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Vacant buildings have become a frequently discussed issue in South Australia (SA) and beyond. Strategies to deal with existing building under-occupancy are being proposed at local and state government levels. One such strategy being currently promoted is adaptive reuse (AR) or change-of-use conversion of existing structures. The diversity of developments being described as ‘adaptive reuse’ is growing, resulting in a body of AR case studies that have little in common, except a desire to avoid demolition or further periods of redundancy. Definitions of adaptive reuse are broad and cover a wide set of different conversions, including reuse of buildings, spaces and landscapes. Whilst there is growing acceptance of the social and environmental benefits, a lack of critical understanding of AR limitations and poor examination of perceptions of AR barriers has the potential to fail to address existing building obsolescence. Building regulation is one barrier to AR feasibility repeatedly cited by literature and industry stakeholders. Projects which are publicised in SA as good examples of existing building conversion, disclose how blurry the notions of AR are. Claims about the value of AR are often highly politized when coupled with CBD office vacancy rates. This discussion paper adopts a critical view of AR. It contributes to an understanding of AR in a policy context in SA and highlights recent policy developments in light of regulatory barriers cited as inhibitors of AR. A sociotechnical perspective of adaptive reuse and building regulation is valuable given the critical review of AR undergoing a politicisation.

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