Home is Where the Office Was

Developers get creative in the face of a sluggish commercial market.

Image: A rendering of the Barron Building in Calgary, AB. Photo courtesy of Strategic Group

It’s only natural that a landlord contemplating an empty office building would think about turning it into residential properties. 

In fact, the process is so well-established that it has a fancy name: adaptive reuse. The term covers a lot of different projects. In 2016, Chicago’s LondonHouse Hotel opened in the former London Guarantee & Accident Building. That city has also seen a number of projects that convert vacant office space into residences.

The phenomenon can also be seen in Calgary. Strategic Group acquired the Barron Building, the art deco classic on 8th Avenue SW, in 2015 with the intention of redeveloping it as retail and office space. The economic downturn and rise in office vacancy rates, however, forced a change in plans.

The 11-storey building will now also include 93 apartments. As a recent CREBNow article explained, the new approach has given rise to new challenges that prove converting office space to residences involves a lot more than unplugging photocopiers and plugging in appliances. These include the typically larger floor plate of office buildings that makes it difficult to bring natural light into some apartments.

For landlords, it’s a creative solution to a sluggish market for office rentals even if it is a dim echo of those boom times when people slept at their desks instead of going home.

Across North America, schools and universities have found adaptive reuse to be a solution to a space crunch. Locally, the University of Calgary hired MTa to convert the 8th and 8th Medical Centre into its Downtown Campus, which was completed in 2016. 

Adaptive reuse is not limited to buildings. In Sweden, architects have proposed converting a bridge into apartments and a park. Here in Calgary, a project with the unlikely name of the 9th Avenue SE Parkade & Innovation Centre was recently unveiled. The structure will include five levels of parking and also be home to Platform, a space for innovators that will be home to a maker space, resident investors and experts who will offer advice to startups.

The most intriguing aspect of the project, however, is that adaptive reuse is designed right into it. As demand for cars decreases—in response to autonomous vehicles, for example—the structure can be repurposed into apartments or commercial space. It’s a creative approach to an unpredictable future even if it does mean that residents may one day lay their heads down where they used to park their cars.

October 15th, 2018

In a process known as adaptive reuse, old structures are given new life.