It’s not news that rehabbed buildings are a massive trend in commercial real estate. As people have moved back to cities and rediscovered the convenience of in-town living, everything from factories to schools to barns are being converted to modern spaces to live and work. In the current built environment, this is often being done in very thoughtful and deliberate ways, taking into account how people live and work and how the building works fits into the space around it. 

Now, emerging technologies are part of the repurposing process to further assist in preserving older buildings while helping them become more modern and people-centric. This adaptive reuse recognizes that the greenest buildings are ones that have been there all along. They were built using techniques and materials that are often no longer available. Things like laser scanners, BIM modeling software and drones can now help architects and builders figure out exactly what they have to work with, sometimes even including measurements before they renovate, making the process of conversion more streamlined and accurate.

In addition to saving natural materials, repurposing old structures can positively impact the environment in other ways, including the use of actual green walls and roofs covered in plant life. Plants and trees don’t have to be limited to parks and yards but can be incorporated and woven into the architecture of buildings. Builders are also reusing and collecting materials from many building sites then using them in a single project to create something that is both old and uniquely modern.

Another way new ideas and practices are incorporated into existing structures is to redo them with the mindset that they may eventually be redone again. Creating easy-to-update spaces can mean less work for the next life of a building. Sustainable finishes, modular construction elements, updates to stormwater management and use of energy efficient plumbing and lighting systems all mean that spaces are ready to be used – and then used again.

Construction technologies that are assisting in the process of commercial real estate development include interior visualization apps that allow developers and clients to really see what the interiors of their spaces will actually look like before building. Many clients experience “design regret” once projects are completed since they have a difficult time visualizing their choices. Apps for exterior visualization are helpful in the same way, meaning clients can “see” landscaping and paint colors, for example, before they happen.

Other innovative technologies that are in the works and beginning to be seen in renovation projects include advances in air purification, which allows large quantities of air to be filtered and reused, cutting down on heating and cooling costs significantly. Another is high-efficiency insulators to make sure that heat doesn’t escape buildings. Capturing natural forces through the use of wind turbines and solar panels also help large skyscrapers on their way to net-zero energy construction.

Increased efficiency is a great motivator, as more new technologies are increasingly used. Smart contracts secured through blockchain help keep them secure, drones that can map out large areas as well as keep humans from working in dangerous and remote places, augmented reality that can show 3D visualization and construction management software are all ways to save time, money and human power. 

Although the construction industry is traditionally slow to adapt, highly motivated clients and consumers who wish to improve sustainability as well as the incentive to save time and money afforded by new technologies have motivated continued evolution. The retro era of exteriors can work with the tech era of interiors to create spaces that are beautiful and efficient, inspiring and sustainable.