Historic Building Rehabilitation: Achieving Success Beyond The Facade

Society’s appreciation for the significance, character and beauty of historic structures continues to promote building preservation and rehabilitation. Rather than tearing down a stately old Victorian home or demolishing a vintage 1950s storefront to erect a modern office building, property owners recognize that through an adaptive re-use approach, they can have the best of both worlds: classic architecture with present-day functionality. Unfortunately, many historic rehabilitation projects often only go skin deep in in solving functional performance issues.

A Common Historic Rehabilitation Pitfall

When faced with a rehabilitation project, either to repurpose the structure, adhere to modern building codes, or provide repairs, many owners may initially retain the services of an architect and/or contractor to address immediate needs. Although the repair recommendations may produce aesthetic improvements, these upgrades are often superficial, focusing on the visible symptoms without first identifying and addressing the root cause. Consequently, building owners may find themselves facing reoccurring problems or, worse, new problems, due to inadequate diagnosis of the original problems, and thus ineffective repair plans.

A more thorough and successful approach is to engage experts who are well versed in both architecture and rehabilitation, and possess broad multidisciplinary experience in forensic engineering, preservation, and building science. Consultants who combine these specialties can provide thoroughly researched and investigated preservation repair plans for historic structures resulting in buildings that are upgraded both functionally and aesthetically.

Hamilton Condos – Conditions Assessment. Photos of the building overall, below grade water damage at interior finishes, wood window deterioration, and mortar failure.

The Value of Working with Forensic Engineers

Forensic Engineers understand the process of identifying existing building conditions and determining the root cause of building envelope related failures. Although design and construction practitioners may possess a great deal of knowledge in their respective fields, they may lack the breadth of experience to investigate and recommend appropriate repairs that is critical for a successful rehabilitation of a historic building. Forensic Engineers who specialize in historic structures, have extensive knowledge of the materials and techniques used to build them. Consequently, they are uniquely qualified to diagnose the cause of existing and/or reoccurring building envelope failures. Issues like rotting wood, structural stress of cladding, deteriorating masonry and roofing materials, metal corrosion, coating failures including peeling, cracking, poor adhesion, or discoloration, and most often, water penetration in roofs or around windows are all easily assessed by professionals with direct forensic experience.

Denver Botanic Gardens – Leak Assessment of the historic Conservatory.

Historic Preservation: The “Greenest” of All Sustainability Strategies

With the increased focus today on sustainability and “green” building design, it’s worth noting that preserving historic structures is inherently one of the most effective green practices that a property owner can utilize. The unnecessary demolition of a structure adds to landfills, has a negative impact on air quality, and requires the consumption of more materials to erect the new building.

What’s more, the loss of a historic structure means the loss of another link to our past and our culture. Preservation efforts have important, if intangible, impacts that go far beyond the economic value of the property.

Boston Lofts – Leak and Conditions Assessment and Repair Design. Photos of the building overall, interior moisture damage, and exterior paint failure.

What Pie Can Do for You

Successful rehabilitation projects for historic structures go well-beyond the visual deterioration of its facade. At Pie, we provide a comprehensive conditions assessment to help owners achieve success from the beginning of the rehabilitation process through re-occupancy. The assessment focuses on the building envelope (roof, exterior walls, stairs, and foundation), structural systems, and primary historic elements and historic interiors if applicable. We then provide a clear and comprehensive report of findings and recommendations along with a preliminary repair scope and construction cost consulting. This information assists owners in developing a budget, prioritize repairs, and sequence/phase work. Once accomplished, Pie offers complete design services including development of repair drawings and specifications, we oversee the procurement of bids from qualified contractors, and provide construction phase coordination and quality assurance services.

Ultimately, our goal is to help owners to maximize the usability and value of the property today, and provide guidance on maintaining it well into the future.

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