Preservation – Adaptive Reuse

Across our towns and cities, we recognize those buildings whose architectural merit and cultural significance make it desirable that they should be preserved. Many of these are protected, whether by the English “listed building” and “conservation area” systems, New York City’s “Landmark” status, or architecture which is “vincolata” in Italy.


This article originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of KPF Review. Watch the accompanying video here.

Regardless of the local term, these cultural assets bear with them aesthetic and historic value we believe deserves to be honored in line with and beyond their legal protections.

To simultaneously preserve these buildings while retaining their functionality as modern places for living and working is a delicate art. Strategically, we see our architectural interventions as possessing two inextricable attitudes: retain and extend cultural value, and modernize for both user experience and environmental efficiency. To only preserve is to reduce the function of a building to a museum object, but to only modernize is to erase history. Thus, these two goals must go hand-in-hand. Our resulting projects add new layers of history, improving occupant wellbeing and addressing operational performance to become sites that live up to KPF’s drive for urban betterment.

Sculptural tree spanning multiple floors at Meta Farley. Credit: Connie Zhou.

Carriage Hall

London, UK

KPF’s approach to the redevelopment of Carriage Hall is an elegant example of traditional conservation principles in action. A Grade II-listed building, the design team preserved historic features—such as cast-iron columns, warehouse doors, and hoisting equipment—while adding bold new elements.

Before (left) and after (right, credit: Alicia Clarke).

The dramatic roof light fulfils a number of purposes. Through enclosing a central courtyard, the floor area of the building is increased, making it more suitable for today’s retail environment. The external surface area was reduced and the courtyard façades, which would have needed significant upgrading and insulation as external walls, became internal partitions—thus protecting the historic fabric. Minimally detailed, the graceful structure of the skylight aligns with the proportions of the original 18th century structural frame, resulting in a marriage between old and new, preservation and innovation.

Carriage Hall skylight. Credit: Will Pryce.

Meta Farley

New York, NY

A protected Landmark in New York City, the James A. Farley Building was designed by McKim, Mead & White in the Beaux-Arts style. Once the post office for the entire New York Region, the building had been adaptively reused for office, transportation, retail, and other programs. KPF was responsible for the design of a prominent East Coast office for Meta that celebrates the building’s history while reinventing today’s workplace.

Around a central atrium, the team created social areas, and inserted planting and artwork to elevate the space above the functional to make it a lively and vital heart to the office.

Credit: Connie Zhou.

Throughout the building, specific elements of the interior were retained in order to respect the building’s landmark status. Protected elevator lobbies became the location of the office library, the lift carriages turned into semi-private reading nooks. The length of a protected corridor was celebrated for its potential as the location for walking meetings; characteristics were retained and subtle color gradations introduced to aid intuitive wayfinding. In the ground floor guest lobby, communication windows became frames for original blueprints.

To allow workers and visitors to orient themselves within the building, each floor has a specific character. Colors and textures are used to define spaces, incorporating materials and patterns that reflect the building’s history.

Elevators transformed into reading nooks (left) and the historic lobby featuring original blueprints (right). Credit: Connie Zhou.

Throughout the building, history is celebrated, not erased. Embedded in the client’s ethos was the idea that we should remember what has taken place before. KPF’s design for their new office space was created to honor this mission as well as the existing building itself.

Unilever Headquarters

London, UK

Despite its classical appearance, upon completion in 1932, 100 Victoria Embankment was a state-of-the-art office and hailed as the “wonder building of modern commerce.” KPF’s transformation restored the exterior and completely reconfigured and modernized the interior of the building, to improve workspace, wellbeing, and energy efficiency.

Exteriors of 100 Victoria Embankment before (left) and after (right) as seen from Blackfriars Bridge. Credit: H. G. Esch.

The design team worked with UK statutory conservation bodies to define the approach toward the redevelopment of the Grade II-listed building. In more than 70 years of use, it had already undergone many alterations and a significant retrofit. Much of this had diluted the strength of the initial design.

The “Classique Moderne” façade facing Blackfriars Bridge had been altered, reducing the impact of the composition. While not returning the façade to its initial appearance, KPF respected the design intent, removing visible remains of the mechanical plant and rebalancing the proportions.

An earlier renovation had lost the grandeur of the main entrance. KPF removed partitions and reinstated a coffered, barrel vault, recreating a celebrated arrival experience. Original materials, such as flooring and Art Deco panels were retained and reused in places, but the majority of the interior was reconfigured to meet the requirements of a modern workplace.

The transformation project preserves and restores selected details. Equally importantly, it recaptures the progressive spirit of the 1930s design, to deliver a world-class headquarters building.

Credit: H. G. Esch.