to know the structure of your building and what modifications you’re hoping to make. There are certain constraints you must work within, from a space planning point-of-view, especially if you want to design a mixed-use space. The building will have existing columns and floor-to-floor heights that you need to keep in mind. Certain building elements are literally set in concrete, and you’re not able to move them. If you’re hoping to design a modern restaurant, for example, you’ll need to incorporate columns in the layout.  

For the Hew & Draw, we had to come down to go up. An additional story on the entire footprint would have projected above the adjacent connected property, causing the potential for a snow drift to form and structurally overload their building. We devised a solution that removed a portion of the second floor and strategically placed the additional hotel floor, creating a functional deck space and eliminating the snow drift on the adjacent building.

Here’s what the Hew & Draw Hotel location looked like—as a bargain shop—before we started work on the building.

Make your spaces individual but connected

Speaking of mixed-use, it’s wise to create spaces that feel individual yet connected.

In the case of Hew and Draw, we wanted visitors to be able to pop into the bar and have a beer or fill their growler without feeling like they had to walk through a hotel lobby first. At the same time, you want to give hotel patrons clear access to the microbrewery, so they don’t have to step outside if they want to peruse a selection of craft beers.

Be aware of your different spaces and how they flow into one another.

Do an extensive business case

Even though this point isn’t design-oriented, it’s important to mention. Do an extensive business plan before you approach your adaptive reuse project.

Is there demand in the area for your type of business? Will the local community embrace it? What’s the market like? Can you connect with other local businesses before you start work on your site?

You’ll feel confident once your research is done and your project can move forward. I can already feel the support of the locals for Hew and Draw, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it helps reinvigorate the community.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of our work on the Hew & Draw Hotel. On this project we had to make modifications to the foundation, which is something that you may have to consider for your adaptive reuse plan. 

Be aware of the local environment

Early on, it’s vital to look at adjacent properties, power lines, and building codes. It’s important to be aware of these elements, and to foster open communication with the city that you’re working in. You’ll likely need to consult the city for permits and proper approvals at certain times throughout the project. Maintaining a good relationship with the city—or power company, or whatever authority has jurisdiction—will result in a smoother process and fewer last-minute delays.

In Corner Brook, we needed to build upwards, close to power lines. Luckily, our team and our client consulted with Newfoundland Power to make sure we didn’t infringe on anything. And, like I mentioned earlier, we designed the additional story in a way that avoided a snow drift on the adjacent building.

  • Roger Tulk

    Roger has worked both as an architectural technologist and contract administrator. Now, he serves as a project manager in our St. John’s office delivering projects from proposal through to completion of construction.

    Contact Roger
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