HomeFocus On Adaptive Reuse of Old Buildings

Adaptive Reuse of Old Buildings

A community can benefit in many ways from recycling buildings into useful structures instead of destroying them. For example, hundreds of grist mills in the Lehigh Valley were torn down after there was no longer a demand for Mill services.


People interested in restoring old buildings may ask, “What would I do with it?” In the sixties, idealistic young people utilized many local abandoned structures — old firehouses, mills (including Illick’s Mill), social clubs, and houses — as youth gathering and music venues. These were lively for a time, but were “renovation” efforts, not adaptive reuse.

In adaptive reuse, the structure is stabilized and historic materials are saved and strengthened as much as possible, but the idea is to put the building back into use. Most important, the building regains its vitality, and its use is sustainable.

There are numerous benefits for adaptive reuse as opposed to demolition and new construction:

  • creates sightseeing appeal
  • models sustainable development to the community
  • lowers total development costs
  • allows for other site projects such as public gardens or parks
  • reduces construction resources needed
  • sustains existing ‘footprint’
  • historically-appropriate materials are often ‘greener’

Illick’s Mill in Bethlehem, the focus of the Illick’s Mill Project, had been abandoned for many years; adaptive reuse of this building has additional unique benefits:

  • educates the community about the importance of a living and healthy local environment
  • protects native flora and fauna and helps the area return to its natural state
  • provides a public environmental center for interactive study of the Monocacy Creek watershed
  • shows sustainable energy and restoration practices in action and encourages people to ask questions
  • displays local history and encourages residents to learn about and discuss local development

Illick’s Mill Project has taken adaptive reuse one step further in a green direction, utilizing innovative, earth-friendly technologies. The Illick’s Mill Partnership, now in its final phase, is turning the historic grist mill into an environmental education center, which will open to the public, perhaps as early as Spring 2007. We hope that everyone who visits will feel compelled to reconsider the way our communities are being developed.

by Hannae Pavlick, Illick’s Mill Project

Hannae is a student at Liberty High School and a member of the Illick’s Mill Project.


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This entry was posted in 'Green' Building, Adaptive Reuse, Arts & Culture, Education for Sustainability, Historic Preservation, Voices of the Valley.

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