What is meant by adaptability in buildings?

Purpose Despite being a common term in the literature, there is little agreement about what the word ‘adaptability’ means in the context of the built environment and very little evidence regarding practitioners’ understanding of adaptability. This paper therefore examines what practitioners in the building industry mean when they talk about ‘adaptability’. Design/methodology/approach This study adopted a qualitative approach, involving 82 unstructured face-to-face interviews with practitioners from a range of professional disciplines in the construction industry, including architects, engineers, facilities managers, property agents and planners. The interview transcripts were coded inductively in order to identify themes in the qualitative data. Findings The interview data revealed a wide range of perspectives on adaptability, particularly regarding terminology, the meanings practitioners associate with adaptability and the way in which these meanings are communicated to others in the industry. The applied meaning of adaptability varied depending on context. Practical implications Conflicting language, and different interpretations of adaptability, is a potential barrier to the development of adaptable buildings. A clearer articulation of the meaning of adaptability (particularly by clients) during briefing and design could give rise to a more appropriate level of adaptability in the built environment. Originality/value This study has addressed a gap in the existing literature, by foregrounding the voices of industry practitioners and exploring their (sometimes very different) interpretations of adaptability in buildings.