Adaptive reuse of old buildings on the rise across Australia

The redevelopment of old buildings across Victoria is starting to gather steam as developers look to find creative ways to utilise older buildings that have outlived their purpose.

Known as adaptive reuse, developers take old buildings that might be heritage listed or aren’t being used effectively and transform them into modern offices and creative spaces.

According to, Victorian developer Gray Puksand will complete 22 adaptive reuse projects this year worth more than $500 million.

Gray Puksand partner Kelly Wellington said adaptive reuse projects now make up about 15 per cent of the firm’s work.

“Adaptive reuse is where you’ve got an existing building that has outlived its current or intended use,” Ms Wellington told

“Rather than just trying to pull down buildings, we can convert them. 

“Quite often they have attributes like old timber floors that newer buildings perhaps don’t have, and we can convert them into amazing spaces.”

Gray Puksand’s have recently completed a number of adaptive reuse projects including the transformation of the old Melford Motors showroom on Elizabeth St into a 20,000sq m space with a six-level tower overhead, modern interior, and basement levels added.

The firm has also turned a Yarra Falls building into a multi-use city fringe office with about 8000sq m of commercial office space, 8500sq m of flexible space and an on-site gym and garden.

Ms Wellington said adaptive reuse is on the rise as businesses look to reduce office space on the back of ongoing lockdowns over the past few years.

“The idea that you can reuse an existing building has been around for some time, but it’s probably being considered more due to the position people have in not having tenants,” she said.

Australian workers with the ability to work from home have become used to the added comforts, Ms Wellington said.

“I think just generally people have had the ability to be at home, have had the ability to go and enjoy the comforts of home while working, so I think it’s really important that commercial workspaces need to provide something more than they used to,” she said.

Deakin University cultural heritage lecturer James Lesh said that despite the recent interest in adaptive reuse, the building style has been around since the 1970s.

“Adaptive reuse isn’t new. It’s something that we’ve been doing in Australia since the late 1970s,” Dr Lesh told

“However, adaptive reuse is increasingly celebrated by the development community and also by the heritage and design community.

“We’re seeing tremendous CBD development pressures, with every parcel of developable land a potential investment opportunity.

“Heritage properties also become opportunities when they’re not adequately performing from a development and design perspective.”

Dr Lesh said limited developable land had incentivised developers to take on adaptive use projects to help employers to bring their staff back to work.

“Heritage redevelopment, when done in a genuine and sophisticated way, based on an understanding of fabric and history, provides authenticity and texture to places, which means tenants and communities love them,” he said.

Heritage 21 director Paul Rappoport believes commercial towers being transformed into residential spaces is the next big trend we’re likely to see in Australian cities.

“A lot of the offices which have almost been abandoned lend themselves very well to become residential. People do like adaptive reuse and if it’s done cleverly it enhances that (fondness) even more,” Mr Rappoport told

“We go through cycles in terms of recycling heritage buildings. 

“There was a lot of adaptive reuse in the ’90s of old warehouses into residential apartments all through Surry Hills and through to the city. 

“It goes in waves and it depends on policy and legislation.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a freelance journalist specialising in finance and real estate.