Abandoned infrastructure can be seen in across the U.S.A. and some of it is just downright ugly. But what can you do with an environmental eyesore such as an abandoned slate mine, a failed nuclear plant or an unused waterfront silo that has not been done before?

The answer is just about anything that you can imagine. This article looks at some of the successful asset conversions that have occurred in Europe. Maybe they will be an inspiration for American municipal planners and asset managers.

Converting Eyesores into Useful Assets with Adaptive Reuse

One cannot help but applaud the ingenuity behind some of Europe’s newest tourist attractions. They have managed to transform abandoned or unused structures into amusement parks, inspiring art, an opera house and more.

Take a look at the five converted assets below:

Fun, Fun and Really Cool Art

  1. FacebookTwitterGoogle+https://www.linkedin.com/company-beta/591822/www.pinterest.com/mintek/Name: Bounce Below
    Location: Llechwedd caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales
    Opened: July 4th, 2014
    Former Use: Victorian Slate Mine
    Converted Use: World’s first and largest underground trampoline installation
    Features: Elaborate Technicolor display, 60 foot slide, open all year, natural climate control (it’s a cave).
  1. FacebookTwitterGoogle+https://www.linkedin.com/company-beta/591822/www.pinterest.com/mintek/Name: Wunderland Kalkar
    Location: North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
    Opened: 1995
    Former Use: Nuclear Power Plant
    Converted Use: Amusement Park
    Features: Cooling tower climbing wall, swing ride inside cooling tower, hotels rooms made out of plant offices.
  1. FacebookTwitterGoogle+https://www.linkedin.com/company-beta/591822/www.pinterest.com/mintek/Name: SILO 468 Urban Light Art Piece
    Location: Helsinki, Finland
    Opened: 2012
    Former Use: Waterfront Oil Silo
    Converted Use: Civic Space
    Features: A constantly evolving glowing mural based on environmental conditions using 1280 LED lights and 2012 holes.
  1. FacebookTwitterGoogle+https://www.linkedin.com/company-beta/591822/www.pinterest.com/mintek/Name: Arenc Silo
    Location: Port of Marseille, France
    Opened: September 2011
    Former Use: Grain Silo
    Converted Use: Opera House and Theater
    Features: 2,000 seat performing arts hall, rooftop restaurant, offices and parking.
  1. FacebookTwitterGoogle+https://www.linkedin.com/company-beta/591822/www.pinterest.com/mintek/Name: Gasometer City, Vienna
    Location: Vienna, Austria
    Opened: October 2001
    Former Use: Four municipal gas storage tanks
    Converted Use: Apartments, shopping mall, offices, Vienna City Archives
    Features: Domed facilities, entertainment and office complex. Was used as a set for the James Bond movie The Living Daylights.

Each of the assets above started off as part of a different industry. When the original use was no longer needed or wanted, investors and communities pooled together their resources to transform these facilities for adaptive reuse.

The benefits are clear, adaptive reuse can save historical sites from demolition, increase tourism, install community pride, create value from an eyesore and so on.

Barriers to Adaptive Reuse

There are two well-known barriers to adaptive use:

  1. A poor maintenance history leaving the site in a state of decay that cannot be refurbished.
  2. Contamination such as radiation, asbestos and unsafe pollution levels.

Without a doubt, the maintenance history of any facility is the key determining factor on whether it can be reused and how much it will cost to convert the structure.

However, there are times when the quality of preventive maintenance is a moot point. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant would be the most infamous example. No amount of money is going to make the facility reusable for anything.

Adaptive Reuse Opportunities

Virtually every city has abandoned properties or an eyesore. Some cities, like Detroit have enough abandoned facilities to render the entire city an eyesore.

The opportunity is not to permit the facilities to decay to the point of no return. With a little asset planning, maintenance and foresight; communities can revitalize a waterfront area, increase tourism, increase the tax base and strengthen their image.

Some honorable mention adaptive reuse projects are:

Other Unique Adaptive Reuse Projects
  1. Ambler Boiler House, 19th century industrial plant now a modern office space.
  2. Tropical Islands Resort, World’s largest abandoned airplane hangar converted to a theme park.
  3. St. Jansklooster Tower, Dutch water tower converted to a watchtower monument.
  4. Water Plant, Berlin, now living and work space.
  5. Silohome, converted missile silos into homes and data storage facilities.
Converting Facilities is not the Last Step

Good asset management starts at the planning stage and does not finish until the asset is retired, replaced or refurbished. Each new adaptive reuse should be planned with how maintenance will be conducted.

The quality of proactive maintenance will determine how long the facility will be able to remain in safe operating condition. The reason has to do with the normal business cycle of any asset.

Amusement parks, civic centers and shopping malls etc. are all dependent on disposable income. When recessions hit, disposable income falls. Most organizations react by slashing operating budgets including maintenance.

When maintenance budgets are reduced, poorly managed operations cut proactive maintenance such as inspections and preventive maintenance. This decreases their chance of finding and fixing small problems before they become larger and more expensive repairs.

This can quickly snowball to the point where only a major capital infusion can stop the facility deteriorating beyond safe use or closing altogether.

The only realistic way to weather the cycle is for the owners and facility managers to invest at the time of planning in a best of class asset and maintenance management solution.

I tip my cap to the city planners, communities and architects who have the genius to create beauty and value from abandoned structures. I have already added Bounce Below to my bucket list.

Share with us the facilities near you that need a change?