Revitalizing Historic Buildings as Modern Spaces

Revitalizing Historic Buildings as Modern Spaces

Old buildings have a special draw and appeal that aren’t seen in newer construction. Those who want to preserve the beauty of yesteryear or have an office building that stands out as unique and has a story to tell, look to historic architecture as potential commercial space.

Even though using old structures for new purposes is both good for the environment and preserves a piece of history, there are some particular challenges involved with renovating old buildings into modern spaces.  

1.      Keeping Changes Minimal

Historical building standards indicate that changes should be minimal to historically registered structures. While putting an office building into an old tobacco factory sounds cool on the surface, the way the space can be restructured due to various state and federal standards may make it difficult to use.

For example, things that make the property distinctive, such as unique craftsmanship, cannot be removed. Anything that might cause damage to historical materials can’t be used, including sandblasting. Instead, restoration must be done in a gentle manner, which also uses more hours of labor and costs more money.

2.      Developing in Blighted Areas

While you might be able to purchase a historic building in a run-down area for a song, keep in mind that you may also have to deal with issues in the neighborhood. Make sure insurance is in place to cover things such as someone writing graffiti on a freshly painted outside wall or breaking into the building and squatting inside. One company reported that clients were afraid to visit their offices due to the surrounding area.

While this isn’t always an issue and many are happy to see rehabilitation in their neighborhoods, it is a possibility that must be considered in the overall cost and effort to rehabilitate. Be a good neighbor and consider the impact the restoration will have on the homes around the area as well.

3.      Preserving Unique Features

Not only does preserving unique features allow you to meet the standards of the National Parks Service, but it also makes your building stand out and gives you history to share with those who visit your location.

For example, if you renovate an old publishing company building with transoms over the doors, keep those unique features and figure out how to utilize them and make them fresh and new for today's needs. However, preserving these unique features means careful design planning must take place. In addition, the company must be flexible about interior layouts and features in order to keep these beautiful features intact.

4.      Repairing vs. Replacing

One of the standards for preserving historic buildings requires repairing rather than replacing certain elements. The problem with this approach is that it is sometimes hard to find someone with the skill to repair woodwork, old units and even masonry.

You may have to pay the expenses of an expert who has to travel in from another location and complete the work. Even though there is a lot of time, effort and expense involved in repairing rather than replacing with new materials, the effort is worth it for those who want to keep history intact.

5.      Planning New Construction

If there is new construction added to or placed on the same property as the historical building, it must be planned in a way that won’t impact the structure’s overall integrity. If that new construction is ever damaged or removed, will the original historic building remain undamaged?

6.      Keeping the Character

Each historic property has a character all its own that reflects the time it was built and the changes the property has seen over the decades. A good project that turns the building into a modern space gives a nod to that overall character and adds the features needed for day-to-day operations without changing the underlying feel of the building.

In order to retain the character, old and new materials must be mixed in a way that sustains the older elements of the building, but adds modern conveniences that allow a company to do business. For example, the heating and cooling and wiring systems will almost certainly need to be updated, but the ductwork should be hidden to preserve the look of the building.

In one small town, a 1913 post office-turned-corporate-center shows the beauty of balancing character with modern needs. The renovation retains the Renaissance Revival character even with renovated systems and polished updates. In spaces such as this, cubicles or meeting areas might be a necessity, but old doors and glass knobs should never be removed to allow for this space. Instead, they should be integrated into the overall look of the building.

Rewards of Revitalizing Historic Buildings

Taking something that has fallen into disrepair but has strong bones and making it beautiful again is rewarding. Not only will you have a unique building at the end of the day, but you’ll also reduce the amount of new materials used, making your building more environmentally friendly.

With a little planning, an old building revamped begins a restoration of the entire community surrounding it, bringing life to the area and drawing in new businesses. Historic buildings may present design challenges, but the end result allows architects and designers to show off their ability to rise to the challenge and create something new and amazing from something old and shabby.

This post was written by Holly Welles. She is a real estate writer and the editor behind The Estate Update. She’s passionate about the ways in which the industry is changing and loves to stay on top of millennial market trends. You can find more of Holly's thoughts on Twitter @HollyAWelles.

Sources: National Park Services, LA Times, Dwell

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