New Uses for Old Places – The Warehouse Conversion

This is the first installment of a new series of blog posts on RETROactive entitled New Uses for Old Places. We will be highlighting examples from around Alberta of historic resources that have found interesting, new uses for spaces that were originally designed for different purposes. To start us off we are going to talk about the ubiquitous warehouse conversion.

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One of the best ways to ensure a long and prosperous future for a historic place is to make sure that it is in use. Making certain that people are frequenting a site ensures that a historic resource stays relevant and in the forefront of public consciousness. This can be a challenge given that the purposes for which many of our historic places were originally designed for are now defunct. The conversion of a building to allow for a new use is known as adaptive reuse and it is a process that can require some creative thinking.

The values-based approach to heritage conservation recognizes the importance of activating our historic places and recognizes that alterations may be required to ensure the long-term sustainability of a site. The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada consider adaptive reuse to be a rehabilitation conservation treatment. Rehabilitation is understood to be “the sensitive adaptation of an historic place or individual component for a continuing or compatible contemporary use, while protecting its heritage value” (Standards & Guidelines, page 16).

A popular form of adaptive reuse/rehabilitation is that of the warehouse conversion. More common in larger cities that once were home to warehousing and manufacturing sectors, warehouse districts are now often surrounded by non-industrial, higher density development and attract investors who see the potential in the character that the former industrial spaces have to offer. Warehouses make good candidates for adaptive reuse because they have large, relatively open floor plates, generous ceiling heights and numerous large windows. These features allow for the flexibility to subdivide the interior space for a variety of purposes without compromising the unique elements that make warehouses so charming (think freight elevators, bank vaults, exposed beams, etc.).

Edmonton and Calgary were home to the majority of manufacturing and shipping in Alberta. As such the majority of extant warehouse structures are located in these two cities, though there are others scattered in other communities across the province. A number of these structures have received historical designation at the municipal and/or provincial level and have been rehabilitated to accommodate a variety of new uses.

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Click on the following links to find the listing on the Alberta Register of Historic Places for warehouse buildings featured in the slideshow:

Camrose Feed Mill (Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1985)

Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2001)

Customs House (MHR) / Customs Examining Warehouse (PHR) (Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1979 and a Municipal Historic Resource in 2009)

H.V. Shaw Building (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2001)

A. MacDonald Building (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2000 and a Provincial Historic Resource in 2003)

Metals Building (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2002)

Phillips Building (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2001)

Simmons Factory Warehouse (Designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2009)

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