Reusing and refurbishing old formerly public buildings is becoming one way of ensuring a space has character. Here's a selection of refurbishments that use heritage to their advantage
Finding new uses for old spaces is becoming particularly popular in office design and fit-outs, with old factories, telephone exchanges and other industrial buildings frequently being turned into new workplaces. But it's not the only way buildings are being transformed and refurbished – in fact, reusing or refurbishing existing spaces are two of the proposals made in the climate emergency manifesto created by former Stirling Prize winners to tackle the impact of climate change. The construction industry's contribution to carbon emissions globally is large – estimated at around 40% of global emissions – and becoming increasingly targeted for change; retrofitting for efficiency and refurbishment were two of the suggestions in a 2017 report by the UN on reducing the impact of construction, along with finding new building methods and materials.
Here are five public buildings converted into mixed use spaces, where the designers retained large parts of the structures’ heritage in unique ways.
TWA Hotel – formerly an airport, New York
The transformation of the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at New York’s JFK airport, a 1960s landmark designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, was one of the most anticipated openings of the year. The airport, which opened in mid-May, has been turned into a mammoth hotel and museum that required an equally sized effort over more than a decade. Plans to turn the unusual concrete building – its material that of modernism but the shape more expressionist – into a hotel started in 2001 and the whole process has included 174 companies. The finished hotel has 512 rooms, specified with some of the thickest glass curtain walling in the world (second only to the US embassy in London TWA Hotel says), designed to be soundproofed for guests who book in to view the runways where planes take off.
Alongside the rooms, there’s a restaurant and the bright pink-seated Sunken Lounge – a bar inspired by the airport’s original lounge. The furniture is all Knoll, as per the original design by Saarinen and guests can enjoy views of JFK's runways in rooms with a glass curtain wall TWA says is the second-thickest in the world, after the US Embassy in London - the new Battersea embassy, not the previous building, which was also designed by Eero Saarinen.
Tai Kwun – a former police station, Hong Kong
Tai Kwun is one of the few colonial public buildings that didn’t get torn down and rebuilt in Hong Kong, and is formerly home to the Central Police Station and magistrate’s court. The buildings were constructed from the mid-19th century onwards, with a mix of eastern and western design influences. The redevelopment has been a long time in the making, first proposed in 2007 and only partially opened to the public as a new cultural and shopping centre in 2018.
Herzog and De Meuron oversaw the masterplanning of the whole project, with different firms taking on different areas, including an arts centre, exhibition space and culinary quarter. Interior design studio AB Concept created plush new spaces for three restaurants within the former police station, The Dispensary, The Statement, and The Chinese Library, taking inspiration from the building’s heritage and preserving some of the building’s period features, including antique marble for the tables, high ceilings and wooden floors.
Lloyd Hotel – former detention centre, Amsterdam
Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam has been through a few incarnations – it was originally designed in 1921 by architect Evert Breman as a hotel for passengers emigrating to South America, often en route from eastenr Europe, but changed use in the 1930s after its owner went bankrupt, and passed into the city's hands. By the mid-1930s, it had transformed from a hotel to shelter for refugees, then post WWII it turned into a prison and later, a juvenile detention house. In the late nineties and early 2000s, the eclectic building transformed once more, being restored and converted by Dutch firm MVRDV and turned into a hotel and cultural embassy. Each of the hotel’s 117 rooms is unique, with interiors designed by a range of international and Dutch designers – the most recent addition is a series of scultpural headboards by Dutch designer Nynke Koster, who uses striking rubber mould work in her art.
The cultural embassy aspect includes a restaurant and pop-up events, making a public-facing space of the former house of detention.
Westminster Fire Station – now residential mixed use, London
The transformation of Westminster Fire Station into a mixed use development is being led by architecture firm Openstudio. The Grade II Listed Edwardian building will hold a new restaurant in the old engine bays, accessed through a main entrance that uses the fire station’s original carriage doors. The former fire station will also hold six exclusive apartments, with a newly built extension creating 11 more. The fire station’s former watch room will be transformed into a private dining area, and the apartments will retain some original features, including the old fireman's pole, though more for show than function. The transformation is underway, with the development is scheduled to open in November.
Hotel Amigo – former prison, Brussels
The hotel Amigo in Brussels is another former prison that gained a new use. Originally used as a prison as far back as the 1500s, the building was first converted into a hotel in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair. Its name, however, is said to have come from the Spanish rulers of the 16th century, whose soldiers are said to have misunderstood 'vrunt', the Flemish word for prison, as 'vriend' the word for friend.
When Rocco Forte, the global hotel firm, took over the building by the Grand Place in 2000, it transformed the space, turning it into a five star hotel with heritage: original features were preserved and restored in its refurbishment, including 15th century cobbled paving in the lobby, 17th century flagstones, and several of the hanging tapestries from the 18th century.