Ken Ryan – Pros And Cons Of Universities Repurposing Historical Assets

January 16, 2018

IRVINE, CA—Sometimes it’s cost effective for universities to repurpose an existing historical structure versus starting from scratch, but it’s not easy; it takes research and expertise to make sure that its done properly, Ken Ryan, principal and head of KTGY Architecture + Planning’s Community Planning and Urban Design Studio, tells As we recently reported, the City of Orange has approved the development of a 402-bed student-housing building for upperclassmen and adaptive reuse of a local historic asset for use as a museum and student-services center for Chapman University. The project, owned and developed by Chapman University, will utilize the Villa Park Orchards Association Packing House, a historic resource in Old Towne Orange.

We spoke with Ryan about why it makes sense for universities to repurpose historic assets in this way, what the drawbacks are and the challenges that need to be overcome in the design and development phase. Why does it make sense for universities to repurpose historical assets for their own uses?

Ryan: Universities rely on repurposing historical structures for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s cost-effective to repurpose an existing structure versus starting from scratch. Universities often don’t have significant vacant land to expand, as well. It’s also an opportunity as an academic institution to respect the past and bring historic resources back to life. All of this helps connect to the setting and community. What are the drawbacks to this practice?

Ryan: It’s not easy. It takes research and expertise to make sure that repurposing historic resources is done properly. It also takes time—not only with the team, but also with the community in which you are working. People concerned about historic resources are passionate about the subject. How are challenges overcome in the design and development phase?

Ryan: Communication is key. It is critical to have an open attitude about ideas and working together to achieve shared goals. Often, there are multiple solutions to achieving those shared goals. It’s also important to work with the local community. Local historic-resource advocates know the setting well and often have ideas that can elevate the work.  What else should our readers know about this practice?

RyanGiven the resurgence of urban-infill development and experiential retail as drivers to economic development in downtown settings, historic adaptive reuse is on an exciting upswing. Chapman University has now fully restored 50 structures within the Historic District, and we would expect more of this repurposing work to continue across the country.