Nov 15th 2022

Don’t Demolish History: New Faculty Member Advocates Adaptive Reuse

Where some people see an abandoned building as an annoyance or something to be demolished, Assistant Professor of Architecture Ryan Roark sees an opportunity. Roark, who joined IIT College of Architecture at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, is interested in the adaptive reuse of older and historic structures.

“I’m promoting awareness of time—new juxtaposed with old,” Roark says. “I’m interested in making conspicuous twenty-first century interventions into twentieth and pre-twentieth century buildings.”

Adaptive reuse is used when a building, often with historic interest, is refitted with contemporary amenities to create a home, workspace, or other type of building. The building is spared demolition, and inhabitants can enjoy modern comforts and technology.

“For the most part, adaptive reuse is designed similarly to infill architecture. Aesthetically, it’s about balancing new and old,” Roark says. “If you see [modern adaptive reuse], you know it was built in the last 10 years. The design is not futuristic; it’s just not disguising itself as older than it is. The architecture feels of its period while taking advantage of the technology available now.”

Roark is teaching a section of the third-year studio in the College of Architecture, which she says is a perfect fit for her as she brings experience with adaptive reuse to students who might not grasp its importance to saving pieces of history.

“Sometimes, at first, students are not interested because they want to make new things. With adaptive reuse, they have to do an analysis of the building they’re intervening in, and they soon enjoy that,” Roark says.

Roark is ready to dive head first into Chicago’s past. One of her goals is to create an app in collaboration with university faculty, staff, and students that highlights historically important buildings.

Before veering into architecture, Roark worked in a science laboratory in England while earning a doctorate in oncology from the University of Cambridge. The repetitive work critical to scientific discovery means failure is necessary until a test result is positive, but that type of work wasn’t for Roark. She embraced her creativity and pivoted toward an architecture career, particularly as an instructor.

After graduating from Princeton University with a master’s degree in architecture, Roark spent three years as a fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology. She studied Atlanta's history of demolishing viable buildings, but she says Chicago is a distinct urban landscape.

“Atlanta is different; they are rebuilding new structures every 30 years,” Roark says. “Chicago’s historic architecture is very different. There’s local pride and unique neighborhoods.”