It should be a mantra for preservationists and conscientious designers alike: "The greenest building is the one that is already standing." Some may make the case for newer builds that are more airtight and energy-efficient, but renovating old structures can take twice as much labour (jobs!) and half the materials. Such is the case when older buildings can be rehabilitated and converted to be used in a way other than their original function, instead of tearing them down, generating a lot of waste and expending a lot of money and virgin resources to build something new.
In the small town of Newbern in Alabama, the masonry walls and glass facade of an existing bank building have been completely renovated by a group of students from Auburn University's Rural Studio, a hands-on architectural design program founded in 1993 that brings high-quality design to underserved rural areas. In this case, community leaders approached Rural Studio for a library project that would function as a communal hub, offering space for after-school activities, and public Internet access -- the first in this small town of only 200 residents.
The bank building, located in Newbern's downtown, was donated by a local family, and its brick walls and glass front has been preserved but upgraded with a simple metal awning that announces the presence of this new community spot, say the designers:
The white brick exterior of the Bank Building remains in-tact to preserve the memories of the historic Bank Building, while the interior of the building provides opportunities to learn about the town's history and heritage.
The interior has been completely renovated to allow it to function as a library: rows of neat, CNC-cut birch plywood shelving were installed, to match the wooden panelling on the ceiling. With the addition of recessed lighting, the result is a warm, welcoming space that is modernist in aesthetic as well.
At the rear of the project, a 700-square-foot (65-square-metre) cypress wood-clad extension has been added to accommodate deep-set alcoves that are multipurpose in nature: people can bring their books or laptops to read or study here.
In keeping with the theme of preservation, the bank's old vault door and pine flooring have been kept, to remind visitors of the building's history. Recycled bricks line the ground and walls of an adjacent courtyard, which are used for outdoor events and activities.
Besides exemplifying the virtues of adaptive reuse, the project also represents something meaningful for a tight-knit community: rather than demolishing a cherished landmark, it's transformed into something new that benefits the whole town, creating new memories and experiences that can be shared, and shared again. To see more, visit Rural Studio.