Why Building Restoration May Be Better Than Raze-and-Rebuild

By Eric Peterson – GlobeSt.com

In the past, as often as not, the tendency has been to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones. The whole redevelopment and reuse genre has, of course, taking on new meeting in land challenge New Jersey, and with it has come new interest in taking older buildings in need of significant repair and restoring and reusing them.  That includes everything from commercial buildings to residential properties to schools.

One proponent of that movement is Michael Sackler, an architect with The Ives Architecture Studio, in Fair Lawn, NJ.  While structures with historic significance continue to be among the most popular candidates for preservation, TIAS is seeing a stepped up number of restoration efforts prompted by environmental consciousness.

“People have always been interested in preserving existing buildings, especially when the property has some type of significance in the community,” Sackler says.  “More recently, the conservational benefits of reusing older structures have become a major focus. In short, reuse is one of the best things you can do to preserve resources, and building modernization also frequently allows the incorporation of energy-efficient elements. In addition, depending on the level of rehabilitation, repairs can be far less costly than rebuilding.”

One example, Sackler says, is PS 34 in Jersey City, designed by locally renowned architect John Rowland and built in 1911.  The aging school building was in need of window replacement to correct a growing water infiltration issue, and the Ives Team was retained as designer for the project. The firm brought a preservation specialist to consult on the building’s historic terra-cotta and brickwork.

“It was understood that we would preserve as much of the original façade as possible and that we would replace any pieces beyond salvation with closely color matched materials,” Sackler recalls.  “By using a smaller mortar color and join size in repairing the brick facing, we were able to create a seamless transition between what remained and what is new.”

According to Sackler, razing and rebuilding PS 34 was considered but rejected for number of reasons, including it’s architectural significance.  Beyond that, however, rebuilding would have cost more than double the repair budget.

“The quality of new construction cannot match that of older structures,” Sackler says. “In the particular case of PS 34, it would have been cost prohibitive to re-create the brick and terra-cotta detailing.”

Because the work on the school was deemed a “necessary repair,” the project was not subject to the scrutiny of the local or state his state preservation societies. Many projects, however, do require approval by these types of organizations. 

In a general context, the goals of historic preservation, energy conservation and cost efficiency can find themselves in conflict, says Sackler. So it’s important to consider each project individually.

“Sometimes, the historic significance of the structure, both to its owner and it’s community, can outweigh the more practical considerations of cost and efficiency,” he explains.

One example: TIAS’s Sackler was tasked to analyze the replacement, in-kind, of the 100-year-old red slate roof of preforming arts building at a prominent New Jersey college. This rare type of slate is available only at one quarry in upstate New York, and college officials have decided to pay a premium for the material.

“Replacing the roof with red asphalt would be far less expensive, and the lighter color material would adhere better to up’ green’ standards,” he says. “But there’s little chance that such a departure from the original material would be allowed, as it would degrade the integrity of this beautiful old building.”

According to Sackler, the practice of restoration encompasses such a broad spectrum of work that what he terms the “correct approach” is in consideration of each projects unique circumstances.

“Reusing an old building is inherently efficient,” he concludes. “At the outset, the most important thing to do is to establish what is there in the first place. It then becomes possible to envision the revitalization that, ideally, works to balance history, modernization and cost.”

Originally published on www.GlobeSt.com.  Edited and republished here by ives-arch.com.


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The Ives Architecture Studio (TIAS), based in Fair Lawn, NJ, has over 30 years experience in the disciplines of architecture, interior design & planning.

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