The redevelopment of brownfields offers the potential to stitch abandoned or underused industrial and commercial properties back into the fabric of a city and help curb suburban sprawl. The degree to which elements of previous uses are retained or replaced varies widely depending on the type of project and its purpose and whether it is celebrating a city’s industrial past or erasing the memory of blight. The following ten projects—all completed during the past five years—represent creative restorations of unused land, ranging from the transformation of an old brickyard into a center for environmental and socially responsible nonprofits to the construction of a new branch of the Louvre Museum on top of an old coal mine.

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(Adam Mørk)

1. The Arch
Mandal, Norway

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(Adam Mørk)


The resort town of Mandal, population 15,000, is known for its historic white wooden houses and narrow streets set along the Mandalselva river. On former industrial land, local developer Halse Property built the Arch, which consolidates the town’s cultural institutions. Completed in 2011, the two-story, 48,400-square-foot (4,500 sq m) facility includes a library, gallery, café, theater, cinema, and concert hall. The arched form ­references the slopes of the nearby hills, and the building’s white color helps it blend in with the surrounding houses.

Copenhagen-based 3XN designed the building with extensive glazing, providing views to the river and the city and displaying activities within to passersby. Outdoor spaces to the south provide areas for recreation. The project includes a pedestrian bridge extending across the river, strengthening connections between the facility and the rest of the city.

2. Ballast Point Park
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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(McGregor Coxall)

The tip of the Birchgrove Peninsula in Sydney’s harbor once housed a quarry for ship ballast and, from the 1920s on, a lubricant manufacturer. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority acquired the property in 2002 and decontaminated it, with the goal of creating public open space that celebrated the site’s industrial history. Completed in 2009, the seven-acre (2.8 ha) park includes two new amenities buildings and a cliff-top shade structure, along with pedestrian and bicycle paths and picnic spots.

Recycled pieces of a former lubricant storage tank have been refashioned into a sculpture incorporating poetry and eight vertical wind turbines that generate energy. Earthen walls consist of recycled and compacted site fill; the seats, decking, and walls include recycled timber. New wetlands filter storm­water before it reaches the harbor; landscaping consists of local plants. Architecture firm Choi Ropiha Fighera and landscape architecture firm McGregor Coxall, both local, collaborated on the design.

3. Centre for Green Cities, Evergreen Brick Works
Toronto, Ontario

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(©Tom Arban Photography)

Toronto’s Don Valley Brick Works produced bricks for a century before closing in the late 1980s, leaving behind 12 paved acres (5 ha) and a number of derelict buildings not far from downtown. When Evergreen, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to making cities more sustainable, needed a place to establish a native-plant nursery, it worked with the municipality to redevelop the city-owned site. The project expanded into an education center focusing on sustainable cities, with programs for children and adults, an open-air industrial museum, a farmers market, and a park and wildlife habitat, as well as the nursery.

Sixteen existing buildings were preserved and adapted for new uses, providing facilities for a number of socially responsible nonprofit organizations. The only new building is Evergreen’s Centre for Green Cities, a five-story, 55,000-square-foot (5,100 sq m) facility that incorporates original brick walls on its first floor. Sustainable design strategies include a high-performance building envelope and reliance on natural ventilation and natural light. Local firm Diamond Schmitt Architects designed the building, which opened in 2010.

4. Durham Performing Arts Center
Durham, North Carolina

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(©Tom Arban Photography)

Since the 1970s, the American Dance Festival has been held annually at Duke University in Durham. As the festival grew, the city proposed turning the derelict industrial area south of downtown into an arts and entertainment district that would include a performance venue large enough to host the festival. Garfield Traub Development of Dallas, Texas, and Chapel Hill–based architect Szostak Design, which also designed the facility, codeveloped the Durham Performing Arts Center for the city.

The 2,800-seat multiuse theater opened in 2008, playing host to Broadway shows and other touring and locally produced performances, as well as serving as the primary stage for the American Dance Festival. Bridging a railroad right of way, it links downtown to the arts and entertainment district. A multilevel glazed lobby with fritted, insulated glass on three street frontages showcases the activity inside. The plaza outside the theater includes a sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

5. LOTT Clean Water Alliance Regional Services Center

Olympia, Washington

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(© Nic Lehoux)


The nonprofit organization LOTT Clean Water Alliance in Olympia aims to raise public awareness about reclaimed water with its new regional services center, which opened in 2010 at the site of LOTT’s Budd Inlet Treatment Plant. Designed by Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership, the 32,500-square-foot (3,000 sq m) facility incorporates a renovated water-quality laboratory, new offices, and an education and technology center for the public just a few blocks from downtown and a public transit station.

A pond of reclaimed water surrounds the building, which is accessible via two bridges. Interpretative exhibits around the pond help educate visitors about reclaimed water, which is used for on-site irrigation and toilet flushing. Green roofs with native plants filter stormwater runoff; low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water use. Methane produced by the waste treatment process fuels a cogeneration plant that supplies electricity and heat for the building.

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(© Hisao Suzuki)

6. Louvre-Lens

Lens, Pas-de-Calais, France

In 2003, the French government proposed decentralizing Paris’s major cultural institutions to enable them to grow and support economically struggling cities. Chosen from among six cities proposed for a new Louvre annex, Lens is a former coal-mining city one hour from Paris by high-speed rail. The new Louvre-Lens sits atop an old mine pit closed in the 1960s.

Created as an inviting rather than imposing structure, the 301,000-square-foot (28,000 sq m) museum is designed as five single-story rectangles that link at the corners. Glazed portions of the roof bring in filtered natural light, and the reflective polished aluminum of the facades integrates the museum into a new park. The Louvre-Lens displays a rotating collection of art selected from the main museum. Designed by Tokyo-based SANAA and New York City–based Imrey Culbert, the museum opened in 2012.

7. Melrose Commons

The Bronx, New York City

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(Seong Kwon Photography)


Fires and high levels of crime and poverty hit the Melrose section of the south Bronx hard in the 1970s and 1980s, leaving many buildings abandoned or in ruins. When the city’s redevelopment plans called for displacing residents, the people who lived there organized to protest. The grassroots organization Nos Quedamos/We Stay was formed and proposed a new master plan with the help of New York City–based Magnusson Architecture and Planning. The city adopted the plan in 1994, creating the Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Area.

Since 2000, more than 2,300 residential units have been completed or are under construction as part of the mixed-use, mixed-income redevelopment of the neighborhood. A number of the sites within Melrose Commons involved brownfield remediation, such as La Terraza, an eight-story, 97-unit condominium, which required cleanup of dry-cleaning chemicals. Designed by Magnusson Architecture and Planning, La Terraza includes a ground-floor grocery, balconies that overlook a nearby park, private terraces, and a landscaped courtyard. It was completed in 2011 for L+M Development Partners, Melrose Associates, Nos Quedamos, and Procida Realty and Construction, all local.

8. New Orleans BioInnovation Center

New Orleans, Louisiana

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(© Timothy Hursley)


In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, Louisiana created the New Orleans Biodistrict, a 1,500-acre (607 ha) economic development district intended to develop the city’s biosciences industry. A key piece of the district, the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, opened six years later on a former brownfield site on Canal Street. An incubator for a wide variety of emerging biotechnology companies, the 65,000-square-foot (6,000 sq m) building includes laboratories, offices, a conference center, break areas, and a café, all organized around a landscaped courtyard that, in the tradition of the city’s architecture, is visible to passersby.

In a hot, humid climate subject to heavy rainfall and flooding, the building incorporates a water feature that captures stormwater and filters it with a bioswale. Pervious concrete pavement in the parking lot helps reduce runoff. Louvers mitigate solar heat gain while allowing natural light to penetrate the building, and occupants can control the airflow and temperature in each laboratory. Local firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple collaborated with Seattle-based NBBJ on the design.

9. Omni Dallas

Dallas, Texas

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(5G Studio Collaborative)

To attract conventions and help catalyze development downtown, Dallas financed construction of the Omni Dallas, a 23-story, 1,000-room hotel connected via sky bridge to the Dallas Convention Center. Opened in 2011 on a site previously occupied by surface parking and a parking garage, the hotel is within a half mile (0.8 km) of two light-rail stations. To address the city’s high summer temperatures, the podium levels are clad in white stone on the west and east sides and glazed on the north and east sides; the 19-story tower’s blue glass curtain wall was selected for its low exterior reflectance values and its ability to reduce solar heat gain.

Guests can control their lighting, heating, and cooling; these systems automatically switch to an energy-saving mode when rooms are unoccupied. At night, LED strands integrated into the curtain-wall system give the boomerang-shaped building a strong presence in the city’s skyline. 5G Studio Collaborative and architect of record BOKA Powell, both local, designed the hotel for local development company Matthews Southwest.

10. Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems

Syracuse, New York

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(© Iwan Baan)


At the intersection of two highways in downtown Syracuse, on a three-acre (1.2 ha) site that once housed a typewriter factory, the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems literally puts environmental research on display. A research center dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and the quality and security of water resources, the five-story building has a glazed exterior that makes the work within visible to passersby. With funding from the state and private sources, the nonprofit SyracuseCoE, as it is known, provides laboratories and offices for a federation of more than 200 companies and institutions.

The 55,000-square-foot (5,100 sq m) building itself embodies a number of sustainable strategies, including a green roof, a geothermal heating and cooling system, natural ventilation, photovoltaic panels, and a horizontal wind turbine. The long, narrow shape of the building facilitates daylighting and natural ventilation, and acoustic insulation on the north facade buffers the building from highway noise. Toshiko Mori Architect of New York City and local firm Ashley McGraw Architects designed the building, which opened in 2010.