Adding Not Subtracting: Guidelines for Historic Homes

For much of our history, interior home space was at a premium. Until the late 19th century and the arrival of central heating, rooms needed to be small and efficient. Frank Lloyd Wright’s revolutionary architecture of free-flowing spaces was only made possible by central heating (and later, cooling). The result? Many Victorian homes – especially cottages and townhouses – were perceived as too small as the American interior lifestyle expanded in the post World War II era.

Vincent Michael

Overscaled, inappropriate “poptop” addition on Chicago Bungalow, Berwyn, Illinois

The expansion continued into the 1990s with the arrival of the arriviste McMansion, so indulgent in its expansive interiority that exterior delineation was often left off. Historic districts were trending at the same time, meaning that historic homes had to compete in the same marketplace as Lollapalazzos and “starter castles.”

This meant additions to historic buildings to deal with modern lifestyles. Take the kitchen, an untidy, overcrowded utility room placed at the rear of the Victorian house. Today the kitchen is the life of the house party, and needs to be big enough for, well, a party. This often means a rear addition, which brings us to how historic buildings deal with additions.

Preservation standards provide guidelines for the most appropriate way to add on to a historic building. As with many of our standards, there is a simple version and a detailed version. The simple version is this:  the addition should be visually and physically subservient to the original structure.


Vincent Michale

Two 19th-century cottages connected by glass addition setback from street.

The more detailed version can be approached as a list.

First: Location (or siting). An addition should ideally be located in the rear, or if visible should defer in its position to the original, significant structure. Additions to the side or top should be set back significantly from the original.

Second: Scale. The addition should not overwhelm the original. Sometimes an addition to the rear can contain more square footage than the original if it is designed so that it defers to the scale of the original, such as a rear addition that is less visible from the public right-of-way.

Note: Trees don’t count. We have been reviewing an addition recently and the latest renderings arrived with trees planted right in front of the offending addition. That’s a cheat.

Vincent Michael

Gresser House, San Antonio

Third: Massing. The architectural volumes of the addition should yield to the original, significant structure. Again, because architecture is an art, one can, on occasion, design masses that may actually contain more square footage that the original structure but are still subservient to it as an architectural mass.

Fourth: Rhythm. This is another one that takes some architectural art. Rhythm usually refers to the pattern of solids (walls) and voids (windows, doors) in an architectural mass. It includes orientation – so, for example, if the original structure has a largely VERTICAL rhythm (tall doors and windows) the addition should NOT have a horizontal rhythm.

Vincent Michael

Gresser House, main façade with addition on left.

Vincent Michael

Gresser House, addition set back from façade and roofline.








Style is technically beside the point, but a lot of community preservationists will push for stylistic unity. Moreover, there has been a tendency in the last 25 years for additions that appear to be contemporaneous with the original. Standards state that you should not “create a false sense of history,” but interpretation of this idea has slid over time. Still, if the addition defers to the original in siting, scale and mass, style will matter less.

Fifth: Materials. This one is tricky because we have the long-standing conflict between the concept of DIFFERENTIATING the addition from the original structure and the concept of the addition being COMPATIBLE. Again, the art of architecture can provide multiple solutions, such as a glass addition that due to its transparency allows the original to be read visually as an independent structure. Matching the existing materials EXACTLY is generally less desirable.

Vincent Michael

Set back, properly scaled rooftop addition in Seattle.

Vincent Michael

Overscaled addition in Seattle, not set back.

As with scale and siting, the key is to let the original building shine through – choose materials that are foil to the gem rather than a competing jewel.

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Providence’s Long Love Affair with Brick

The building material of the future.


Brick often finds itself in the dog house.

Long ago in Providence, architectural historian and local preservation heroine Antoinette Downing, sitting on the design review panel of the Capital Center Commission, is said to have sniggered at one of the oldest and most distinguished building materials in the history of architecture.

In an interview by The Journal’s John Castellucci on Feb. 26, 1996, fellow panel member and Rhode Island School of Design architecture professor Derek Bradford described Downing as having whispered to him, “If I see another red brick building, I think I’ll be sick.”

Downing’s disdain for red brick strikes me as akin to the supposed disdain of the postwar American public for aging Victorian architecture. It was disliked by modern architects, who in their egoism now claim the world agreed.

Recently, a documentary called The Human Scale, about how Danish architect Jan Gehl seeks to fix “broken” public spaces, was screened in Providence. One scene showed a fence around a site where earthquake-ravaged Christchurch, N.Z., was to be rebuilt. Someone had scrawled, “No more brick buildings!”

Surely this was penned by a modern architect or one of his or her camp followers. The film seemed to forget that modern architecture’s lack of human scale is why public spaces amid modern buildings need fixing. One easy cure would be to stop surrounding public spaces with buildings of glass and steel.

A subset of that cure would be to let brick out of the dog house. Let brick be brick!

Amid their long disdain for masonry, even modernist architects can hardly avoid its use; they just use it badly. Witness the plain brick wall of the RISD Museum’s 2008 addition in Providence. Architect Rafael Moneo was not content to put up a plain brick wall; he had to give it an orangey color out of character on North Main Street.

A block farther north is RISD’s just completed addition to its Illustration Studies Building (built in 1848). Its glass curtain wall is joined by a stretch of red brick that seems to exist so that RISD can claim, absurdly, that the addition fits into its historical context. Brick is often forced to express this kind of dishonesty. Modern architecture likes to imagine itself a paragon of honesty in design. Do not believe it.

The mechanisms established by orthodoxy to cover up such dishonesty are exemplified by the Human Scale documentary, straining to avoid taking note of the obvious solution to the problem it addresses. Even the sainted Antoinette Downing apparently felt obliged to let on (in a whisper, of course) that she had drunk the modernist Kool Aid. But I doubt she appreciated the emperor’s new clothes.

Brick, rectangular in shape and ranging in color from tan to red (a broad palette that includes yellow, brown and even orange), is the most versatile of building materials. Brick of a given color can be produced in a slate of shades that turns its unity into a symphony.

Brick may be set at angles, course on course, or by popping its ends out an inch or so in any number of patterns to enliven a wall. A diaper pattern, for example, graces Brown University’s new Jonathan Nelson Fitness Center. The brick toolbox offers an infinity of alternatives. Whether in its basic format or enhanced by the many motifs available to the creative alignment of its simple shape, brick heightens the role of scale in the delight of architecture.

More than any other building material, the brick rectangle plugs automatically into the variety of scales that human sensibilities seek instinctively. This is the key to good architecture, and the key to why good modern architecture is so rare. Modernism’s shiny corporate materials offer one scale only — large. That frustrates the need for organized complexity hard-wired into humans by their biological evolution. Gradations of scale offer visual interest of a sort that now stands in for information once required to survive.

Panelized brick systems do scale poorly, but they do it. Brick laid by hand is preferable. The plain brick wall of Market House (1773), where the colony of Rhode Island declared independence from Britain before any other colony, shows how the rough imperfections of historic brick bring an even smaller scale to the pattern of a building, beckoning a closeness that hints at romance. (You can see the orangey brick of the Moneo addition in the background.) The view of College Hill anchored by the Providence County Courthouse (1930) is a Georgian concerto of brick comparable in allure to any in the world.

Despite the sophistication claimed by its advocates, modern architecture is big-box architecture. It is doomed to the dustbin of fashion by the slow architecture that is growing popular with the young in the wake of slow food and other back-to-basics movements.

In or out of the dog house, brick will not go away. So, brick by brick, let brick be brick. It is tradition. It is classic. It is, God willing, the architecture of the future.

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Master Builders and Minecraft: Two Historic Churches in New England

A few weeks ago as part of the Traditional Building Conference Series Stop in New Haven, Connecticut, I was able to tour two of the greatest historic churches in New England:  Center Church and Trinity Church. They sit side by side on the New Haven Green. They comprise a commanding ecclesiastical and architectural presence.

Judy Hayward

Center Church (1812) features a sanctuary with Neoclassical moldings and a celestial ceiling painted blue with low-relief plaster accents. Photos: Martha McDonald

Center Church was the work of Asher Benjamin (1773-1845) and Ithiel Town (1784-1844) and Trinity Church was built by Ithiel Town. Benjamin mentored Town and both became leaders in a generation of men who made the transition from master builder to architect and engineer, respectively, before there were formal training programs in either discipline. Benjamin worked in Windsor, Vermont, where he reportedly established a building school.

We know that he advertised classes; we don’t know if anyone enrolled. We know that Thomas Dake, the great master builder who worked in Castleton, Vermont, and was born in West Windsor, was the right age to have been in contact with Benjamin but there is no documentation to prove that Dake was another success story in Benjamin’s efforts to train builders on the job-site, in person through discussion and instruction and in print with his builder guide books.

My career in preservation education has been enriched by years of interaction with architects, builders, craftspeople, engineers and preservation specialists. Typically, my work involves working with specialists to help them translate complex information into lesson plans and instructional activities and materials.  Since there is a growing interest in distance education, and translating hands-on learning in preservation skills to  a virtual medium is no small feat; I returned to graduate school three years ago to study educational technology. I am finishing the last course this week to earn a certificate in educational technology from the Graduate and Professional School of Marlboro College in Vermont.

Judy Hayward

The solemn but soaring Gothic tower beckons worshippers through its arched entryway. Trinity Church is reportedly the first large-scale Gothic church in America (1814-1816).

Throughout my studies, I have been amazed at how often the “academy” of higher learning turns to skills-based education to explain how to teach. Professors talk about scaffolding their students to help them learn; apprenticeship programs are studied; games and technology that simulate the ability to actually do something are held in the highest esteem.

Yet when I gather with fellow preservation trades educators there is often a chorus of how disinterested local communities are in “vocational education.” Some say we shouldn’t use those words anymore, but use terms like technical and career education. I don’t believe Asher Benjamin or Ithiel Town would have cared what we call it. They would want us to know how to build so that structures stand the test of time; how to build so geometry is pleasing to the eye, and how to build so that architectural elements delight us.

Right now, I am learning how to use Minecraft as part of my studies. If there are eight-year olds reading this blog, my efforts to learn Minecraft may make them laugh. Most kids with access to a computer have been working in Minecraft for years, and they could mentor me; youth are the master builders of the virtual world. If you haven’t tried it; please do. The tasks include learning how to gather wood, turn it into useable pieces, fabricate tools and then construct.  Professionally, I am delighted to find a game that is a clever means to teach building practice.

My professor shared a YouTube video produced as a fourth grade project using Minecraft. It is a fine treatise on mission architecture and demonstrates a strong understanding of the relationships of rooms to each other and the use of certain spaces by function.  Here‘s the link:  Mission Architecture   I wonder what Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town would say… I bet they would ask, “Can we play, too?”

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Traditionalism’s Global Thrust: Traditional Architecture Review

A review of the book Traditional Architecture: Timeless Building for the Twenty-First Century.

By Alireza Sagharchi and Lucien Steil; Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales; Preface by Leon Krier

Rizzoli International Publications, New York; 320 pp; hardcover; over 350 full-color images; $65

ISBN: 978-0- 8478-4080-9

Reviewed by Clem Labine

timeless building

London, England: For this new mixed-use building on Tottenham Court Road, Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects designed a nine-bay facade – 100 ft. wide – in natural limestone, bronze and glass.

Rizzoli has provided reassurance for any traditionalist architect who has felt that he or she was a lonely voice crying in a Modernist wilderness. This beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated volume refutes all the pejorative adjectives that Modernist critics gleefully attach to traditional designs and puts traditionalism on an equal theoretical and aesthetic footing with all the other fashionable “-isms” that mesmerize the brains of the world’s taste-makers at any given moment. Although this opus can be viewed as just another coffee-table book, it is really much more than that: It’s a valuable show-and-tell didactic piece that can demonstrate to any wavering client or building committee that modern traditional architecture has come out of the closet and achieved acceptance and respectability on a global scale.

This survey of the world’s contemporary traditionalism consists of two major sections. The first part, which gives the book its persuasive power, consists of nearly 300 pages of sumptuous full-color photographs of 130 projects in 33 countries, ranging from Australia to the U.S.A., and including such other countries such as England, the Netherlands, Spain, Bangladesh, Russia and Tunisia. When viewed as an entire collection, the photos show a breathtaking scope and diversity of traditionalism around the world – inspired by wide-ranging cultural, geographic and climactic variations.

The photos vividly demonstrate the internal contradictions of Modernist ideology, for while preaching an eternal need for creativity and innovation, Modernism has managed to create cities around the world that have a numbing sameness. Shanghai looks like Manhattan on steroids. The authors show convincingly that there is growing push-back against homogenized global Modernism – with its intentional erasure of any historical sense of place.

On average there are 2-3 photos of each project plus a couple of paragraphs of description. The images are intended only to illustrate the traditional architectural character of each project and don’t get down to a granular level, such as drawings showing plans, details or elevations. But that is not a flaw in this context because the intent of this visual survey is to demonstrate the global march of traditionalism.

Oklahoma City, OK: Cram & Ferguson Architects added new context-sensitive transepts and tower to St. Edward’s Chapel – originally built by the firm in 1949.

Oklahoma City, OK: Cram & Ferguson Architects added new context-sensitive transepts and tower to St. Edward’s Chapel – originally built by the firm in 1949.

The book’s second major part consists of several essays that set out the intellectual case for traditionalism. The Prince of Wales notes that the new traditionalism is an essential vehicle for passing on knowledge, skills and cultural continuity – values that hold societies together. Leon Krier makes the case that traditional architecture is not a historical but rather a technological heritage.

The book’s creators, Alireza Sagharchi and Lucien Steil, argue that traditional architects use local typology, technology and architectural elements that inevitably create innovative buildings that enhance and enrich the special character of their locality. Samir Younes, in the book’s principal essay, examines the intellectual lineage of modern traditional architecture and builds the theoretical armature on which the case for traditionalism as a valid contemporary option rests. He nicely epitomizes his case thusly: “Blindly repeating a tradition is an affront to reason. Blindly rejecting a tradition is also an affront to reason.”

Traditional Architecture offers an optimistic vision of a new breed of modern architects working with an awareness of sustainability, local culture and continuity of building crafts. These architects have the depth of understanding to enrich the future while honoring the past.

Clem Labine is the founder of Old House Journal, Traditional Building and Period Homes magazines.

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Historic Window Repair: Sash Joint Dutchman

repairing historic wood windows

Step 1: Split and broken wood in the joint of the meeting rail and stile.

A close look at the process of restoring repairing historic wood windows.

By John Leeke, historic building specialist. All photos by the author.

Repairing historic wood windows can be achieved with a step-by-step process. The window sash repair described here was part of a larger window preservation and barn repair project at the historic Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, ME. While working on the windows we could see they were entirely hand crafted, not factory made products. We did some research and determined that the windows were probably made onsite by Shaker craftsmen in the late 18th or early 19th century for an earlier building, and then re-used in the Shaker horse barn in the late 19th century.

On this project we had guidelines from the Shakers to do effective low-cost repairs that respected the historic character and cultural significance of these windows. Eldon Lindamood worked along with me as an intern craftsman. In our work we followed this guiding principle from the national Window Preservation Standards:

“Window Preservation is maintaining, repairing and upgrading older and historic windows. This is a creative process that depends on knowledgeable and skilled workers. A typical window preservation project saves all the existing windows. The emphasis is on craftspeople earning a living by doing best work, providing for the needs of the occupants and the building owner, while sustaining local economies.” – “National Window Preservation Standards,” 2013, page 6.

Repairing Historic Wood Windows: Sash Joint Dutchman Procedure

Step 1. Assess Conditions (see top image)
During the window conditions assessment, I noted this broken joint between the meeting rail and the stile of the upper sash and scheduled the sash to be pulled and taken to the shop for repair.


tenon and wood peg

Step 2: Note the tenon and wood peg.

Step 2. Plan the Repair
Here the sash has been deglazed (glass pane removed) and the heavy paint buildup has been removed so I can get a clear view of the damage. A piece of wood has been split off of the end of the rail, leaving part of the tenon and wooden peg exposed. All the remaining wood is sound.


wood peg

Step 3: Wood peg is tapped out of the joint with a drift pin.

Step. 3 Disassemble the Sash
Most old sash are made with mortise and tenon joints and can be taken apart. Here I tap the wooden pegs out of the joint with a hammer and drift pin. Traditionally glue was not used in sash joints. The sash makers knew that the joints needed to flex and move a bit for long-term durability. Glue would limit that flexibility and trap moisture leading to decay. An advantage is that we can now easily take apart the sash for repairs.


repairing historic wood windows

Step 4: A square and bevel are used to layout the dutchman on the stile.

Step. 4. Dutchman Layout
The dutchman will lap onto adjacent sound wood. The laps are half the thickness of the stile and at least three times longer than the width of the stile. The end of the dutchman is beveled underneath the old sound wood just for a little more strength in the connection.


stile socket

Step 5: The stile socket is shaped with traditional woodworking tools.

Step 5. Shape the Socket
I saw the end of the socket with a fine toothed crosscut saw and flatten the bed of the socket with a chisel. With sharp tools and practiced woodworking skills on a few dutchmen this task goes much faster than if using power chop saws and routers. It’s true, the power tools could step up the production rate if there are dozens of dutchmen to do at the same time, but here I used hand work because it is more controlled and less likely to damage the original wood.


shaping a dutchman

Step 6: The dutchman is shaped out of matching wood.

Step. 6 Make the Dutchman
I use wood of the same species, in this case Eastern White Pine. This is old-growth wood. I select for straight grain, all heartwood, even trying to match the growth ring count per inch. I definitely match the ring orientation, here on a slanting diagonal. If the ring orientation is not matched the old wood and new wood will expand and shrink in different directions, potentially stressing the joint resulting in a loose or open joint. The dutchman is shaped to fit the beveled end and flat bed, and is oversized a bit.


window repair

Step 7: A Type 1 weather proof epoxy adhesive is used.

Step. 7 Glue Up
Here I’m using two-part epoxy materials as a primer and adhesive system. First I treat the bare wood with an epoxy consolidant to act as a primer, then I apply a gap filling epoxy paste. Only light clamping pressure is needed with this epoxy adhesive system.

While I used modern epoxy materials on this repair, I have seen century-old sash dutchmen repairs still performing admirably. They were simply made with new wood lapped onto old wood as shown here, fastened with two wood screws and no adhesive. Some of the joints were filled with lead-paste. The lead paste was used to keep water out of the joint and prevent decay. I would not use lead-paste now, but have used wood screws with zinc paste as an effective substitute. This method of fastening is holding up well.


shaping dutchman

Step 8: Final shaping of the dutchman.

Step 8. Trim and Shape
First I hand plane the dutchman’s surface to be exactly flush with surround surfaces and then layout the mortise with a square and straight edge. I can chop out up to four mortises with a chisel and mallet in the time it would take to set up my mortising machine.


joint and sash

Step 9: The joint and sash are reassembled.

Step 9. Reassembly
Here I’ve drilled a hole for the wooden peg. In this case, the old original peg was made out of Locust wood. Even though it’s two centuries old, it was still good, so I reused it.
The sash was primed, reglazed, painted and put back in the Shaker horse barn.


Specifications: Installation vs. Creation

So, how can you specify this method for your projects? You can’t.

As you see in the above procedure, this repair is an act of CREATION. A craftsman uses his skill and knowledge of basic materials, wood and epoxy resin, to create something that did not exist before: an effective repair. What makes this repair effective and successful is not the wood or the adhesive; it is the skill and knowledge of the worker who created the repair.

How does specification work? As a project planner or designer you select a product, a contractor buys the product and a tradesperson installs the product. This is an act of product INSTALLATION. Of course, this can work very well with a factory-made product, like a plastic window going into a new building. A tradesperson can read the spec and install the product. And you may even get a known result.

For a repair like the one above, to simply specify the installation of a particular wood product, and a particular adhesive product, would not give you any assurance of an effective durable repair. Over the decades I have personally seen this attempted as a tradesman, a contractor, a specifier, a consultant, and a building owner. I can assure you that failures outnumber successes.

You can try to specify it if you like. Write dozens of pages of specs. Include boilerplate from the manufacturers, and even more boilerplate from the window specialists themselves. No amount or quality of specification can do it because an Act of Creation cannot be specified.

So, how do you get this creative preservation work done on your projects?

  • First, select the skilled, knowledgeable creative craftsperson who knows how to use basic materials to provide known and proven results.
  • Include the craftsperson in an early design phase of the project to help plan the work.
  • Assure the craftsperson will be well paid.
  • Ask that person to demonstrate their work in a preliminary project phase with mockups or sample work.
  • Make the mockups or work samples part of the main contract.
  • Follow through with effective supervision to assure the work matches the samples.

Repair Methods Considered

Wood Dutchman: Remove the stile from the sash by drifting out the wooden pegs and disassembling the mortise and tenon joints. Even up the split wood surfaces. Make a wood dutchman to fit the void and glue it in place. Make a new mortise in the dutchman. Assemble the repaired stile onto the sash and peg it in place. This would result in an “open joint” that could be disassembled in the future.

Whole Part Renewal: Remove the broken stile from the sash. Make an all new stile to match the old exactly in size, shape and function, including mortises and glazing rabbet. Fit the new stile onto the sash and fasten it at the mortise and tenon joints with wooden pegs. This would result in “open joints” that could be disassembled in the future.

Wood-Epoxy Repair: Embed two 3/16-in. dia. fiberglass reinforcement rods in the sound wood to the right extending them through the void of missing wood to the end of the stile on the left. Saturate the interior joint surfaces and exposed split wood surfaces with epoxy consolidant to act as a primer. Fill the void with epoxy paste filler. Trim the cured filler down flush with adjacent surfaces. This repair could be done without disassembling the sash. This would result in a “locked joint” that could not be disassembled in the future.

In this case I decided to use the traditional wood dutchman method because of the historic nature of the sash. From a historic preservation point of view I wanted to preserve as much of the historic fabric of the sash as possible, but also I just felt like respecting the Shaker craftsman who originally made the sash by using a traditional repair method.

Costs: This repair using the dutchman method took 1.1 hours (66 minutes) and used $1.90 in materials. The wood-epoxy repair method would have taken the same time and used $6.50 in materials. A whole new stile would have taken 1.5 hours and used $4.00 in materials.

Durability: I have seen several sash dutchmen and part replacement repairs that were done 110 and 125 years ago, so I think of those as methods with a service life measured in centuries. I have done wood-epoxy repairs like this that are still performing well after 37 years, but I have seen some wood-epoxy repairs that rotten out after just 10 or 20 years. So, I consider these more modern methods to have a proven service life measured in decades.

Finding Craftspeople
Who and where are these creative craftspeople? There are hundreds of historic window specialists who know how to do this work. They are located all across this great land. Here are some resources to help you find them:

Check with your state’s historic preservation office and state-wide non-profit preservation organization. (

The book, Save America’s Windows, has a directory of hundreds of window specialists, some in every state. (

The Preservation Trades Network can provide a list of its members if you join. (

The Window Preservation Standards book offers guidance in organizing window projects and provides a set of detailed standard methods and procedures. (

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Historic Hotel Syracuse Saved

Syracuse native Ed Riley led the restoration of the Hotel Syracuse, bringing it back to its glory days.

Hotel Syracuse, Syracuse, NY, now the Marriott Syracuse DowntownArchitects
Ed Riley, formerly of Pyramid Hotel Group, Boston, MA; Holmes-King-Kallquist & Associates (HKK), Syracuse, NY, Bruce King, AIA, Jamie Williams, AIA; MLG Architects, New York, NY, Mario LaGuardia, AIA.

By Neal Mednick

If Ed Riley had not stepped up to the plate, Hotel Syracuse, one of the city’s most revered landmark buildings, would probably be staring at a wrecking ball today. In 2014, some 90 years after the hotel’s gala opening, Riley acquired the beleaguered structure and announced a $70-million+ restoration project aimed at returning the expansive historic spaces to their former grandeur.

By hotel standards then and now, the Hotel Syracuse is massive. Triangular in shape and comprised of three main towers totaling 473,000 square feet with 612 guest rooms, the architecture is compelling throughout, with towering ceilings, opulent chandeliers, and elegant, extraordinarily detailed decoration and embellishment.

Walk into the huge lobby (think of a football field) and you are transported to a bygone era. Stand in the magnificent Persian Terrace (formerly the Terrace Room) and you can hear a big band orchestra playing swing music to a packed dining room, everyone dressed to the nines, eating, singing, dancing and surreptitiously sipping on small flasks. Gaze around the palatial Grand Ballroom and you can conjure all those lavish weddings, bar mitzvahs and high school proms, and you can feel the wild and raucous celebration of a great old New Year’s Eve.

It was the Roaring Twenties and Hotel Syracuse was one its symbols. People knew how to have a good time back then and they did their carefree merriment in style. It was an affluent era and Hotel Syracuse was the place to be. Five presidents stayed there along with countless celebrities, including John Lennon, who celebrated his 30th birthday by staying for an entire week.

The hotel was designed by William Stone Post of George B. Post & Sons. George Post was a prominent New York architect whose eclectic designs include the New York Stock Exchange Building, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s French chateau on Fifth Avenue and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building in Brooklyn. His eight-story Equitable Life Assurance Society on Broadway was the first building designed to use elevators.

A fourth-generation native of Syracuse, Ed Riley has great passion for his hometown. This is where his extended family resides, where he went to school, got married and raised three children. He even took his eventual bride-to-be to the high school prom at the Hotel Syracuse.

A Passion for Old Hotels

Riley’s other great passion is old hotels that are architecturally significant. An architect for more than 40 years, he specializes in their restoration and has a resume that includes such historic gems as the Fairfax at Embassy Row Hotel in Washington, DC, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix and the Claremont Hotel in San Francisco. Naturally, he has a special fondness for Hotel Syracuse. “To me, this building is the heart of Syracuse. It’s where the city

keeps its memories. It was painful to see it so abused and neglected. I just could not abide the idea of letting it die, especially in my hometown,” he says.

According to Riley, Hotel Syracuse is one of the best and last examples of neoclassical design, which is derived from three enduring principles of architecture:

Firmitas (Durability) – It should stand up robustly and remain in good condition.

Utilitas (Utility) – It should be useful and function well for people using it.

Venustas (Beauty) – It should delight people and raise their spirits.

Riley’s acquisition of the Hotel Syracuse came after decades of ownership changes, dubious reconfigurations, failed restoration attempts and questionable business models that led to a shutdown in 2004 and bankruptcy in 2008, accompanied, of course, by protracted litigation. The legal wrangling ended in early 2014 when the City of Syracuse wrested the property out of limbo by applying the power of eminent domain. This opened the door to a $1.6-million sale to Ed Riley, contingent upon his commitment to restore the building and revive the hotel. Riley put down $500K of his own toward the sale.

When he purchased Hotel Syracuse, Riley was fully aware that the grand “Old Gal” (as he calls it) of central New York was in a moribund state, which is to say that it had become an astounding smorgasbord of dilapidation and debris: extensive water damage from a profusely leaking roof; broken pipes and no running water; an antiquated electrical grid from 1924; a missing original lobby reception desk; fallen pieces of plaster in every room; the terrazzo and wood floors damaged and covered in glue; holes in almost every wall and ceiling; all decorative finishes painted over in white; a delaminated plaster-on-metal-lath ceiling in the Persian Terrace; marginally functional elevators;  damaged ornament in every room.

The list goes on and on, and doesn’t even include the many questionable additions that would have to be ripped out. And to make matters worse, the place was stuffed with debris – in the main lobby, in the hallways, in the guest rooms – everywhere.

So, when confronted with this seemingly immitigable mess, and very much aware of his predecessors’ failed attempts at sustaining the hotel, what does Riley do? He decides to leave his plush skyscraper office and well-paying job as Senior Vice President of the Pyramid Hotel Group, a top architectural restoration firm in Boston, and plant himself in a makeshift office in a vacant building with no running water, to take on a challenge that arguably no other person on this planet would even consider.

“I realize that this is quite an undertaking, and I’m very much aware of the hotel’s history,” says Riley. “But I’ve done this type of restoration many times before and I know what it takes to do the job right. Yes, it is a somewhat more daunting challenge than the others I’ve taken on, but it can be done. In the end, it will be worth it.”

The first part of the daunting challenge was to raise the $70 million+ to pay for the restoration. This was achieved through a complex array of public and private financings along with government grants, incentives and tax credits. Suffice it to say that Riley was able to get the deal done because there are still enough people of culture and influence in Central New York who appreciate that Hotel Syracuse deserves to be preserved, and that Ed Riley is the man to preserve it.

With the financing in place, Riley’s next task was to remove all the debris from the building, demolish the unwanted additions and choose the right architects to design and oversee the restoration. The sole objective of this project was to restore the building to its grandeur, remaining as faithful as possible to the original design and decoration.

Riley chose locally-based Holmes-King-Kallquist & Associates (HKK) to provide architectural services relating to all the historic components of the building’s restoration, including the overall preservation strategy.

Exterior restoration included parapet reconstruction; the patching, replacement and cleaning of brick masonry, decorative cast stone and terra cotta components; the restoration and recreation of historic window systems; the replication of ground-floor storefront systems, historic marquees and signage; and the replacement of all roofing systems.

Interior restoration included all historic spaces on the ground floor, lobby, mezzanine, typical hotel floors, and tenth-floor ballroom level. Historic elevator cab interiors, main reception desk, original millwork, decorative cast plaster and polychromatic painted wall and ceiling finishes and numerous other original architectural components were recreated. In addition, HKK was responsible for the design of all of the new restaurants and bars in the historic interior spaces.

Many Challenges

“This entire project presented myriad challenges,” says architect Jamie Williams, senior associate with HKK, which was responsible for preparing all of the design and construction documents. “The one that stands out in my mind was conducting months of field work over the course of a Central New York winter in an unheated building. Man, it was cold.”

Williams cites one other particularly difficult challenge involving the severely damaged historic masonry façade, which required extensive restoration of complex components, including brick, decorative cast terra cotta, monumental wood windows, a bronze revolving door entrance, and the replication of the original decorative marquis.

The renovation and restoration of the hotel guest rooms and housing quarters were assigned to New York-based MLG Architects, which has a track record of designing memorable, high-quality hospitality spaces. MLG’s primary task was to convert 600+ small guest rooms into 281 spacious, luxury rooms and historic suites, replete with ornate decorative finishes and the finest modern fixtures.

The restoration of the Hotel Syracuse involved more than 100 trades and an army of tradesmen, including artisans and craftsmen of the highest skill. A prime example is the venerable and locally based Stickley Audi & Company (formerly L. & L.G. Stickley Inc.), which made the furniture for the hotel’s opening. It was only fitting that Riley would hire Stickley to refurbish the original wood “coffin guest room doors.”

Grand Light of Seymour, CT, had the very challenging task of taking down, refurbishing, rewiring and replicating the amazing array of chandeliers located in the Persian Terrace, Grand Ball Room, and Main Lobby. The chandeliers in each location were originally fabricated using a wide range of different materials, including plaster, brass, bronze and steel, which required the Grand Light artisans to use a considerable variety of restoration techniques.

For the chandeliers in the Grand Ballroom, thousands of crystal beaded strands were replicated using Austrian crystal. A key element in the restoration of both the old and new fixtures was to ensure that all of the colors applied during this process were historically accurate and matched the originals, as well as complement the colors of the ornate murals in the hotel.

The Color Scheme of Hotel Syracuse

Riley is particularly proud of the restoration of the entire color scheme in the Persian Terrace and Grand Ballroom, conducted by New Jersey’s John Tiedemann Inc. (JTI), which was also responsible for restoring the extensive historic ornamental plaster and flat plaster, and for consolidating a delaminated section of plaster-on-metal lath ceiling.

After removing the white overpaint, JTI artist and artisan Katerina Spilio created exposure windows to reveal the colors and styles of the original decorative painting throughout the huge rooms. She then developed a color palate and techniques involving 15 different finishes to match the original decorative schemes, including faux marble, faux wood, decorative glazes, faux stone and stencils. “It was very important for us to get back to the original colors and designs,” Riley says, making special mention of faux plaster painting on the Persian Terrace ceiling that uncannily resembles wood.

Riley also points to the restoration of the 40-ft. mural located behind the lobby reception desk, which had been inexplicably hidden by mirrors. The mural was painted in 1948 by artist Carl Roters to depict the history of Syracuse to celebrate its centennial birthday. Marek Mularski, art conservator with John Tiedemann Inc., began the mural’s restoration by carefully removing old varnishes and grime from the surface. He then repaired the damaged areas and in-painted wherever necessary, being careful to match Roters’ long and distinctive brush strokes.

Going forward, Hotel Syracuse will operate under the banner of Marriott Syracuse Downtown, and will be the official hotel for the Onondaga County Convention Centre just two blocks away. Riley expects the convention centre to generate 20 percent of the hotel’s guests. It should also draw well from the nearby hospitals and Syracuse University. The hotel has already booked 90 weddings for the next 12 months.

The restored historic hotel was scheduled to reopen in August of this year, following the “Forever Hotel Syracuse Gala,” which was attended by 1,500 people. When operating at full throttle, the hotel will feature three restaurants, five bars and employ 300 people.

The “Old Gal” has come back to life, her venustas has been restored and she’s ready to delight and raise people’s spirits again. The timing couldn’t be better. It’s just a few short years until 2020 and the start of what Ed Riley hopes will be a renewal of the Roaring Twenties.

Select Suppliers
General Contractor: The Hayner Hoyt Corporation, Syracuse, NY
Restoration of mural and historic plaster; decorative finishes; consolidation of delaminated plaster on expanded metal lath: John Tiedemann, Inc., North Arlington, NJ
Refurbished wood doors: Stickley Audi & Company, Manlius, NY
Restoration/replication of historic lighting: Grand Light, Seymour, CT
Marquis reconstruction: PWF Enterprises, Phoenix, NY
Plaster treatment methods and products: Historic Plaster Conservation Services USA, North Arlington, NJ

The post Historic Hotel Syracuse Saved appeared first on Traditional Building.

Restoring The Lincoln Ballroom

Read about the Lincoln Ballroom restoration, at the Union League of Philadelphia.

Restoration of the Lincoln Ballroom, at the Union League of Philadelphia
BLT Architects, Philadelphia, PA; Eric M. Rahe, AIA, LEED AP, principal in charge; Donna D. Lisle, AIA, LEED AP, senior associate, project manager; Robert B. Graves, AIA, project architect

By Martha McDonald

President Taft was on hand on February 12, 1913, when the Lincoln Ballroom, a grand room on the second floor of the Union League of Philadelphia, was dedicated. The elegant 95×72-ft., 6,500-sq.ft. room features a 32-ft. high ceiling, a chandelier that had been converted from gas to electricity, and walls lined with portraits of the former presidents of the League.

The Union League of Philadelphia itself was established in 1862 during the Civil War to support President Lincoln, and it brought in John Fraser to design the original French Renaissance-style building, completed in 1854. Two Beaux-Arts additions designed by Horace Trumbauer in 1910 included the Lincoln Ballroom.

While the ballroom has served the League and the city for years, it was never completed as designed by Trumbauer and over time, it had become out of date. In 1979, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. More recently, the recent renovation of the ballroom by BLT Architects completes Trumbauer’s vision and brings it up to contemporary standards.

“The Lincoln ballroom is the sixth project we have worked on with Union League, starting with a master plan, and including meeting rooms, restaurants and lounge spaces,” says Eric M. Rahe, AIA, LEED AP, principal in charge. “The ballroom is a significant space in Philadelphia. It is used both by members and for outside events. It has long history in Philadelphia.”

The goal was to restore the character of the room and at the same time integrate lighting, acoustical, AV and foodservice, including the renovation of the main kitchen in basement, and service pantries on either side with modern food service equipment.

Perhaps the most visible part of the job was creating the elaborate coffered ceiling originally envisioned by Trumbauer, but never built. Luckily, the League kept archives and the designers were able to find drawings of his original plans for the ceiling. “The project included the ballroom and two foyers, which were built as planned, but the ceiling in the ballroom was left as a flat plaster surface,” says Rahe. “We came across drawings of original ballroom, and found that the original design was never built.”

“The drawing was an unfinished sketch,” says Robert B. Graves, AIA, project architect, “so there was a lot of speculation about the intent of the original colors.” The designers worked with Barbara Eberlein of Eberlein Design Consultants, Philadelphia, and researched other projects to create the new design and the rich palette of colors. “We researched other Trumbauer buildings, and looked at period publications, and in the end it was an interpretation, based on similar work that he did at the time, in combination with finding something aesthetically pleasing for the space,” says Rahe.

The result is a replacement in kind ceiling made of glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) framework with historically correct embellished profiles forming the dentil and coffer ornament. The GFRG ceiling was supplied by Formglas of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and shipped to Philadelphia in pieces. It was installed by S&S Resource of Newtown, PA.

The ceiling included other challenges. “The ceiling came with a lot of difficulties, mostly in terms of lighting,” explains Donna D. Lisle, AIA, LEED AP, senior associate, project manager. She notes that the ceiling is 32 feet off the floor, and the room is quite large (6,800 square feet) and it is used for a variety of functions – weddings, banquets and auditorium events. “They wanted focused pinpoint lighting on the tables, and in a room of that scale, there are many ways to arrange tables.”

A complex lighting and controls arrangement was needed to accommodate many seating options, and to prevent glare as lights focused form the high ceiling. Updated lighting in the ballroom included LED downlights inserted into the coffer rosettes and recessed adjustable fixtures added to the perimeter molding. These can be controlled to illuminate flower centerpieces in a variety of arrangements. Hidden cornice lighting illuminates the fabric and frieze on the walls and new lighting was also developed to light the presidential portrait gallery.

Another lighting consideration involved the large historic chandelier in the center of the room. This was restored and four complementary smaller corner chandeliers were added. These were created by Jefferson Art Lighting Co., Ann Arbor, MI.

In addition to incorporating this complex lighting system into the ceiling, the designers also had to consider modern HVAC systems at the same time. “Part of that interpretation was incorporating HVAC above the ceiling in a limited space,” says Graves. “That affected the depth of the coffer design was. We needed to keep space for the new systems, so it was a careful balance.”

He adds: “The drawing we found was a sketch. It didn’t have a lot of specifics on decorative elements. A certain amount was traditional, like egg and dart and acanthus leaves, but it took a lot of research to add detail, and make the ceiling work with new systems, allowing holes for air diffusers and lighting, and to light them up in ways that they didn’t detract from the decorative pattern.”

“Another decision we had to make concerned height of the coffers,” says Lisle. “They were sketched to be much deeper than the space allowed. To ensure a design consistent with Trumbauer’s style and intent, we went to a number of buildings that Trumbauer had designed, measuring coffers and noting details. Along with researching the Trumbauer archives at the Athenaeum historic library, we designed the ceiling to match decorative elements and utilize color to add perceived depth.”

The project also included the restoration of the flooring and the decorative finishes on the wall, and the full-height windows. Upholstered panels of stretched damask on the walls provide a backdrop for the portraits of the League’s past presidents and contribute to the acoustics of the room.

A continuous frieze mural based on a 19th-century example in Wightwick Manor in England was added to balance the rich walls and ceiling. It was created by Hugh Luck of Pine Street Studios in Wenonah, NJ.
In addition to the historic finishes and new mechanical systems in the ballroom itself, the project also included updating the two flanking foyers, the serving pantries and the large basement kitchen. “The League decided to redo the main kitchen at the same time,” says Lisle. “There are a number of ballrooms and restaurants in Union League that are served by this kitchen.”

The ballroom pantries, one on either side, have elevators from the main kitchen. “These were renovated at the same time,” she adds. Projecting into the existing ballroom were large screens to shield the pantry service. We created new ‘secret’ doors to replace them, so the service is now unobtrusive, and the original room intact.”

“Preservation has always been a part of our practice,” says Rahe. “The Lincoln Ballroom has been a significant project for our firm.”

Select Suppliers

General Contractor:
Daniel J. Keating Co., Narberth, PA

Interior Design:
Eberlein Design Consultants, Philadelphia, PA

HVAC Subcontractor:
Edward J. Meloney, Inc., Lansdowne, PA

Electric Subcontractor:
Pusey Electric, Media, PA

Upper Wall Frieze:
Hugh Luck, Pine Street Studios, Wenonah, NJ

Custom Chandeliers:
Jefferson Art Lighting, Ann Arbor, MI

GFRG Ceiling:
Formglas, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

GFRC Ceiling Installer:
S&S Resource, Newtown Square, PA

Painting/Faux Wood Restoration:
Buttonwood Co., Inc., Eagleville, PA

Ceiling Decorative Finish:
John Canning & Co., Cheshire, CT


The post Restoring The Lincoln Ballroom appeared first on Traditional Building.

Christine G. H. Franck Receives Clem Labine Award

Christine G. H. Franck is the 2016 recipient of the prestigious Clem Labine Award.

By Gordon Bock

Sometimes, words do have the power of actions, as when they’re charged with the zeal of the traditional architecture gospel. By virtue of her demonstrated commitment – both professional and personal – to infusing humane values into architectural education, Christine G. H. Franck ( is the 2016 recipient of the Clem Labine Award. “Christine is a tireless networker,” explains Clem Labine, founder of Traditional Building and Period Homes magazines, “[who] through her writing, teaching, and public speaking, has stressed to both students and practicing professionals alike that architecture is a public and social art.”

In contrast to a design award that acknowledges an exemplary building, the Clem Labine Award, which began in 2009, publicly honors an individual’s personal achievement. “The winner of the award is always an outstanding example of a life with a purpose,” says Labine, “given to a person who, over an extended period of time, has demonstrated both professional and personal devotion to creating a more humane and beautiful built environment.”

If a life-labor of preaching architectural education sounds comparable to a calling, the likeness is not far-fetched. “I think when you’re mission-driven,” says Franck, “what you really want to see is change, is impact – whether it’s in work as a designer or as an educator.” Labine, who has known Franck for 25 years, calls her a “missionary for the classical tradition.”

Indeed, over a career that began with architectural degrees from the University of Virginia and University of Notre Dame, Franck has more than once converted from designer to academic, often helping to create whole new educational venues – and for whole new organizations. The words first and founding surface regularly in her CV.

An early example is a set of seasonal programs that turned out to be an epiphany as much for Franck as for the students. In the latter 1990s, while working in the office of noted classical architect Allan Greenberg in Virginia, Franck got word that the then-named Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture wanted to start a summer program in the U.S. – and with it an opportunity to develop and run the school. “I jumped at the chance,” she recalls, “and scrambled around to put a proposal together.” Ultimately, she worked with the director of the program, Dr. Richard John, to administer a two-month course of study, which in turn opened doors to teaching a studio in Rome the next year for Notre Dame, followed by administering a second American summer program for the Prince of Wales’s Institute. “In a roundabout manner, this is how my career shifted from a primary focus on practice to a primary focus on education,” she says.

Learning from a Landmark

In a way, the course for Franck’s ‘Life with a Purpose’ was set at an early age – so early, in fact, she had yet to drive a car. “I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia (the city that includes Colonial Williamsburg) and, as a child, I thought that was the kind of world that most people lived in – where you could walk or ride your bike downtown or go to a small grocery store.”

She says it was a world filled with beautiful buildings, in a town plan that’s laid out in a way that makes its political logic clear. “It’s everything that traditional architecture and urbanism is good at producing.” However, when Franck later moved to the 1980s suburbs of northern Virginia and then began to study architecture, she sensed something was wrong. “We lived in the worst suburban sprawl where I had to drive everywhere. My father got up at 4:30 AM to commute to work. It radically changed me.”

While completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Architecture, she set herself on a path of self-education that included working at firms like Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and Allan Greenberg, LLC. “Moving on to graduate school and working, I became aware that there were other people like me, and that there was a lot more to learn about how to make good places – that, in fact, we used to know how to do it very well.”

She says she began to link up with this broad network of people who, at this stage, were just starting to find each other and connect the dots by forming organizations, such as the Institute of Classical Architecture (now ICA&A). Franck came to the fledgling organization when it was about five years old, first with a stint as Executive Director, and then through a succession of roles where needed.

“I was first put on our Advisory Council, and then joined our National Board, from 1998 until 2010,” she says. Over the course of that tenure, Franck helped grow a variety of educational efforts that included summer programs, continuing education programs, and salons. “I continued the pattern that the Institute already had, but then added things, such as when Richard Cameron and I developed the Rome program, the Institute’s first travel program.” This program has become a series that now goes all over the world. “Through the academic programs committee that I chaired, we developed a really robust continuing education program that now runs on a regular basis, including offering a certificate from the Institute.”

In the mold of many true-believers, Franck is a classic self-starter. “I would say my work always has the same inspiration: If I see something that needs to be done, I try to do it myself, or figure out who can.” As an example, Labine cites developing ICA&A tutorial seminars in association with the American Institute of Building Designers as one of her outstanding achievements. “This pioneering program exposed several hundred residential designers to the theory and principles of classicism,” he says.

In fact, Franck describes realizing that two attendees for a New York continuing education class, Bud Lawrence and Bobby Morales, were actually from Florida. “Are you two really flying up here for classes three weekends in a row?” she asked. When they answered, “Yeah, because we really need to learn this, and all our guys need to learn this, and you’re the only people teaching it,” she took it as a sign. “Out of that conversation, the ICA&A hatched the idea of developing a program specifically for home builders and residential designers in Florida to help them learn about different American architectural traditions.”

Where No Traditionalist Has Gone Before

For Franck, the process of growing architectural education programs has itself grown into something more. “There’s the direct educational work, in terms of developing new programs, teaching them, staffing them, and working with students,” she explains, “but then there’s the non-profit work of helping to develop organizations like the ICA&A,” She says she learned so much from service to the ICA&A (“I think I’ve been on just about every board committee we had.”)  that, using the same kinds of models, she’s been able to help other organizations, such as INTBAU (International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism).

“INTBAU is an international organization that promotes the social and civic benefits of the world’s varied architectural traditions,” explains Labine. “Christine’s pro-bono work with INTBAU has extended her influence beyond the U.S. borders, and her outreach work there has helped advance the cause of classical and traditional design on both sides of the Atlantic.” As she explains, early on in its formation, among other activities, she helped advise the set-up of INTBAU’s chapters, which now number some 22 around the world. This summer, 2016, Franck will be in Sweden for INTBAU’s first summer program.

Ever eager to take on a challenge, in 2013 Franck joined the College of Architecture & Planning at the University of Colorado Denver in order to create the new Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA). She currently serves as its first Director. “It’s not only a culmination of everything I’ve been doing  so far,” she says, “but also I think it’s where we need to see the most change in terms of helping schools of architecture engage with and learn from the past.”

Says Labine, “Her work at CARTA will help shape architectural education for years to come.” The center has to be self-funded, says Franck, “And thanks to a kind gift from the Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust and our founding sponsors, we have our basic operational costs covered for a three-year period.” But being a challenge grant means she still has to raise additional funding. Nonetheless, Franck has made good use of her resources, awarding some $30,000 worth of scholarships in the last three years and launching the College’s first Career Fair program.

The fair, which started with 12 traditional architecture firms, now features about 50 firms and involves the whole college. “For me, both my paid work and my pro-bono educational work have the same focus,” she says. “It’s making sure that we provide opportunities for students, architects, and anyone else who wants to learn about traditional architecture — what it is, how you make it, and why it’s beneficial.”

Previous recipients of the CLEM LABINE Award

Alvin Holm, Alvin Holm A.I.A. Architects

Steven W. Semes, Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture

Ray Gindroz, cofounder of Urban Design Associates (UDA)

Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED, Principal for Preservation Goody Clancy

Milton W. Grenfell, Grenfell Architecture

Robert Baird, Vice President, Historical Arts & Casting

Gordon Bock, co-author of The Vintage House (, lists his fall 2016 courses, seminars, and keynote addresses at

The post Christine G. H. Franck Receives Clem Labine Award appeared first on Traditional Building.

Moving National Preservation Policy Forward

An opportunity to revise the Guidelines of the National Park Service for Historic Preservation.

By Steven W. Semes

During the month of April of this year, the National Park Service solicited public comment on proposed revisions to their Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties, a document designed to supplement the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and offer more detailed advice for managing historic structures, districts and landscapes. The goals of the current revision were “to ensure this guidance continues to reflect current historic preservation methods and technologies, show how historic structures can be made more sustainable, and support efforts to rebuild the economic vitality of rural and urban communities.” These Guidelines (and the Standards themselves) were last revised in 1995, so this is an important opportunity for the preservation community to influence the future direction of national policy in the field.

The most widely-applied of the Standards are those for Rehabilitation, dealing with the preservation and adaptation of buildings for continuing or new uses and to bring them into conformance with modern needs for accessibility and sustainability. In general, the new Guidelines for Rehabilitation offer welcome advice, especially regarding specific treatments for historic features and materials.

On the other hand, the sections dealing with the interface between historic and new construction, whether in the form of replacements for missing or irretrievably damaged elements, or additions to historic buildings and new structures in historic districts, raise several challenging questions. As it stands, the current draft may actually increase rather than reduce confusion on the part of state and local authorities who rely on the Standards and Guidelines for best practices. Phrases like “false historical appearance” and “compatible contemporary design” perpetuate biases that have frequently led to stylistic choices that undermine the aims of preservation.

The Guidelines’ repeated warnings against creating a “false historical appearance” will be interpreted by some to mean that designing new elements in what appears to be a historical style is “not recommended,” and instead only a “compatible contemporary” style should be used. But  no historical style can be considered “false,” and the term “contemporary” can only indicate a temporal condition (i.e., design as practiced at the present time), not a style. Present-day architectural practice ranges from informed classical and traditional design to avant-garde modernist work, and some current tendencies are more sympathetic to historic architecture than others.

The choice of a style for new work in a historic setting should be consistent with the maximum preservation of historic character, and so a variety of approaches and styles is to be expected in practice, reflecting the variety of styles in contemporary use as well as within the historic sites themselves. The NPS recommendation of a “compatible contemporary design,” therefore, can only mean an appropriate design by a living architect in whatever style the architect chooses, so long as the result is compatible with the historic character.

In fact, the present draft is not consistent in its terminology, sometimes recommending against new features “not in a compatible contemporary design,” while elsewhere barring new features that are “incompatible with the existing historic character of the property.”  The latter is a far better formula and references to “false historical appearance” and “compatible contemporary design” should be deleted.

Source of Confusion

A major source of confusion has been the use of the terms “differentiated” and “compatible” in Standard 9 of the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation, but the revised Guidelines for Rehabilitation do not address this. The introduction to the Guidelines says “A new addition should be compatible but differentiated enough so that it is not confused as historic or original to the building.”

But what is “differentiated enough”? Should a relatively uninformed person be able to identify an addition at a glance? Or should it be distinguishable upon close inspection by a knowledgeable person, but otherwise visually congruent with its setting? In practice, many authorities have found it easier to evoke “differentiation” by means of stylistic and material contrast and relegate “compatibility” to mere conformance in size, resulting in unnecessary losses in historic character.

Distinguishing old and new construction can be accomplished by means other than stylistic contrast, including the use of interpretive materials that explain the historical development of the site, but these options are not clearly presented in these revisions. The result is likely to be continuing stylistic bias and visual dissonance.

The problem of “differentiation” goes to the heart of preservation philosophy and practice: is the purpose of preservation to make clear the date of construction of every part of a historic building or setting, thereby emphasizing the difference between the past and the present? Or is it to maintain the historic character of a site by preventing the introduction of new features whose contrasting character would diminish the integrity of the setting?

An alternative terminology was suggested by NPS Architectural Historian John Sandor in Traditional Building’s Roundtable discussion in the February 2011 issue of Traditional Building, when he suggested substituting “deferential” for “differentiated,” thereby emphasizing respect toward the historic building, rather than focusing on making the new parts “look different.” Given the decision not to revise the Standards for Rehabilitation themselves, the Guidelines should take up this useful suggestion.

Replacement of Elements for Historic Preservation

Another issue raised by the proposed revisions to the Guidelines concerns the replacement of missing but documented elements that “did not coexist with features currently on the building.” In the absence of any examples, it is difficult to understand exactly how this applies to specific cases. For example, would a replacement Georgian door hood (based on documentation) be permitted if it had been removed during an earlier alteration that at the same time added the Victorian cornice that is currently on the house?

If so, this introduces a concept of stylistic or period “purity” into the discussion and privileges the conditions currently found on the building at the expense of those from earlier, and potentially more significant phases. This seems inconsistent with the more flexible approach to replacement of missing features otherwise taken in the Guidelines for Rehabilitation.

The proposed Guidelines state that “Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved,” but they offer no guidance for deciding which changes are historic “in their own right” and which constitute

“non-significant buildings, additions, or landscape features which detract from the historic character of the building” and, therefore, can be removed. There has been a tendency in some quarters to view as “historic” any change to a site that has survived for 50 years, regardless of its impact on our perception of the site and its significance. The alternative to this is to refer to the sources of significance listed in the National Register nomination form and give them priority.

Delayed Completion

A related issue concerns what I have elsewhere termed “delayed completion.” The Kennedy-Warren Apartments in Washington, DC, and other similar cases have raised the question of whether a design left unfinished in its original construction period can be completed at a later date according to the initial architect’s documented design intent, or whether doing so obscures our understanding of “how the building came down to us in history,” in the words of a former Chief Architect at NPS Technical Preservation Services.

The Guidelines for Restoration and for Reconstruction simply declare, “Designs that were never executed historically will not be constructed.” This strikes anyone familiar with European monuments as rather strange, since so many of them were completed only after long and intermittent building phases extending into the modern era. To bar realization now of an architect’s initial intent is to freeze the site in a state of perpetual incompletion. Instead, it would be appropriate to refer to the sources of the site’s significance listed in the National Register nomination to determine whether the original design intent or the historical development of the building through its various phases of construction should be recognized as the more important factor in the site’s significance.

Finally, the Guidelines include a general prohibition of relocating structures. While it is certainly best to maintain buildings in their original contexts, there are circumstances when we face the choice between relocation or total loss of a resource. Since buildings were sometimes moved even within the historical periods, this blanket proscription seems unwarranted.

The case of the houses in New Orleans relocated after Hurricane Katrina, or to avoid the construction of the new Veterans Administration Hospital there, raised this issue with new urgency. Creating infill in a historic district by moving in houses of similar character from a nearby troubled neighborhood could be an appropriate way to preserve threatened structures without introducing non-conforming new construction into the new setting. While relocation should always be considered a last resort, the NPS should provide guidance for those cases in which it may be the only alternative to loss.

Now is the time for the NPS to reconsider those aspects of the Standards and Guidelines that have been a source of confusion in the field and either modify them or offer more complete justification on a rational basis than has been offered until now. The future of the past is at stake.

Steven W. Semes is Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. He was Academic Director of the Notre Dame Rome Studies Program 2008-2011 and splits his teaching duties between Rome and the main campus. Educated at the University of Virginia and Columbia University, he is the author of The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation (2009) and The Architecture of the Classical Interior (2004), as well as dozens of articles. He has been a regular contributor to Traditional Building and Period Homes, and his blog, The View from Rome appeared 2010-15. From 2013 to 2015 he was Editor of The Classicist for the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. He is currently writing a book about the traditional architects of the inter-war period in Rome and preparing an English translation of selected writings of the pioneering Italian architect and restorer, Gustavo Giovannoni.  

The post Moving National Preservation Policy Forward appeared first on Traditional Building.

Stern Channels Rogers at Yale: New Quads in New Haven


Visiting New Haven the other day to attend the Palladio Awards gave me the opportunity to nose around the construction site of Robert A. M. Stern Architects’ two new residential quadrangles at Yale. They are in the Collegiate Gothic style of James Gamble Rogers. Fencing and the subtle warnings of hidden security guards kept my nosiness from getting out of hand. The construction has proceeded admirably. The two campuses are expected to open in the fall of 2017.

On my Architecture Here and There blog, I posted “Work on new Yale campus,” with photographs showing progress as of about two weeks ago. There was nothing to the post except the photos. Last month, in “Yale’s ‘edifice complex’?” I linked to a fine essay by architecture critic Duo Dickinson, who writes for the New Haven Register and the Hartford Courant. He said the new campuses will avail the benefits of an Ivy education to 800 more students a year. He adds:

The decision to hire Stern, by then-[Yale] President Rick Levin and a small group, signaled that the university did not want its first new residential colleges in 60 years to be “signature” fine arts statements like their immediate predecessors, Morse and Stiles colleges, built in 1961 by Modernist Eero Saarinen.

James Gamble Rogers (1867-1947) designed eight of the ten residential campuses built at Yale during the 1930s. Stern’s work at Yale tips his hat to the Collegiate Gothic of Rogers, the same Rogers who used subterfuge – workers splashing acid on stone – to achieve a venerable look sooner than time would have provided on its own. Even some classicists might blanche at the idea. I do not hear that Stern’s homage to Rogers goes that far. Still, these new colleges qualify as signature fine-arts statements far more elegant and ingenious than what Yale’s president said the school did not want to build.

Dickinson added further that Stern is local talent. He was born in Brooklyn and his firm is headquartered in New York City but he recently stepped down after almost two decades as dean of Yale’s school of architecture. I suppose that’s about as local as you can get. He also got his master’s in architecture at Yale, in 1965.

For these two residential campuses, named Anna Pauline Murray (’65 JSD) College and Benjamin Franklin College, Stern is listed on the RAMSA website as one of three project partners, joined by Melissa DelVecchio and Graham S. Wyatt. The project manager is Jennifer Stone. Dimeo is the general contractor.

The two campuses will fill 6.7 acres south of the Ingalls Rink and across the street from the crenellated Osborn Memorial Laboratories. Some 450 workers labor on-site daily. When I passed through, at around 6 p.m. on a Wednesday (actually the day after the awards program, which I missed), there seemed to be nobody around. I tried to breach the fence, like a diligent reporter, but a distant unseen voice cried out, “You can’t do that!”

So, instead, through the chain-link apertures I poked the stubby lens of my camera. It is a relatively sophisticated point-and-shoot, a Nikon S9700 whose 30x telephoto can bring me right up close to the “first examples of hand-carved stone ornament” described by Yale’s latest “Construction Update” as already in place on some facades, notably along Prospect Street.

I could espy nothing clearly identifiable (by me) as hand-carved stone. But maybe I am too attuned to seeing cast stone, a concrete masonry that stimulates stone, and trying to decide whether it looks hand carved. Most stone detailing needn’t be hand carved to display a virtuosity impressive in our day and age. Along the Prospect facades I saw details and trim that seemed marinated in the sculptor’s art. A pair of cornice parapets that seemed to dip in gentle curvature as they met at a corner seemed even more hand carved than the small ornamental squared panels aligned above an Ionic pilastered entry arch.

I know someone will dispute this, but if a passerby can’t tell, how much difference does it really make whether a bit of architecture, acknowledged by all observers as beautiful, is rendered by hand or by machine? Stern is said to have chosen brick as the primary material here to keep costs down. But the brickwork that I saw looked like it had been shaped, colored and set by hand. No doubt hand work is morally superior to machine work, but if machine work looks like hand work, then … well, maybe there should be a Palladio for fine brickwork, be it real or Memorex.

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