Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

A critical review of developments in building adaptability

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Oliver Heidrich, Dr John Kamara



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Purpose This paper provides a critical review of developments in the adaptability of buildings. Its purpose is to determine the current ‘state-of-the-art’, describe current thinking and trends in research and practice, and identify issues and gaps that further research can address. It provides a basis for a scientific and practical understanding of the interdependencies across different design criterion. The paper increases the awareness of architects, engineers, clients and users on the importance of adaptability and its role in lowering impacts over the lifecycle of buildings as part of the infrastructure system.Design/methodology This paper draws mainly from the literature as its source of evidence. These were identified from established databases and search engines (e.g. Scopus, ISI Web of Knowledge and Google Scholar) using key words such as adaptability, adaptable, adaptation, and flexibility. Over 80 sources including books, journal papers, conference proceedings, research reports and doctoral theses covering the period 1990 to 2017 were reviewed and categorised. An inductive approach was used to critically review and categorise these publications and develop a framework for analysis.Findings The concept of adaptability includes many dimensions which can broadly fall into two categories: changes to buildings and user adaptations to buildings. However, previous research has mostly focused on the former, with many attempts to identify building attributes that facilitate adaptability, and some considerations for its assessment. Key areas that have not been adequately addressed and which require further research include: user/occupant adaptations, cost, benefits and implications of various adaptability measures, and the development of a standardised assessment methodology that could aid in decision making in the design stage of buildings.Research limitations/implications The adaptability strategies considered in this review focused mainly on building components and systems, and did not include the contribution of intelligent and smart/biological systems. The coverage is further limited in scope due to the period considered (1990-2017) and the exclusion of terms such as “retrofit” and “refurbishment” from the review. However, the findings provide a solid basis for further research in the areas identified above. It identifies research issues and gaps in knowledge between the defined needs and current state-of-the-art on adaptive building for both research and practice.Originality/value This paper is a review of research into a highly topical subject, given the acknowledged need to adapt buildings over their lifecycle to environmental, economic or social changes. It provides further insights on the dimensions of adaptability and identifies areas for further research that will contribute to the development of robust tools for the assessment of building adaptability, which will enhance the decision-making process of building design and the development of a more sustainable built environment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Heidrich O, Kamara JM, Maltese S, Re Cecconi F, Dejaco MC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation

Year: 2017

Volume: 35

Issue: 4

Pages: 284-303

Online publication date: 16/11/2017

Acceptance date: 26/09/2017

Date deposited: 16/04/2018

ISSN (print): 2398-4708

ISSN (electronic): 2398-4716

Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd


DOI: 10.1108/IJBPA-03-2017-0018


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name