Recovering the Past

As an industry veteran with a soft spot for adaptive reuse projects, The Architectural Team’s co-founder, Bob Verrier, explains why historic buildings are of too great importance to our identity to be considered disposable..

by Robert Nieminen

Bob Verrier has never met a historic building he didn’t love. In fact, the award-winning architect speaks so endearingly about them you get the impression that he might get choked up as he recalls some of the more notable projects he’s been involved with over the years. When Verrier describes the run-down mills in the Boston area where he has worked as an architect for more than five decades, restoring them and giving them new life, it’s as if he’s talking about old friends.

Such kinship with one’s work is a rarity these days—especially one that is born out of an abiding respect for the past and for what architecture represents to communities.

“I’ve always been interested in old buildings because they’re so incredibly beautiful, and when you see them empty and not being used, it’s a terrible thing to see,” explains Verrier, FAIA, vice president and managing principal of Chelsea, Mass.-based The Architectural Team (TAT), which he co-founded in 1971. “Many of these historic buildings serve as a gateway into communities, towns and cities, and ponder the historic past of these cities. They are a very important fabric to these neighborhoods.”

His affinity for historic structures began at the ripe age of 19, when, at the suggestion of John McKee, then principal architect at Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates, the young architect took a trip to Europe. He spent five months traveling the continent, exploring how people and architecture relate, and learning the importance of maintaining historic structures.

“Nobody would tear down an old structure in Europe,” Verrier says emphatically. “They would always maintain them, repair them. And as I said, these buildings become the fabric of the neighborhoods and the cities, and that’s what makes the cities so interesting and gives them vitality—the old structures.”

To illustrate his point, Verrier notes that during the Industrial Revolution, factories and mills were the focal point around which towns were built because they employed hundreds of people and represented an unprecedented opportunity for upward mobility.

“One of the interesting things about these buildings is that, once you go in them, they’re intriguing. You walk through and you can imagine all the people working with all the equipment they had, and the buildings were one of the most important things happening to these people their entire lives,” he explains. “They worked there, they shopped there, they had medical care, and it’s all because of the mill building and the owners of the mills.”

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