Adaptive Reuse: How IO Creates the Future by Rehabilitating the Past

Years ago, when my former spouse put together our new gas grill without the aid of instructions, he discovered a way to turn a perfectly good grill into a perfectly good garden sculpture/planter. What had started off as one thing was reimagined into quite another thing. Such was my accidental introduction to the concept of adaptive reuse.

Though, to be precise, the term “adaptive reuse” relates to buildings and structures more than cooking appliances and found object art. It’s defined by the idea that what is already in existence does not need to be tied inextricably to its first purpose. An ironworks does not need to be demolished because the industry has moved to another part of the globe.  A derelict power station can be transformed into a world-renown art museum.  A never-used nuclear power plant might be an amusement park filled with high-energy kids.

Adaptive reuse lies at the heart of green building design and informs the technological innovations driving that charge. Kirsten Ritchie of the architectural firm, Gensler, summed it up well in her interview on Green Biz Radio when she said, “…by going into an existing building, adapting its reuse, improving its performance, being smarter about how you manage — for example, managing daylight and providing thermal comfort, we can significantly reduce the energy consumption associated with the operating of that building as well.” The energy and materials required for a new build are conserved while the remnants of the demolished building stay out of the landfill.

In 1987, the New York Times launched a $400 million project to convert a new warehouse complex to a state-of-the-art printing plant in Edison, NJ. Their plans for the nearly 1 million square foot facility were to expand the use of color in the advance sections of the newspaper and beef up the Sunday sections. Then something happened they didn’t foresee back in the day: digital delivery. The plant was shuttered in 2008. Edison couldn’t recover from the economic loss of the NYT and other industries.

Before the struggling economy could take its toll on the former NYT plant, IO saw possibility in the site. Since IO.Anywhere® consists of standardized data center infrastructure that is fully software-integrated, we were able to move right in, and the empty building space was spared endless waiting for a new occupant. We turned the former printing plant into the world’s largest modular data center. We consider this an important symbolic gesture: In bringing a digital business quite literally into the wheelhouse of the industrial age, we established that, naysayers aside, digital enterprise is by far a planetary win over the natural resource, power and carbon footprint of traditional industry.

But IO’s move was more than symbolic:  We made adaptive reuse the obvious choice for Data Center 2.0, which itself is about working smarter and minimizing waste.

Years after my first exposure to adaptive reuse, I’m pleased to see it every day at IO.