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Adaptive Reuse of Heritage
Economic Viability

"Investment Sinkhole" Fallacy

One of the biggest criticisms of adaptive reuse is that remodeling is more expensive than demolition, and that heritage sites are an “investment sink-hole” (Bullen and Love, 2011). But many studies have shown that this claim does not fully explain the economic viability of adaptive reuse. 

When done properly, adaptive reuse can be much more economically viable for several reasons. Structural components already exist and with shorter contact periods, the final cost is reduced. Most importantly, adaptive reuse can yield a high rate of return on investment, depending on the new use of the space and on the value of the property (Mason, 2005). A study published in 2000 proved that 59% of designated heritage properties sold for higheer prices than non-designated properties (Erksine, 2013). Therefore, the adaptive reuse of Century Manor is not only good investment, but will also prove to stimulate the economy through the creation of jobs and revenue streams.

A More Sustainable Option

Several studies show that renovating older structures is far more sustainable than demolition. Construction activities account for a great amount of world energy consumption. According to a study by Makrodimitri in 2010, the refurbishment of old dwellings could contribute up to a 60% reduction of ... carbon emissions by 2050 (Makrodimitri, 2010 and Power, 2008). Trabuco and Fava compare demolition to renovation in the US, Canada and Europe, and found that renovation costs between 50-90% less than demolition and rebuilding. Adaptive reuse is the more sustainable option.

Demolition is an enormously wasteful process. Materials such as bricks, tiles, coated glass and concrete cannot be recycled. According to Construction Canada, construction and demolition waste contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions and land pollution when buried. This type of waste represents one-third of municipal waste streams (Even-Har, 2014). Restoration can also take less time than demolition and new construction. The speed of refurbishment can actually provide a quicker response to market needs, leading to a more successful investment (Trabuco and Fava, 2013). 

Many of the materials needed for new construction are unsustainable, such as glass and lumber. The materials in historic buildings are of higher quality than those used today. The lumber quality from old-growth forests (seen in heritage buildings such as Century Manor) is more durable, sturdier and more resistant to rotting than the new growth wood we are now using (Urban Wood Goods). It is highly possible that the wood present in Century Manor, like other historic structures, would not have to be removed and replaced with an inferior quality material. Adaptive reuse not only has the potential to reduce the costs of demolition and reconstruction but is also a more sustainable option.

Hotel Henry back conference centre._edit

Previously known as the Buffalo State Asylum, it was designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson and constructed between 1871-1895, in what is referred to as the Richardsonian Romanesque, which indulged in bold and hardy forms, featuring the round arches of Romanesque architecture blended with the high angles of traditional gothic structures. Like Century Manor, the structure followed the Kirkbride system of asylum design; five independent pavilions on either side of the central towered administration building (Bateson-Brown, 2020). This would have allowed physicians to group patients by type and degree of mental illness. It was Frederick Law Olmstead who designed the landscape plan, which ensured wide, tree-shaded lawns in a park-like open space. 

The last patient moved out of this complex in 1974, although the central administration building was used until the 1990s. It was listed on the National Register for Historic Spaces in 1973, however, it was not properly maintained with its disuse, in a process referred to as “demolition by neglect” (Bateson-Brown, 2020). Through grass root efforts, public forums, heritage advocates from all different backgrounds, however, the Complex was saved from further demolition, and an adaptive reuse campaign began (Bateson-Brown, 2020). The creation of the Richardson Centre Corporation in 2006 brought in 76 million dollars allocated to its rehabilitation. 

Today the Richardson Olmstead campus encompasses 42 acres in the Buffalo arts and cultural district. The Richardson Centre Corporation is working tirelessly to adaptively reuse the space; the group has completed all the essential planning reports, stabilized the buildings, re-landscaped the South Lawns. The most astounding achievement, however, has to be the opening of Hotel Henry in 2017. The Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Centre, an 88 guest-room hotel with full-service amenities with a 20,000sq/f  conference space (Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center in Buffalo, NY). 

The Richardson-Olmsted complex is a large-scale example of the adaptive reuse of historic sites. The parallels to Century Manor are plentiful; from being Kirkbride asylum buildings constructed with beautiful architecture to the gradual demolition by neglect when these institutions lost relevancy and funding over the decades. The most important lesson however is that grassroots movements by individuals and communities can work together to create meaningful change, and in this case it preserved an important piece of Buffalo's history, saving the site from demolition. The same can be done for Century Manor!

An Adaptive Reuse Comparison

Hotel Henry, Buffalo, NY


Bullen, Peter A., and Peter E.D. Love. “The Rhetoric of Adaptive Reuse or Reality of Demolition: Views from the Field.” Cities 27, no. 4 (2010): 215–24. 

Erksine, Chris. “Raise the Hammer.” Adaptive Reuse Sometimes More Expensive But Delivers Strong Return on Investment - Raise the Hammer, 2013.


Fitzgerald, Kyle. “Old Growth vs. New Growth Lumber – Which Is Better?”, December 2, 2018.

Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Adult Correctional Statistics in Canada, 2015/2016 Adult Correctional Statistics in Canada, 2015/2016.” Adult correctional statistics in Canada, 2015/2016, March 1, 2017. 

Higgin, Jenny. “Forest Industries and the Environment”. Heritage: Newfoundland and Labrador, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2021.


Nytagodien, Ridwan Laher, and Arthur G. Neal. "Confronting an Ugly Past."  The Journal of American Culture 27, no. 4 (2004): 375-383.


Says, Kenu Bannister. “Options for Waste Reduction and Diversion.” Construction Canada, February 22, 2017.


Shipley, Robert. “Heritage Designation and Property Values: Is There an Effect?” International Journal of Heritage Studies 6, no. 1 (2000): 83–100. 


Shipley, Robert, and Karen Reyburn. “Lost Heritage: a Survey of Historic Building Demolitions in Ontario, Canada.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 9, no. 2 (2003): 151–68. 


Wallender, Lee. “How to Choose Between a Major Remodel or a Full Rebuild.” The Spruce. Accessed March 26, 2021. 

Adaptive reuse refers to changing an existing building to fulfill a purpose different from its original use. This process involves restoration and retrofitting as part of the heritage preservation project.

While social development and modernization of medicine have moved the nation in a more progressive direction, it would be incorrect to forget that just a century and a half ago, marginalized groups were being institutionalized in insane asylums based on their collective social identity. It is imperative that reflections on the conditions of institutions like Century Manor remain possible by protecting the site. That is why adaptive reuse is not only necessary but crucial.

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