A New Life for Old Buildings

(A thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2001)

The purpose of this study was to explore the concept of three specific complex criteria that are important to the designing of the interiors of older buildings. These criteria, which are referred to as ‘filters’ are: form, vitality and connectedness. The filters reflect the need to accommodate three interacting phenomena important to buildings: physical order, social order, and emotional order. They are intended to serve as touchstones for designers committed to producing successful adaptive use interior design projects which enhance the building’s character and spirit and create a more functional place in which to dwell.

For any given adaptive use project, we need to respond to and learn from the building, the people who use it, and the surroundings in order to create a design solution that captures the buildings innate character and spirit. The beauty of the design solution will evolve out of the process of communication, listening and responding, as opposed to a process relying on pure artistic interpretation alone. The contributions of this thesis will be first, an argument for a holistic or full spectrum design approach that emphasizes the importance of form, vitality and connectedness and second, a design case that employs these three filters.

For a visual presentation and as an example of how the filters can be used in the design process, this thesis will provide a conceptual reconfiguration of the Human Ecology building on the University of Wisconsin campus employing design directives drawn from literature and observations. By using the proposed three step process of understanding, strategizing and executing in conjunction with the three filters, designers will be able to develop re-adaptation programs appropriate to the larger framework of building structure, site and community. This process provides a full spectrum approach that looks at the physical, social, cultural, historical and functional attributes of the re-adaptation of older buildings.

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