Buildings That Got Repurposed and Became Totally Unrecognizable


| LAST UPDATE 11/15/2023

By Sara Salson

From resorts in empty hangars to hotels in former prisons, some of these unique buildings have lived multiple lives throughout history. We're taking a look at some of these revitalized locations and their fascinating backstories.

Old Clocktower Became One of Brooklyn's Most Expensive Condos

Built in 1914 at the boom of New York construction, the old clocktower at One Mainstreet became a landmark in the budding borough of Brooklyn. It was designed by William Higginson to house Robert Gair's industrial ventures.

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Wikimedia Commons via Opencooper

But in 1998 the building began its new life as Brooklyn slowly began shedding its industrial aesthetic. David Walentas, of the Two Trees Management group, oversaw the conversion into a residential space - and reaped the rewards. The building is believed to be one of Brooklyn's most luxurious condo spaces.

The Beijing National Aquatics Center Was Renovated into a Waterpark... Then Back into an Olympic Venue

Like a number of countries that have hosted the Olympic games, China found itself with a capital city filled to the brim with athletic stadiums and competition venues. But instead of letting the Beijing National Aquatics Center sit in disuse, developers gave the giant indoor pool space another life: A waterpark.

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Wikimedia Commons via Arne Müseler

The renovation was completed back in 2010, just two short years after the Olympics had occurred. But the building wouldn't stand untouched for long. Upon finding out that Beijing would be hosting the 2022 Winter Games, work began to add a curling arena into the complex.

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Repurposed Cement Factory Was Transformed into an Architectual Wonder

Nestled in the city edges of Barcelona lies the repurposed cement factory by the name of La Fábrica. The building was originally built back in the 1920s as the Catalonian region was experiencing a major industrial boom, and served a primary role during war efforts. But as time marched on, the building stood empty.

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Wikimedia Commons via Till F. Teenck

Until an architect named Ricardo Bofill stumbled upon the industrial factory in 1973. What many saw as an outdated relic of Catalonia's past, Bofill saw as a blank slate. He and his team repurposed the building into the Taller de Arquitectura (RBTA), and today it's considered one of Spain's prized modern architectural builds.

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Former British Railway Station Turned into a Bed & Breakfast

At the turn of the 19th century, the Petworth Railway Station was a primary stop on the former London, Brighton, and South Coast railway track. It saw thousands of passengers pass by during its peak years, but as highway development increased and train routes were updated, the Petworth Station found itself out of use.

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Instagram via @theoldrailwaystation

But all Petworth Station needed was a little sprucing up and a new purpose. It was renovated into the Old Railway Station, a quaint bed & breakfast. Guests are able to either stay in the converted station or in one of the traditional railway carriages parked outside. Either way, the B&B offers an authentic 1900s experience!

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Buenos Aires' Old Theater is Now a Book Store

This grand space was first used as Buenos Aires' theater space. The Teatro Gran Splendid opened in 1919 and served as the city's prized jewel for almost a century. And based on the picture below, the building's second life is doing a great job at honoring the country's cultural history.

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Wikimedia Commons via Galio

Today, the space is a bookstore under the name El Ateneo Grand Splendid. It opened in the early 2000s and immediately gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. In fact, it got a top ten spot on both The Guardian and National Geographic's list for its architectural beauty.

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This Bookstore in Maastricht is in a Centuries-Old Church

The Dominican Church is a church in the Dutch city of Maastricht. It was erected in the 13th century and consecrated in 1294. For the hundreds of years that followed, it was a center of religious and spiritual activity for the city. But after its function ended in 1976, what came of the space?

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Wikimedia Commons via Georges Seguin

The Dominican Church was believed to have been briefly repurposed into a stable, storage space, and event hall over the years. But in 2006, it underwent a full renovation and became a bookshop. Today, the store receives an estimated 700,000 visitors per year and houses thousands of books in five different languages.

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Llanera's 20th Century Church was Transformed into a Psychedelic Skatepark

Safe to say that the builders of the Church of Santa Barbara didn't imagine that in roughly 100 years the chapel would be taken over by skaters. But that very thing happened. Santa Barbara was erected in 1919 in the small Spanish town of Llanera and has since been transformed into the "Sistine chapel" of skateboarding.

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Merdedes Menendez/Roverim/Sipa/Shutterstock

The rejuvenation took approximately five years to complete and involved a great deal of labor from a local group of passionate skaters known as the Church Brigade. One of the crewmen, Fernández Rey, reflected back on the undertaking. "It was pretty much in ruins when we started the project," he said. But what a transformation!

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Jailhouse Transformed into Boston's Liberty Hotel

What many see today as one of Boston's ritziest boutique hotels was once an infamous former jailhouse. The Charles Street Jail once held mob men and government dissenters since its opening in 1851. And over the following years, the building gained quite the reputation amongst Bostonians.

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Instagram via @liberty_hotel

But the cells were transformed into nearly 300 exquisite hotel rooms. Now, rather than house convicts, The Liberty Hotel is a go-to pick for weekend visits and wedding venues. The building underwent quite the 180°, but the current owners do their part to make sure the local history stays alive.

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Walgreens Took Over the Noel State Bank

This next renovation made Chicagoans' trips to the shops significantly more exciting. The popular American pharmacy chain Walgreens acquired a historic space in the Wicker Park neighborhood and went to work renovating the location to fit their specific needs. All while leaving the building's unique charm untouched.

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Wikimedia Commons via Payton Chung

Walgreens moved into the Noel State Bank, a local landmark dating back to the 1920s. And despite the updated interior, shoppers can still experience the building's historic past, thanks to some unique features. For example, the store's vitamins and supplements are stored in what used to be the bank's vault.

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The Silos Were Converted into a Rock Climbing Gym

What once held the town of Carrollton's grain supply has since been turned into one of the country's tallest rock climbing gyms. The silos were built back during Texas's agricultural boom and remained an important landmark for the town. And it's only gotten more popular since its repurposing.

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Instagram via @silosclimbingproject

The Silos Climbing Project took over the silos, and reimagined the outdated storage tower into a 110 feet-tall climbing space for rock climbing enthusiasts. The space welcomes climbers at all levels and offers challenges for regulars, with monthly challenges and seasonal competitions.

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What Was Once an Old Printing House is Now a Luxury Hotel

The Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia is a prime example of the perfect union of industrial and lavish aesthetics. Visitors are surrounded by relics of Georgia's 1920s history while enjoying all the comforts of modern-day hospitality. But the industrial brutalist design isn't a nod to the past: It is the past.

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Instagram via @stamba.hotel

The hotel occupies what was once one of Tbilisi's largest printing houses. Primary elements of the 1920s building were refurbished during the hotel's renovations, including the former print drying beam. The hotel prides itself on being "defined by its history, location, and bold character."

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Scraps From Old Ships Were Turned Into a Tourist Attraction

The Museum of Modern Art in New York launched the Young Architects Program to encourage aspiring architects to flex their creative muscles with the help of industry professionals. And in Seoul, Korea, one special project emerged, which found a new use for discarded scraps from rusting ships.

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Instagram via @eastduo

The Temp'L was created by Shinslap Architecture and recreated a unique space for passersby. The hollow space derived from the belly of a ship and flipped upside down for a sheltered structure. But in the design process, the architects opted to not strip the material of its rustic beauty. Instead, it's on full display.

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Omaha's Old School Was Converted into Apartments

Vinton School was built in Omaha back at the beginning of the 1900s. In its full academic glory, it held 14 classrooms and was a prized architectural display of the Tudor Revival style that swept across America at the time. But even after it ceased to operate as a school, the building's importance continued to be recognized.

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Wikimedia Commons via Ammodramus

In 1989, the building was added to the federal database knows as the National Register of Historic Places. But that wasn't the end of the road for the building. In the coming years, it was converted into a residential living space. Today, units are available for rent at just $889 per month.

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The Last Nouveau Art-Styled Brewhouses Was Restored into a Restaurant

Back in the 1900s, these Nouveau Art-styles brewhouses were all the rage across Europe. But as industrial changes came along, techniques in beer-making shifted and adapted, leaving these copper beasts to waste. But one restaurant in Fürth, Germany decided to restore the space to its original beauty.

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Facebook via Humbser und Freunde

Now, what was once a mass-producing brewhouse has turned into one of the city's most well-known dining institutions. The space has kept its industrial feel and has maintained the 20th-century charm all while preserving the last known Nouveau-Art brewhouses in the world.

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Melbourne's Former Powerhouse is Now a Restaurant

Melbourne's industrial-looking old powerhouse building was sitting without a purpose for years. The building had yet to be torn down due to its registration on Australia's governing heritage list. But the future of the building was unclear for locals in the area and history enthusiasts alike.

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Facebook via Higher Ground Melbourne

However, Melbourne restauranteur Nathan Toleman teamed up with the local architecture studio DesignOffice to create what is now known as one of the city's hippest eateries: The Higher Ground. The original back wall of the powerhouse now props up six different levels of space and operates as a full-day restaurant and venue.

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Germany's Enormous Waterpark was Originally a Hangar

Even from the outside, this behemoth of a building is impressive in its own right. According to multiple sources, the hangar is the largest free-standing hall in the world. But its storage days are long behind it. It now holds an enormous water-themed park and resort.

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Hayoung Jeon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Tropical Islands Resort opened in Krausnick, Germany back in 2004 and immediately caught the eye of travelers around the world. It's reported to have a daily capacity of up to 8,200 visitors and even has accommodations on-site for guests to enjoy the pools and slides for days on end. Scroll for more incredible renovations…

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Hotel Emma's Past as a Brewhouse

San Antonio, Texas is bursting with history. And the historic Pearl District is no exception. Nestled in the colonial neighborhood lies Hotel Emma, an upper-scale hotel that was one of the former primary brewhouses in the city. The building is over 125 years old.

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Instagram via @thehotelemma

Built back in 1894, the brick building was originally known as the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery and later as the Pearl Brewery. The behemoth of a building survived the tough times of prohibition and at one point was the State's largest brewery. It has since been transformed into a six-floor hotel.

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The Most Powerful Computer in Spain Sits in an Old Church

MareNostrum, the Latin name for the Mediterranean, translates to "our sea." But besides referring to a body of water, it's also the name for the most powerful supercomputer in Spain. During its existence, the powerhouse has undergone four different versions since the Spanish government and IBM first partnered back in 2004.

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Wikimedia Commons via Gemmaribasmaspoch

The technological powerhouse computes vital data concerning DNA, weather, and pharmaceutical inventions. And while many would expect such an advanced supercomputer to be locked away in a distant laboratory, the center is actually located in the Chapel Torre Girona at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

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This Pool Occupies a Former Church

Bookstores, skateparks, and mega-computer locations... It looks like architects around the world have really taken a liking to repurposing old churches. And whether it be their quaint charm or conservation efforts, many current projects are using these old religious buildings for modern purposes.

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Facebook via Netherne Leisure Centre

And in Netherne-On-The-Hill, United Kingdom, gym-goers get to join in on the architectural recycling fun. Their local gym space is held in the town's old church. Swimmers especially get a feel for the unique design, as the quitessential church pillars can be found on both sides of the pool.

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St. Albans' First Civic Building is Now a Museum and Café

Roughly an hour north of Netherne-On-The-Hill is the city of St. Albans. The historic region sits on the northeastern side of London and is home to the St. Albans Town Hall: A former courthouse from the 1800s. But today, the space is occupied by the St. Albans Museum and café.

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Facebook via St Albans Museums

Visitors are able to peruse the vast collection of artifacts stored in the museum, and after they've worked up an appetite, they can visit the unique café on-site. The coffeeshop sits in the old courthouse space, and offers an authentic experience for visitors, pictured above. Keep scrolling for more…

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Melbourne's Notorious Gaol Has Since Transformed into a Museum

The Melbourne Gaol was built in the mid-1800s and served as the colonial city's primary symbol of authority from 1842 to 1929. Over the nearly 100 years in use, the prison held some of Australia's most infamous criminals and dissenters, including the legendary bushranger, Ned Kelly.

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Instagram via @oldmelbgaol

But even after the gaol ceased being used to house convicts, the building's significance was recognized by the National Trust, and it was given subsequent recognition. And in the decades following, a portion of the building was transformed into a museum that teaches visitors about Melbourne's sordid criminal history.

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A Freemason Temple in Indiana was Renovated into a Family Home

In recent years, we've seen families opt for unconventional living spaces like converted school buses and treehouses. But what about an entire temple? The Cannizzaro's packed up their family from sunny California and purchased a Freemason Temple in Indiana back in 2016 for a reported $89,000.

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Instagram via @freemason_to_mansion

In the spirit of DIY, the family has undertaken the majority of the renovations themselves, which they've documented on their Instagram page, @freemason_to_mansion. But it hasn't been easy, and their posts document some of the daily challenges in rejuvenating the 1926 structure to fit their family's needs.

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This Colonial Prison is Now a Hostel

Back in the mid-1800s, the Nicholas Street Gaol (also known as the Carleton County Gaol or the Ottawa Jail) housed some of the region's most infamous criminals. It was built right next to the city's courthouse and loomed over the city as the center of authority.

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Instagram via @hiottawajail

The jail emptied its cells in 1972 and was quickly purchased by Hostelling International, which oversaw its transformation into a unique hostel in the nation's capital. The Ottawa Jail Hostel now also houses a bar, named Mugshots and patio space for summer events.

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A Trampoline Park in the Hague Was Once a Church

Planet Jump in the Dutch region of The Hague is a colorful trampoline park that offers a fun experience to visitors of all ages. And with the bright lights and enormous trampolines, it's almost possible to forget where the park is situated. But the high vaulted ceilings offer a reminder.

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Instagram via @planetjumpnl

Planet Jump is housed in one of the city's old churches. And according to the park's website, the giant hall that was once a religious center offers the perfect space for kid-friendly fun. "The view of the trampolines is unobstructed, so keeping an eye on the jumping activities is still possible."

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A 1930s Swimming Pool Now Houses Luxury Apartments

The Spaardersbad was one of the last remaining swimming pools from the 1930s in the city of Gouda. In its full glory, the space was a prized relic of the Dutch city. It was one of the region's most visited pools and featured some long-lasting architectural elements.

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Instagram via @whitehousedevelopment

So when MEI Architects and Planners stepped in with a proposal for the location, it was no surprise that they wanted to preserve some of the core elements of the structure. They've transformed the location into six luxury lofts, but have saved the tiling that once sat at the bottom of the pool's floor.

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One of London's Most Famous Museums Was Once a Power Station

Looming high above the River Thames, the Tate Modern is one of the country's most cherished cultural institutions. The museum sees millions of visitors each year and is known as a stand-out building in the busy London skyline. And despite some updated renovations, the building's skeleton dates back to the 1950s.

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Wikimedia Commons via Acabashi

Before its days as the Tate Modern, the building was known as the Bankside Power Station. It was built in two phases between 1947 and 1963 and featured state-of-the-art elements like the turbine hall and powerful boiler. The structure was converted into a gallery back in 1994.

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Popular Dutch Beer Label Set Up Shop in a Church

The Jopen brewery in Haarlem, Netherlands has made a name for itself as a historic beer label. The popular recipe came about from a group named Stichting Haarlems Biergenootschap. They researched beer recipes dating back to the Middle Ages to revitalize the region's lost beer flavor.

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Instagram via @jopenkerk_haarlem

And in the spirit of revitalization, the beer enthusiasts set up shop in Jopen's church, known as the Jopenkerk. Ever since opening its doors, the brewery has had major successes and a steady line of thirsty customers outside its door. A beer from the past and a building from the past - talk about revitalization!

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Former NHL Arena is Currently a Grocery Store

Maple Leaf Gardens is located at the corner of Carlton and Church Street in Toronto, Canada. It was built in 1931 to house the city's growing hockey fans and showcase games. And from 1931 to 1999, the arena housed the city's NFL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Wikimedia Commons via JasonParis

The building was adored by Torontonians, but soon the team's fanbase outgrew the brick building. An enormous stadium was built close to the city's lakeshore, leaving the Maple Leaf Gardens to the hands of smaller sports teams. Today, the space is a local grocery store - but unique features from its area days can still be found.

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Vienna's Old Gasometers Are Now Multi-Purpose Spaces

These four enormous gasholders (known as gasometers) are found in the Austrian capital of Vienna. They were built in the final years of the 1800s and were in use up until 1984 to hold the city's vast gas supply. At their peak usage, it was reported that they could store up to 3 million cubic feet of gas.

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Wikimedia Commons via Bwag

Even after they ceased to be used, the buildings' structural beauty couldn't be denied. So, rather than tear them down, the city opted to have the four structures transformed into residential and commercial spaces. Today, there are an estimated 800 apartments, in addition to a music hall and theatre.

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An Outdated Sugar Factory was Transformed into an Auditorium

The northern province of Parma has a rich history of palaces and churches dating back hundreds of years. The region was once home to the Eridiana sugar factory that provided for the surrounding towns, but years after operations ceased, it's been given a new life as a cultural center.

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Wikimedia Commons via Marco Tommesani

The high-ceilinged building is now known as the Niccolò Paganini Auditorium. The renovations took place between 1996 and 2001 and transformed the abandoned building into a concert hall. What once was a production center now welcomes thousands of guests to hear some of the country's finest musicians.

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Old Silos Were Renovated Into a Peaceful Getaway

At one point in time, these old silos stored the gain supply for the Little River region of coastal New Zealand. But as their need diminished over the years, developers saw a unique opportunity and decided to jump at the chance to repurpose these large tins.

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Wikimedia Commons via Bernard Spragg. NZ

And just like that, the Silo Stay Accommodation came to be. This unique tourist attraction offers visitors an industrial and peaceful Kiwi getaway. So unique in fact, that it won the ADNZ/Resene Architectural Design Award for commercial interiors back in 2014!

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Decommissioned Plane Transformed into a McDonald's Branch

Speaking of unique places to visit in New Zealand, one particularly special fast-food joint can be found further up North. This former DC3 plane was renovated into a fully functioning dining establishment. But, the original spirit of the plane remains, offering diners a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

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Nigel Killeen / Contributor via Getty Images

The restaurant is complete with seating options and access to the cockpit. But no airplane food in sight: Only crowd-pleasers like the Big Mac and McNuggets. Safe to say that the McDonald's empire took notice: They placed this repurposed giant on their top ten "coolest McDonald's" around the world!

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Historic San Diego Bank Renovated into Luxury Hotel

What was once the former San Diego Trust and Savings Bank Building is living a new life as one of Marriott Hotel's most eccentric branches in the United States. Sure, we've seen some repurposed hotels on the list, but this one kept one specific feature...

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Instagram via @lamagica_ladylazarus

The bank's old safe has been transformed into the hotel's executive meeting room. Whether a specific design choice or one of the requirements in renovating the registered historic building, Marriott has certainly created a stand-out feature and tourist attraction.

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Former Art Deco Hotel Turned Into a McDonald's

This isn't any average McDonald's location. The fast food franchise set up shop in what was once a prized jewel of Australian architecture: The United Kindom Hotel. The former tourist attraction was built back in 1938 and operated for 50 years before closing its doors.

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Wikimedia Commons via Mattinbgn

But ever since being repurposed into a 24/7 McDonald's, the building has acquired a pretty special title. According to multiple publications, this special art deco building is known as one of the most beautiful McDonald's in the whole world! Keep scrolling for more unique renovations...

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Manchester's Royal Exchange is Now a Theater

This artistic space has played a major part in Manchester's cultural scene since being taken over by a local theater company back in 1973. But the building's history is just as dramatic as the performances that grace its stage today. The building was once a trading center of the British economy.

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Wikimedia Commons via David Dixon

The room pictured above was once known as the "largest room in the world." However, the building suffered major damage during World War II, which severely reduced the number of savvy traders coming in through the door. Luckily, the Royal Exchange Theatre Company was founded in 1976 and has since called the space home.

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Abandoned McDonald's Repurposed for NASA

We've seen McDonald's setting up shop in some unique buildings around the world, but this time, the repurposing went the other way around. In California, a former McD's that fed the hungry Navy soldiers nearby, has since been utilized by NASA for a pretty special task.

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Instagram via @yschwab

The old restaurant was housing the priceless footage of the Lunar Orbiter tapes, which showed the first five lunar orbiters that NASA launched in 1960. The footage was donated by the Library of Congress, and have been tirelessly digitized to protect the information for decades to come.

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Newport Street Gallery Took Over Three Industrial Buildings

This enormous brick building can be found in London, England, and houses the works of the great Damien Hirst. At the time of it's conception, the three separate spaces were constructed as workshops to for theater sets during the artistic boom of the Victoria era.

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View Pictures / Contributor via Getty Images

But Max Fordham, in collaboration with Caruso St John and Hirst himself, turned this industrial stretch into a cultural hub. The repurposing went so well that the project won the 2016 RIBA Stirling Prize and has since been known as an architectural work of art.

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Abandoned London Homes Repurposed Into Art Installation

Chances that someone will be taking up residence in this repurposed building is slim, however the structure is eye catching to say the least. This empty London home was reimagined by an artist named Alex Chinneck. He called this piece, From the Knees of my Nose to the Belly of my Toes.

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Gareth Fuller - PA Images / Contributor via Getty Images

This optical illusion-like piece was created by pulling down the residential building's brick façade, thus creating the melted appearance. However, beyond attracting passersby, Chinneck aims to spread a warning message of economic demise of the surrounding neighborhood.

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Victorian Public Restroom Renovated Into a Cafe

This one may take the prize as one of the more unexpected renovations. Back in the Victorian era, this eerie looking staircase led to an underground public "loo" that was used by average city folk. According to multiple sources, the city structure was built in 1890.

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Instagram via @follow_the_angel_

After its years of service, the subterranean restroom stood empty for roughly 50 years before the Attendant chain of coffee shops swooped in. Now, the space operates as a trendy café. They even have tables made of old urinals! The space is certainly keeping the local history alive.

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Art Deco Pool Tranformed Into a Museum

Right up by the Northern border of France and Belgium lies the town Roubaix, and one particularly unique museum. La Piscine Museum (also known as La piscine-Musée d'Art et d'Industrie André Diligent) has taken up residence in what was once the city's prime display of art-deco design.

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Wikimedia Commons via Camster2

This grand building was once a ritzy pool but was turned into a museum under the care of Jean-Paul Philippon back in 2000. Since then, architectural wonder has attracted art and design lovers from Europe and beyond. Some of the permanent collections date back as far as 1835!

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