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

Whether these turn-of-the-century factories produced machinery, cotton, wool or beer, each one is distinct from the next and presents unique opportunities for adaptive reuse—a practice he says was not very popular when his firm opened its doors, and is still overshadowed by flashier new construction projects.

“The first few years we did this, nobody was really doing it. We were doing it because we enjoyed it. We liked the challenge,” Verrier recalls. “You have to have an imagination as to what you’re going to do in these buildings, because sometimes they’re too wide, sometimes they’re too thin, sometimes there’s so much structural damage that people walk away from them. So you really have to know what’s going on with these buildings. It’s a lot of work you have to do up front.”

The hard work has certainly paid off for Verrier, who has been has been the architect of record for more than 30 notable historic structures that have been recognized with distinguished honors, including four J. Timothy Anderson Awards for Excellence in Historic Rehabilitation, two Paul E. Tsongas Awards, and 11 awards from the Boston Preservation Alliance and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, among others. He was also personally honored by President Ronald Reagan with a National Historic Preservation Award for the preservation and adaptive reuse of the Baker Chocolate Factory in Dorchester Lower Mills, Mass. Additionally, Verrier was recently elected to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) prestigious College of Fellows, one of the highest professional honors for American architects.

With each project he tackles, Verrier applies the conviction that the best approach to conserving a historic building is to preserve its utility for a new use after its original purpose is considered obsolete. According to Verrier, historic buildings are of too great of importance to our identity and national diversity to be considered disposable. This philosophy not only pays homage to the past, but also respects the future, as extending the life of buildings is innately sustainable—a practice that predates modern green building strategies and rating systems such as LEED.

“Before people even knew about LEED, restoring these old buildings was absolutely green,” he says. “What could be more green than saving a building?”

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