Thursday, March 22, 2018

Adaptive Reuse

The London Free Press building at 369 York Street is going to be renovated as Venture London, a small business and innovation hub that will support start-ups. Farhi Holdings, the current owner of the building, will partner with TechAlliance, the London Small Business Centre and the London Institute to develop the multi-million dollar renovation. The building may open as early as this year with amenities such as an indoor event space, rooftop patio, and catering facility.

According to Shmuel Farhi in a Free Press article this project will help make London's downtown "a world-class, vibrant core." I'm not sure about world-class, but reusing the Free Press building is a step in the right direct for many reasons:

1. Reusing a building conserves natural resources, since it minimizes the need for new materials. If we recycle pop cans, why not buildings? Adaptive reuse is an important aspect of the green movement. 

2. Adaptive reuse is often more economical than starting fresh. While the final bill for this project is unknowable at this point, renovation is likely cheaper than if the partners were to build from scratch. 

3. The project may help revitalize this rather uninspiring section of York Street near the railroad tracks. I often walk about downtown but, at the moment, this area doesn't have much to recommend it for a stroll.

4. The Free Press building was constructed in 1965 when the newspaper needed more space than was available at their previous Richmond and Queens location. As a mid-twentieth century building, 369 York Street has never struck me as one of London's most attractive buildings. The refurbishment may actually make the structure more inviting. 

5. Preserving the Free Press building saves the memories of many current and former Free Press employees, who may have been saddened if their former haunt had sat empty, gradually falling down, and possibly being demolished. 

5. Finally, if successful, this renovation sets an example for future adaptive reuse projects in London. Now we just have to find new uses for Wright Lithographing, the old Central Library on Queens Avenue, closed churches, surplus schools ...

Update, April 11, 2018: More good news for adaptive reuse: local schools that will soon close could help London develop more affordable housing. London Council has just approved a surplus school strategy that may allow schools to be transformed into affordable housing projects, community centres, or parks. Time will tell if the finished results are beautiful buildings, but it's another step in the right direction.

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