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  • Writer's pictureMike Brunin PE, Aaron Kilgore PE & Matt Conley PE

Adaptive Re-Use: Structural Considerations to Preserve Architectural Heritage

Blog graphic with photo of Bemen church and text with blog title

In response to the nationwide housing shortage, a promising approach in recent years has been the transformation of underutilized commercial structures into residential spaces. While these adaptive re-use projects help meet the demand for housing in communities, they also can be a lower cost and more environmentally friendly solution than ground-up construction.

However, many of these commercial buildings often have a rich architectural heritage, with a strong history and character that many are hesitant to see erased in the transition to multifamily living. It is paramount for developers, architects, and engineers to work to preserve the architectural legacy of these buildings.

Structural Considerations to Preserve Architectural Heritage

Fortunately, many commercial buildings, such as schools and churches, often possess robust structural frameworks conducive to retaining the building's shell while accommodating interior redesigns for residential purposes.

First and foremost, structural engineers will conduct a structural assessment as many of these buildings are very old. These assessments identify any existing issues and propose solutions to ensure the building's longevity. Uninhabited buildings, general deferred maintenance, and original dated construction practices are just a few examples why this first step is critical in preservation.

Throughout the design phase, close collaboration between structural engineers and architects is crucial to find creative solutions to preserve the architectural heritage while creating unique living environments that pay homage to the building's past. During construction, unforeseen structural conditions are often discovered in older buildings, as years of finishes are peeled away. That, combined with the challenge of implementing modern building systems into older structures, requires structural engineers and contractors to work together to achieve timely field solutions.

Bemen Apartments

Renderings courtesy RHAP architecture + planning

In Denver's vibrant Speer neighborhood, construction is underway to transform the Second Church of Christ Scientist of Denver into a 22-unit multifamily building. Apex Engineers worked closely with RHAP architecture + planning on the design of this circa 1910 building, preserving most of the existing millwork on the inside of the building. Additionally, the new multifamily building will feature loft units adorned with exposed brick and wood-framing, some of which will include reused floor joists and decking, celebrating the authenticity of the original materials.

Learn more about this project of RHAP architecture + planning's website.

Y Lofts Senior Apartments

Opening this spring, the Y Lofts Senior Apartments in Kansas City, KS transformed the former YMCA building into stylish loft-style residences. Once again bustling with activity, the revamped Y Lofts will offer fitting amenities including gyms, auditoriums, running tracks, and hotel-like rooms. Originally constructed in Neoclassical style, many of these unique elements are being preserved such as high ceilings with balanced columns and arches and intricately carved crown molding. Apex Engineers worked with Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture to help design this historic building and also performed special inspections during construction.

Baldwin City Schoolhouse Lofts

Originally constructed in 1922 as a K-12 school, this historic building was converted into a multifamily residence with 30 affordable housing units in 2018. Apex Engineers assisted the developer, Flint Hills Holdings, by performing a structural assessment on the building, where we identified and addressed issues such as wood rot and joist deterioration, ensuring the structural integrity of the building. The final design maintained the school's original hallways and stairways, and placed apartment units within the former classrooms, minimizing alterations to the building's exterior structure and layout. Apex also aided the project during construction, as questions arose regarding the installation of new MEP systems around and through the existing structure.


These projects stand as a testament to the potential of repurposing underutilized structures into vibrant residential spaces while honoring their rich architectural heritage. As we look ahead, we will continue to champion adaptive re-use as a cornerstone of sustainable urban development. Feel free to reach out to us to discuss your adaptive re-use project.


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