Redevelopment of abandoned post-industrial buildings and neighborhoods has been transforming American cities over the past decades. Visits to successful projects make an interesting road trip. Matteo Robiglio, an architecture professor at the Politecnico di Torino’s Design and Architecture Department (Italy), did just that and recorded his findings in his new book. RE-USE documents his expedition and reviews projects with respect of their success in adaptive reuse as well as urban revival. While the book trods well-known ground, he turned lessons learned into a toolkit for those interested in embarking on such projects themselves and in the process added to the growing literature extolling adaptive reuse.
From Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh and then on to Chicago, Detroit and New York, Robiglio documents projects large and small. He illustrates the narrative arc that starts with thriving industry, descends into abject abandonment and then progresses to fitful, but ultimate success. These accounts bring into sharp relief that the massive economic and physical changes caused by the decline of America’s industrial base and infrastructure have been going on for decades. In fact, some of the projects document property that had been abandoned fairly soon after World War II, in the 1950s, although most occurred in the 1970s and 80s. All, however, took a long time with many dead ends before the right renovation solution was found.
The repetitiveness of these stories does not diminish their importance or their effects on people’s lives and the character of their cities. Doing nothing leaves large swaths of the country desolate. Robiglio analyzed his observations and turned them into an “adaptive reuse toolkit” that can be used by cities but is really addressed to concerned citizens intent on reviving their neighborhoods.
Consisting of eight steps and addressed to “you and your family,” the processes outlined are intended to chart a path of redevelopment and acknowledge and build upon the industrial legacy by emphasizing adaptive reuse. The steps are: Explore possibilities, Access potential, Envision the future, Involve partners, Colonize the place, Design to reuse, Placemaking and funding, and Run and evolve. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned occurs in the last chapter: “adaptive reuse is a long-term process of evolution rather than a pre-set project.” Many of the projects in his book went through many failed attempts and changes of programs until the right idea came at the right time. Perseverance is key.