Ever since the pandemic left many office buildings empty, cities have grappled with how to revitalize business districts decimated by record-high vacancy rates. Coupled with the ongoing housing crisis, the answer seemed like a no-brainer: turn the offices into housing. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. The logistical challenges, cost and complexity of these renovations have induced well-founded skepticism in commercial to residential conversions. Yet with the right building — and the right firm — it’s not only possible, but the results can be even more remarkable than a new build. Roco, a co-living complex in Liverpool designed by London firm SODA, is a case in point — and an exciting precedent for this emerging typology.

Roco residential complex in Liverpool

Commercial buildings are often challenging to convert due to their deep floor plates, which limit access to natural light. But the client, Livingway, saw potential in a 1970s edifice on James Street, located along the waterfront at the heart of the city. With its robust concrete structure, slim footprint and ample glazing, the building had all the makings of a great residential project. For SODA, the aim was to highlight what was already there.

Roco residential complex in Liverpool

“We love working with existing buildings because not only is there a great carbon and sustainability story, but they also provide specific context and identity to work with. This is so important to us as it allows the city to retain its identity and saves a lot of carbon that gets wasted when perfectly good buildings are torn down,” explains Ryan Holland, director at SODA.

Living-dining room with 70s inspired furnishings

The firm began by dividing the large former office floorplates into 120 individual residences, and a handful of hotel-style units available as short-term rentals. With a variety of studio, one- and two-bedroom layouts to choose from (which all come furnished), the building seeks to accommodate a broad range of residents, from students to young professionals.

Co-working space at Roco in Liverpool
Co-working space at Roco in Liverpool

The units are modest in size, but what they lack in space is made up for in the building’s extensive, community-focused amenities available for residents only, which include everything from resident lounges to communal kitchens, screening rooms, co-working spaces, a gym and rooftop terrace. According to the architects, Roco’s social ethos seeks to integrate the building back into the life of the city.

Kitchen behind wood panelled walls

In these common spaces, the architects celebrate the building’s brutalist shell, leaving the existing cast concrete waffle slabs exposed — a move that also mitigates the need for unnecessary materials, further reducing the project’s carbon cost. To complement the original building’s features, SODA sensitively inserted contemporary elements — such as a floating timber “activity wall,” which serves as a central spine that divides the ground floor into zones for work, rest and play.

Kitchen with concrete ceiling and tiled floors

Throughout, a material palette of wood, tiles and fabrics, all in warm neutral tones, unifies the space, the finishes and furnishings nodding to the original building’s 70s style. With units ranging from £1,000 to £1,650, it’s far from an affordable solution to the housing crisis — but it is proof that, in the right context, offices can make beautiful homes. “It’s amazing to have a project like this located right in the centre of such an incredible city like Liverpool,” says Holland. “Roco takes a previously unloved building and breathes new use into it for the next generations.”

Rooftop terrace at Roco residential complex in Liverpool

The post In Liverpool, a Case Study in Office to Residential Conversions appeared first on Azure Magazine.