Historic Preservation: Part 1
There’s much to be learned about history from what still stands today. While books and stories can teach us a lot, being able to experience history first-hand is a special experience. We’re lucky that many parts of our country’s history has been preserved, but keeping these pieces of history alive is an ongoing process. There are many tangible and intangible benefits to preserving historic buildings. Not only does preserving an historic building have a strong cultural and educational benefit, historic preservation is also an environmentally friendly process. Here are some of the benefits of preserving historical buildings:
- Retaining History: By preserving historical buildings, we’re able to hold onto the authenticity and history of the past. The aesthetics of historical buildings can appeal to both locals and visitors, commemorates historical craftsmanship, and provides contextual learning opportunities for the community.
- Economic Benefits: Historic preservation helps to increase the commercial value of a property. Typically historical buildings use very high quality materials that are either difficult or very expensive to replicate. Rehabilitation costs often cost less the new construction.
- Reuse of Building Materials: By renovating an historic property there is often less construction and debris, less hazardous materials, and less need for new materials.
- Sustainability: Besides being able to reuse existing materials, preservation also has many energy savings. There’s no energy used for demolition, new construction, or new materials.
Contractors and communities can choose from a number of approaches when it comes to preserving an historical property. There are specific standards and approaches that must be followed for the treatment of historical properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction.
This approach focuses on maintaining stabilization, repairing the existing building materials, and retaining the form of the property as it has evolved. Contractors will take measures to sustain the existing form of the building and will focus on maintenance and repair of historical materials, rather than new construction. While adding new exterior materials is not included in this approach, limited updating to the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical functions of the property is appropriate.
This approach acknowledges that the property may need to updated for modern use. Rehabilitation aims to make the property usable through repair and additions, while still preserving the historical, cultural, and architectural integrity of the property.
Restoration aims to accurately depict a property in a specific historical period only. With this approach, all features of the property from other time periods are removed and missing historical pieces may be added back. There is very sensitive upgrading to the systems in the property to deem it up-to-code.
Reconstruction uses new construction to depict the form, features, and detail of a non-existing site. This approach hopes to replicate the appearance of a property as it was in a specific period time and in its historic location.
Oftentimes these approaches are interrelated to recreate an historical property. A significant amount of historical research and documentation is required to properly rehab an historical site. Choosing the appropriate approach of treatment to an historical property is decided at project initiation. Contractors will determine if the proposed treatment plan will work with the existing state of the property and will work to minimize destruction to the property. The preferred approach is to make as little changes to the property as possible, so site assessments will help to determine character defining-features and qualities to focus on. Sometimes “preservation zones” will be determined to establish preservation priorities.
The cumulative impact of minor changes over time is often the primary concern of preservationists, which is why they set out specific goals of preservation design. These goals often include:
- Updating the building systems appropriately: This requires a delicate balance between modern features and technology to make the property useable and applicable to codes and the integrity of the building.
- Accommodate security and safety needs: Designers need to address security and safety requirements in innovative ways that do not disrupt the history of a site.
- Provide accessibility for historic properties: Sometimes this goal causes conflicts, however designers must create access for those with disabilities while also achieving preservation goals.
As commercial construction professionals in Melbourne, our team works with the community to maintain the integrity of historical properties. We’re dedicated to preserving the history of our community and enjoy working on projects that restore history to the Brevard County area. To learn more about our services or our historical rehabilitation experience, contact MEC today.