WHEN SHAKESPEARE’S HENRY IV opened last
fall at St. Ann’s Warehouse, a theater in Brooklyn’s
Dumbo neighborhood, the critics were rapturous.
Not just about the play, but about the theater itself,
which architect Jonathan Marvel had created within
the shell of a 19th-century tobacco warehouse near
the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. “When buildings
last for 100 years, it’s generally because they’re pretty
good buildings,” says Marvel, who is a fan of adaptive
reuse—helping an old building serve a new function.
“The integrity of an existing structure is often a wonderful inspiration,” he says.
Marvel knew he wanted to raise the roof of the
building to create dramatic interior spaces (both the
theater itself and the vast lobby facing Manhattan).
That meant he had to add height to the walls. But
except for brick, “nothing else felt right” atop the
existing masonry. Then, he and his team hit on the
idea of using glass brick, maintaining the language of
the original walls while adding a glowing, transparent
layer just below the roof. From inside, the old brick
walls give the lobby the patina of history, while the
glass bricks make the place seem futuristic. Neither
alone would have been as satisfying architecturally.
“Adaptive reuse,” says Marvel, “is a way to
respond in our own time to something of value in
someone else’s time.” For interior designers and
architects, adaptive reuse serves that function and
more. Reusing an existing building does less harm
to the environment than building anew. And, in
addition to being green, renovation can be economical, often costing less—sometimes far less—than
Adaptive reuse is closely associated with the
desire of millennials to live and work in urban centers. It helps bring formerly derelict downtowns
back to life without creating tears in the existing
urban fabric. Indeed, the transformation of unused
or underused buildings into places to live, work,
shop, or see Henry IV may well be the best part of
Just look at what happened in the formerly
depressed garment district of downtown Kansas
City, Missouri, where many old buildings have
been revitalized—one with the help of a New York
interior designer. Charles Pavarini III, ASID, the
principal of Manhattan’s Pavarini Design, had
never even been to Kansas City before a New York
client—for whom he had designed a Park Avenue
apartment and a house in the Hamptons—asked him
to work on an adaptive reuse project. The client, a
real estate developer, had bought a sturdy 1895 fac-
tory building that had been vacant for years (after
being converted to offices in the 1980s). Working
with the Kansas City office of architectural firm
Rosemann & Associates, PC, Pavarini helped turn
the former factory into the luxury residential Lucas
Place Lofts. Part of the job was reworking the nine-
story atrium that the previous owner had carved
out of the center of the building, but which was
still dark and uninviting. Because of its glass roof,
there was no way to hang lights from the ceiling,
Pavarini says; so, in collaboration with zeroLUX
lighting design, he devised a nine-story installation
composed of light tubes (which he dubbed Falling
Sticks) suspended from cables that span the atrium.
(Unlike conventional bulbs, the tubes’ LEDs won’t
have to be replaced anytime soon.) So pleased was
the client that he involved Pavarini in a number of
other aspects of the building’s renovation.
Deborah Berke, who will become dean of the
Yale School of Architecture on July 1, has built the L E
Left and above: New glass bricks rest atop the old walls of what is now
St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York; plywood helps keep the interiors informal.
Charles Pavarini’s Falling Sticks animates and illuminates
an atrium at Lucas Place Lofts in Kansas City, Missouri.