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

Case in point: In a typical adaptive reuse of a mill that will become a housing complex with 80 units, the existing structure contains so many raw materials that to simply demolish and replace them with newly sourced components would be nothing short of wasteful. A large mill might contain 500 wood beams, for example, and up to 800,000 bricks that would require far more energy and added costs to replace than to refurbish them and extend their useful life, he adds.

Although Verrier says not every project they undertake applies for LEED certification, the design team at TAT tries to design and build to the rating system’s standards and conduct historical studies of the building so as to preserve its integrity, although they are afforded some flexibility with the interiors.

“One of the interesting things about the interiors of these buildings [is that] they all have common areas that we’re allowed to do contemporary,” he explains. “As long as we don’t disturb the existing interior—in other words, we can’t chop out beams—we can do interiors that are quite fascinating.”

For all the historic work that Verrier undertakes, advances in technology are simplifying the process for design firms, and he predicts that the trends in sustainable design and 3D modeling will continue to push the industry forward.

“I would say that in the next three or four years, all architectural firms will be doing 3-D BIM drawings. Along with ‘green’ and LEED, you’re going to find more advanced technology in the industry from a manufacturing side as well. There are some disadvantages,” he says, “but the advantages of doing CAD and BIM are that the drawings are so much more efficient, and it reduces time and energy. The cost of producing drawings now is less expensive, really, and they’re more accurate [with] less delays and less change orders. So it’s made life easier for the architect.”

Speaking of the future, Verrier warns that unless tax credits for historic preservation are maintained by federal and state governments, the outlook for adaptive reuse projects isn’t positive. He says they’ve received word from the National Trust for Historic Preservation suggesting that some government agencies and politicians running for office are trying to stop the tax credits, which would destroy the engine that drives historic renovation projects.

“That’s very important and very dear to my heart,” he says. “So we’re working very hard with different agencies and different people in the government to maintain this tax credit, which we feel is vital to the industry.”


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