Tiny Tuesday: Three Unusual Adaptive Reuses

Adaptive reuse occurs when a structure, having outlasted its original function, gets repurposed for a new function. The term includes things like barns and shipping containers that get converted to homes, but excludes remodels within a home or office – the new function needs to be considerably different from the old, or in a different location. It’s a smart concept, though not always effective: the conversion process may be more expensive or more energy-intensive than starting from scratch.

Here are three unusual examples of adaptive reuse that span the spectrum from clever and environmentally friendly to just plain cool.

1. Shipping container gardens. A major problem with shipping container homes is that they’re expensive to retrofit for human comfort: the steel sides let heat in but don’t let heat escape. The company Freight Farms uses the greenhouse effect in its favor by turning shipping containers into hydroponic greenhouses. Each unit is outfitted with rows of irrigated trellises from which farmers can grow vertical gardens. LED lighting, humidity, and airflow are optimized for photosynthesis. A remote app controls light, heat, and watering, and a single container can contain several different zones. Aimed at commercial growers, the containers sell for $85,000.


A steel bridge in Ohio.

2. Bridge beam salvage. Ohio DOT has found a fiendishly simple use for the steel beams they salvage when a bridge is torn down: build them into another bridge! Most deficient bridges get replaced due to spalling concrete abutments, cracking decks, and rusty cross-bracing; the steel beams of the superstructure may have plenty of design life remaining. Projects with full local funding are encouraged to choose salvaged beams from Ohio DOT’s storage facility – they’re free for the taking, including transportation. In addition to saving money, project managers can greatly reduce the embodied energy of their bridges compared to fabricating new steel.

3. Missile silo homes. During the Cold War, the US built hundreds of underground missile launch facilities in preparation for nuclear war. Most of the sites have been decommissioned, leaving lots of big holes in the ground. Believe it or not, about a dozen of theses holes have since been converted to private homes. This Huffington Post article describes one such house in Lewis, New York, which was for sale as recently as 2013. Underground homes do benefit from low heating costs due to the insulating effect of soil, but the work required to make this place habitable was surely monumental.

Thanks to Robin Jaeger.

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