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Adaptive Reuse: History, Implications, and Case Studies


“The greenest building is … one that is already built.” – Carl Elefante, Architect


First entering our lexicon in the mid-1970s,1 the term “adaptive reuse” was introduced to address the increasing anxiety about finite development space and dwindling natural resources. Around the same time, the creation of Earth Day and environment-focused legislation signified a growing concern with environmental preservation, climate change, and genetic modification.2 The practice of adaptive reuse goes back much further than the 1970s, however, and some of the earliest examples can be traced back to the Renaissance. While these initial practices were more for financial and pragmatic reasons, the act of reusing existing buildings has since evolved to incorporate an ethical and cultural obligation for preservation.3 

According to Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute, “adaptive reuse” refers to modifying an existing structure to achieve maximal use and economic viability.4 This also means adapting the property’s purpose for a function entirely different than for which it was already created. As available development space and resources have diminished, adaptive reuse has become an increasingly important trend in several metropolitan areas over the last few decades. Specifically, the tumultuous events of the COVID-19 pandemic have made us all aware of environmental fragility and the need to optimize what we already have, thus making adaptive reuse more important than ever.


There are numerous reasons why adaptive reuse is a good option, not the least of which is that it provides a practical solution to minimizing some of the harmful effects the construction industry causes. Our industry contributes to an alarming 40% of the United States’ carbon emissions,5 making it crucial that we take action to develop responsible practices, contribute thoughtfully, and build sustainably. Adapting and reusing what we have is not only the smart solution to preserving resources like plastic and paper, but it is also instrumental in conserving the structures where we live and work. Commercial office, retail, and industrial warehouse space account for 32 billion square feet of real estate in the U.S., and the amount of undeveloped real estate remaining is continuously shrinking.4 As available resources diminish, property developers have been turning to adaptive reuse projects as a solution, which offers the following monetary, sustainable, and cultural benefits:


  • Cost effective - some studies suggesting that adaptive reuse can be 15-20% cheaper than ground-up construction4,6
  • Shorter schedules - may take up to 18% less execution time compared to ground-up construction 4,6
  • Financial benefits – may be available depending on state or city, including tax incentives, expedited approval processes, and zoning assistance5,6
  • Local jobs - Opens up more local job opportunities compared to ground-up construction5,7


  • Less strain on the environment by reducing the need to extract and exploit natural resources for new materials5  
  • Preserves embodied carbon and energy in existing buildings -- recovering this amount of lost energy from a building structure can take up to 65 years.5,8
  • Retrofit is an option - Older buildings can be retrofitted to comply with newer sustainability and building codes5


  • Stimulate local economies while preserving social and cultural heritage6
  • Reinvest in older and historic buildings and communities5
  • Re-instill a sense of community and pride in the restored structure
  • Serves as a resource for a city’s growth and expansion8
  • Enable people to remain living close to their workplaces compared to building a ground-up on the outskirts of a city6

HBC has seen the benefits of adaptive reuse firsthand. From Google’s campuses in Playa Vista and Venice to Fender’s headquarters in the heart of Hollywood, adaptive reuse projects have become a viable solution in a variety of situations. Some of our more recent adaptive reuse projects, Warner Music Group, Hoag Health Center (Foothill Ranch), and Yorba Linda Packing House are examples of how these types of projects not only transform the building, but also transform the community.

Case Studies

Warner Music Group

In 1913, Ford Motor Company built a Model T factory and showroom in downtown Los Angeles. The building was constructed from steel and concrete and featured large windows and a brick façade. Thirty years later, Ford moved their production outside of Los Angeles, leaving the building to what would become a variety of temporary tenants and owners. Throughout the changes in ownership and a lack of general upkeep, the building fell into significant disrepair. In 2014, Rockefeller Kempel Architects were brought on to restore the building while preserving historic elements. By applying creative solutions, much of the original materials, such as window frames, skylights, and concrete, were salvaged, while a significant portion of the structure needed to be reinforced. After bringing the building up to code and effectively turning the historic building into a creative space, Warner Music Group (WMG) purchased the former factory and showroom to turn it into their new headquarters.9 Alongside Rockwell Group, HBC helped build out an interior that celebrated WMG’s history and influence while promoting future growth and innovation. Since WMG’s relocation, several other large companies have made the move to the Arts District as well, spurring a larger cultural shift within the Los Angeles arts community. Due to restoration efforts, the building itself was granted LEED Gold Certification, won a Sustainable Innovation Award by the U.S. Green Building Council, and was awarded a 2020 Preservation Award by the Los Angeles Conservancy.

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The Ford Factory in 1923. Photo Credit: Shorenstein Properties.

Warner Music Group
WMG Headquarters in 2019.

Hoag Health Center (Foothill Ranch)

What was formerly a JoAnn’s Fabric Store is now a 45,000 square foot cutting-edge health oasis tucked in a shopping center in Tustin. The big-box, warehouse-style building lent itself to an open floorplan and relaxed healthcare experience. Currently, the facility offers all of the facets of complete collaborative care: internal medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, orthopedics, physical therapy, and urgent care. A state-of-the-art laboratory is flanked by an OSHPD 3-compliant imaging center that includes MRI, CT, x-ray, and tomographic capabilities. A large conference room accommodates community classes and supports the center’s growing outreach program.

The Hoag (Foothill Ranch) project is part of the larger movement of reusing empty big-box stores for new healthcare facilities. By moving medical facilities to existing shopping centers, patients have access to more convenient care. Additionally, retrofitting an existing structure into a medical facility is often more cost-effective than building one from scratch. By integrating healthcare into the community, instead of near it, patients can more easily and effectively receive proper treatment.

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Hoag Medical Center in 2020. Photo credit: Hoag.

Yorba Linda Packing House

The Yorba Linda Packing House was built in 1929 by the Yorba Linda Citrus Association to pack and ship what was one of the largest production of oranges and lemons at the time.10 After years of successful production, the Yorba Linda Citrus Association dissipated in 1965. The remaining facility underwent a major renovation in 1986 and, since then, has hosted a variety of tenants. In 2015, the Packing House was resold and subsequently renovated to prepare to turn the space into a multipurpose medical facility.11

In addition to upgrades throughout the building, the site was equipped with two exterior mechanical/generator equipment yards, a smoke evacuation system, base building restrooms, and a new elevator. Glass walls and specialty-themed areas make up the newly built suites, including pediatrics, women’s health, radiology, and physical therapy. Exterior design improvements include the addition of a koi pond, as well as several orange trees as an homage to the building’s original purpose.  

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Yorba Linda Citrus Association Packing House. Photo credit: Orange County Archives.

Warner Music Group - ylph2
Yorba Linda Packing House (in progress). Photo credit: Connect CRE.