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Teaching old buildings new tricks

We all know iconic brands. Apple, Target, Nike, the list goes on. Brands are powerful tools to make a company, product, or person have a memorable and emotional connection to its audiences. I recently walked past D.C.’s newest squash facility “Squash on Fire” and was struck by the way its brand was built around the history of its location—an old firehouse. The company, whose name is a play on words, is situated on top of bright firetruck-red doors. And its logo is a Dalmatian, the official mascot for firehouses.

Reusing old buildings for a purpose other than its original intent, is a common practice in real estate—known as adaptive reuse. It’s a practice that can maintain a city’s uniqueness and build community goodwill by preserving the history of neighborhoods while infusing new life into underutilized, neglected, or abandoned buildings.

Reinventing the original personality of a building, or redesigning the intact “bones” of the property through understanding its flexibility to exist in a new, modern use, is a respectful nod to history. But crafting an entire brand around the property is less common—yet can help grow a brand experience that keeps customers coming.

The Charles Street Jail, located in Boston, Mass., went through a handful of different owners and purposes since its construction in 1851. In the early 1990s, the property was acquired by Massachusetts General Hospital. Seeking to create a hotel where the families of patients could stay, they hired architects to transform the former prison into something amazing.

And so The Liberty Hotel was born, a revitalization of a former prison through tasteful decor and clever amenity naming. In the former drunk tank now stands a swanky bar, Alibi, complete with walls lined with celebrity mug shots and smartly-named cocktails like The Jailbird, while in the former prison yard guests can find a vibrant courtyard seating area, dubbed The Yard.

In D.C.’s historic Atlas District, the bar Church and State gave an old church new energy while keeping the building’s original assets like its stained glass and façade. They kept details of the site’s history by having a bar with a foot rail that is also a kneeler and pews for sitting.

Buildings can go though many different iterations throughout its existence. Breathing life into old properties by intertwining history and the ethos of a building or location is what sets these brands apart.

LEVICK Fellow Daniel Leptoukh contributed to this post.

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