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A New Purpose for Old Buildings

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Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the old saw, and it's never been truer than in this day and age. With construction on new housing at a slow down, the real estate market in a slump, and – on a seemingly unrelated note – more and more people calling for a global policy of reduce, reuse and recycle, the building and architecture industry has had to take some interesting twists and turns to get to the goal of providing the housing that is greatly in demand.

While re-purposing buildings is not a new concept, its popularity had been on the slide as real estate investors opted for new construction. As prices have been spiraling out of control and developers are becoming reluctant to shell out the initial cost of new construction, they're turning to architects to redesign older buildings for new uses. Re-use on the grandest scale for everyone involved on these projects.

Take the Eastern Columbia Building for example. Built in 1930, just as the Great Depression was getting into full swing, the towering 13-story structure is a stunning example of the art deco period. It was first built for the Eastern Columbia Outfitting Company as a department store to the stars. In the 1950s, it was used for office space. The building is located in downtown Los Angeles, California, and offers 147 units of two bedroom condominiums to young professionals.

Much of the original features remain, including the gold leaf and turquoise terra cotta on the outside of the building. Inside, in the lobby, the terrazzo floors and antique elevator doors have been refinished. The rooftop boasts a brand new pool.

This concept is not lost on the Ballet Austin dance company. Previously, the dance company was scattered throughout the city in four locations, with offices here, production facilities there, meeting rooms and dance studios in yet another space. When renovation was finished in September of 2007, Ballet Austin found its home in the Butler Dance Education Center and Community School: a renovated building that had previously housed a printing company.

The building was a 34,000 square foot industrial metal monstrosity, but the Austin based Bommarito Group was excited about the project. Its original purpose – light industrial – was advantageous as the printing press area, which comprised about two thirds of the building, was already soundproofed. The rest had to be outfitted to accommodate a wide variety of activities – from administrative to technical and production staff, not to mention the dancers themselves and their visitors or parents.

The ballet company isn't the only organization to follow the re-purposing path. The old Palmer Auditorium, built in 1959, has been renovated to house the Long Center for the Performing Arts. The Arthouse contemporary arts organization took a building that had been used first as a theater in the 1920s, then a department store, then it became an art exhibit hall in the late 1990s.

Re-purposing fits right in with Austin's stated goal of becoming the most sustainable and environmentally friendly city in the nation.
Joe Cline writes articles for Austin Texas real estate.

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