News Brief

Firm Shares Design Concept for a Maximally Adaptive Building

The ‘Universal Building’ would be able to accommodate new uses as market needs shift, extending building life and minimizing waste.

Like your smartphone, our buildings are reaching obsolescence before the end of their useful lives.

Market needs change on a dime—sometimes faster than a building is constructed. And disruptions can reverse interest in certain building types, as was the case with commercial spaces during the pandemic. These shifts can result in incredible waste as buildings sit empty, are clunkily converted, or are demolished.  

In response, the design firm, CallisonRTKL (CRTKL), has proposed the concept of a “Universal Building.” The idea is to create a building form that can “regenerate over time—adapting to the needs of today, as well as the foreseen needs of tomorrow,” according to a report by the firm.

Buildings with standard floor-to-floor heights, floor plates, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems can more easily transition between residential, workplace, hospitality, and senior living uses, according to CRTKL. Amenities—which are often the justification for specialization—are best integrated into the urban fabric so that they become a community feature. For example, a hotel pool could be designed to be available to the public. This investment would be much less likely to become a stranded asset if the hotel were converted to something else.

Parking garages are another opportunity. Many are redeveloped as land becomes more valuable—and some may no longer be needed as transportation systems change.

Daun St. Amand, senior vice president and leader of CRTKL's residential sector, told Treehugger about a prototype building being designed where the parking structure could be transitioned to retail or offices by removing the central ramp and converting it into an atrium.

Part of the universal building vision is to get more mileage out of the embodied carbon used to initially construct the building. But operational carbon can be minimized too, especially if the envelope is designed to be easily enhanced as technology improves, notes the report. 

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Published October 10, 2022

Pearson, C. (2022, September 26). Firm Shares Design Concept for a Maximally Adaptive Building . Retrieved from

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