Contract - Renovate and Reuse: Higher Education’s New Mantra

design - essay



Renovate and Reuse: Higher Education’s New Mantra

09 September, 2010

-By Robert Brown, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP and Paul Viccica, AIA



All college and university presidents wish to leave a positive, noticeable mark on their institutions and ensure that they boast cutting-edge facilities that help attract the best students and faculty. For many, cutting-edge means new. Over the past few decades, it is no secret that colleges and universities have engaged in a kind of facilities arms race to build new, state-of-the-art dormitories, dining halls, classrooms, athletic complexes and fine arts centers. Higher educational institutions face enormous competitive pressures to build buildings which rival their peer institutions. These pressures have not abated and may well intensify as colleges compete for a shrinking pool of students in the years to come. But more and more colleges lack the financial resources to continue to participate in this competitive drive to build brand new buildings as endowments have shrunk and donations to fund capital projects have dramatically slowed due to the economic downturn.

Renovating existing buildings might just be the new “new” for colleges and universities.  Renovating or updating systems and technology in existing facilities for the same use, reconfiguring buildings for entirely new functions and building new or replacing old inefficient additions to existing structures can yield enormous benefits - benefits which may even surpass those of new construction.  Those gains can include increased utilization of the campus core, control of scope and program creep, greater efficiency, reduced costs, enhanced sustainability, and improved town-gown relations. In fact, the more you look at renovation and reuse, the more appealing it is as an approach to planning, design and building regardless of the economic climate.

Of Academics, Economics and Neighbors

On most campuses in the United States, especially older institutions, the central campus core represents the iconic image of their college or university.  It is here that you will typically find the oldest and the most important architectural expressions of history, pedagogy and mission. The campus core is often considered sacrosanct by alumni and trustees and any potential change to the core is typically met with resistance, trepidation and fear of altering the “brand”.  For this reason, most new construction takes place on the outskirts of college campuses where there is often underutilized or open property on which to build new buildings to support new or expanding programs or academic services. Often overlooked when expansion of space is considered, buildings that make up the core campus are typically perceived as too architecturally restrictive to be adapted to new uses. These usually historic structures may have outlived their intended usefulness or have gradually evolved to house functions that may not be the optimal use of desirable space at the heart of the campus.

A strategy emphasizing the renovation and reuse of these important buildings can enhance the functionality of the core campus while maintaining the character of the buildings and identity of the college. Creating new uses for older buildings can help integrate an increasingly diverse body of students by bringing them into the center of the campus, as opposed to new buildings which may radiate students out to the edges of campuses.  Renovations are also opportunities to enhance space utilization, such as finding space for additional classrooms or faculty offices out of the same buildings, significantly reducing underutilized space. Reconfiguring can often create better quality space by allowing schools to implement new technologies such as new IT and audio-visual systems, and create smart classrooms and new teaching configurations that support evolving pedagogical approaches.  

New building construction translates into fresh usable space on campus and often engenders a “blue sky” approach, encouraging each department to go-it-alone and push their own demands.  As a result, faculty and administrators may seize opportunities to expand existing and create new programs, sometimes independent of the institutional directive or student/faculty needs. Renovation and reuse tends to create a different dynamic.  Inherent limits on space can help tamp down expectations and curb departmental “wish lists” down to “needs now lists.” At Wellesley College, Pendleton Hall was renovated from an underutilized and technology-poor, general classroom building to a state-of-the-art learning center housing seven academic departments–Anthropology, Economics, Education, Japanese, Political Science, Sociology, and Studio Art–in the center of campus. The results has been dynamic, with more cross-disciplinary teaching and shared symposia. At Middlebury College, the beloved 1927 Starr Library building on the historic Old Stone Row portion of campus was renovated into the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, a new home for five previously disparate departments–English, History, American Literature and Civilization, and Film and Media–in a strategic move by the College when the library was relocated to encourage cross-disciplinary interaction at the heart of the campus.  These existing facilities only have so much built-in capacity and the sometimes difficult process of decision-making during the programming and planning stages, when undertaken as a collaborative effort by all departments involved, can be their critical first interdisciplinary initiative.

Renovation and reuse not only makes sense from an academic perspective but from an economic one as well. At Miami University, the college is looking to make substantial improvements to its existing residential and dining facilities over a twenty year period to increase the diversity of housing arrangements and attract students.  The 41 buildings are being thoroughly analyzed and categorized by level of renovation needed, from minimal to substantial, and budgets are being developed for each level of intervention.  In their dining facilities, improved serving stations, expanded seating and updated finishes will support expanded dining options and improve efficiencies.  These improvements are seen as magnets that can keep more students on campus and help Miami capture monies that might otherwise have been spent off campus.

A recent analysis by Shawmut Design and Construction estimates that campuses can save any where from 23 to 108 percent by renovating an existing building, depending on the age of the structure, in contrast to building new.  The analysis finds that utilizing existing foundations and the shells (outer walls) of buildings can represent enormous cost savings. Colleges also can forego the expense of acquiring additional land, which may be necessary for new construction. This is especially important for urban campuses where the land may be particularly expensive or where property may be unavailable contiguous to the core campus. Renovations do not always require installing new infrastructure to support the buildings, which can be served by existing water and sewer lines, and electrical and IT wiring. While systems upgrades may be needed if a building is being adapted for new uses, these are typically less expensive, not to mention disruptive, than installing new systems. The Shawmut analysis estimates that construction schedules are nearly 20 percent shorter, as the majority of the work is interior where construction is less susceptible to seasonal and weather delays. As a result, payback periods for these investments can be considerably shorter, as colleges extend the life of existing buildings, spread sunk costs over longer time periods and gain new, vital program space.

Renovation and reuse can pay big dividends in a college’s relationship with its neighbors, helping smooth delicate town-gown relations. New construction, because it often is done on the outskirts of campus, is more likely to abut surrounding neighborhoods and directly impact residents.  Even if the intent of adding new buildings is not to expand the number of students but to upgrade facilities, in the public mind new buildings mean more space and thus greater capacity to add students, noise, and traffic.  Even if a college maintains that there will be no increase in student enrollment, it is hard to argue that new buildings located nearer to neighborhoods, built for student use, will not negatively impact their environment. Building anew will generally require campuses to submit to an intensive and often protracted and contentious public approval process. While you may need to secure zoning changes to accommodate a new use for an existing building, the public approvals for existing buildings are considerably easier to attain and the process is less likely to attract negative attention.

Old is the New Modern

Sometimes there is no substitute for new construction.  New dorms may be needed to accommodate higher enrollments or increase the percentage of students living on campus. Colleges and universities may also choose the new construction route for reasons having to do with promoting sustainability, ensuring high-performing facilities and enhancing funding.  But renovation and reuse as a strategy are not an impediment to any of these objectives, and many existing buildings can be efficiently and cost-effectively modified to accomplish a number of these modern goals.

College leaders confront strong pressures from students, board members and their peers to create more environmentally sustainable campuses. It is natural to link energy efficiency and environmentally conscious design to new construction. But sometimes, the oldest buildings on campus embody sustainable elements and can be retrofitted easily to reduce waste and energy consumption. Existing buildings embody energy and materials that were spent in their production. Demolition of existing buildings produces waste while new construction requires that we expend new energy and resources.  Reuse of existing buildings will often produce the least environmental impact. A study undertaken by Mike Jackson noted that energy embodied in existing buildings, particularly well built historic structures, should be included in a holistic approach to sustainability.  Mr. Jackson’s research compared renovating an existing building and improving its efficiency by 30 percent (meeting Energy Star Standards) to the construction of a new building.  It took a period of over 50 years before new construction would achieve any life-cycle energy savings– longer than the life span of most new buildings and certainly longer than the average age for significant renovation of the new structure.

Many existing buildings, especially those built before World War I, are ripe for improvements that enhance their energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. Replacing old mechanical systems for heating, air conditioning and ventilation with new state-of-the art systems can deliver enormous energy savings. The floor-to-ceiling height of old buildings makes it easier to install these new systems.  Air infiltration and solar heat gain have the most dramatic impact on energy use to sustain an acceptable indoor environment. Care must be taken not to undermine the integrity of existing building’s envelope in the name of restoration by carefully evaluating the most effective investments which result in the greatest energy savings without causing harm to the historic structure. Insulating unheated attic and basement spaces, rehabbing existing windows (rather than replacing), eliminating weight pockets that introduce cold air into the building (an equivalent of opening the window) and using window shading devices to cut solar heat gain are examples of non invasive, economical investments with very short payback periods which result in significant energy savings.  

Existing buildings, especially some of the oldest, are extremely well built and have features that can be adapted to many different academic uses, from new dry science buildings to residence halls to faculty offices and classrooms.  Ironically, some of the newest buildings can be the most difficult to upgrade, as many post-World-War II structures were built of poured concrete, and their low ceilings make it difficult to integrate contemporary lighting, technology and electrical systems.

Finally, there is a question of whether colleges can raise funds or sell naming rights for renovations as opposed to brand new facilities. Certainly, there will be donors who will only support a new facility. But, in general, there is no need to forfeit gift and naming opportunities as long as donors can see that the renovation contributes to the educational quality and reputation of the school.  In fact, attaching names of current donors to buildings bearing the names of historic college or university leaders can have a powerful appeal. For example, Donald Everett Axinn, the great businessman and author, saw fit to offer Middlebury College a gift to realize the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library, a renovation and adaptive reuse project that has transformed the campus core.
 
The Optimum Strategy

Colleges and universities can’t decide in the abstract whether pursuing new construction or renovation is the best approach.  That decision will depend on many factors having to do with the site, existing buildings and institutional objectives. Any approach will come with a set of tradeoffs that need to be weighed and balanced against the benefits.  However, as colleges and universities continue to face a challenging and uncertain economic future, they should take a fresh look at their master plans to see how renovation and reuse of many of their existing buildings can help them achieve both short- and long-term objectives. Renovation and reuse are often thought of as “second-best” solutions, but they can be the optimum strategy and produce results every bit as effective as new construction.  Sometimes in architecture, the less obvious the change, the bigger the impact.

Side Bar: Three Waves of Academic Expansion

The academic expansion in the US occurred in three broad waves of building:
1. The late 19th − early 20th century: 1870−1920
2. Post-World War II: 1940−1970
3. Late 20th century : 1980−2000

With each era there were significant advances in building and systems design that either helps or hinders renovation and adaptive reuse. Each era also responds to differing educational challenges in building type, which also impacts the buildings’ ability to take on new users.

LATE 19TH − EARLY 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1870−1920

This was the beginning of most US academic settings as land grant, religious, agricultural or technical institutions. As a reaction against the urban college experience, many of these new 19th century schools were located in rural areas of the country making higher education available to a greater number of Americans. Schools were mostly rural retreats from the harsh city life, with beautiful bucolic formal layouts. Buildings were designed as Georgian, Victorian, Classic and Federal styles and were typically three stories in height, using brick, granite, limestone, wood and slate.

What is unique among these structures is their historic significance to the institution and its heritage. Typically located at the core of the campus, they are the most beloved buildings to the institution and its Alumni.

Their renovation and adaptive reuse preserves treasured buildings, maintains the core campus scale and can re-enliven these buildings with new uses more pertinent to today’s evolving pedagogy. In many cases the buildings have already had one and perhaps two previous renovations in the 1950s and 1970s, which may have impacted their historic fabric. Due to their age, all of their new systems need a complete upgrade to incorporate efficient heating, cooling and fire protection. Buildings of this era typically have raised basements, vacuous roofs and ample vertical shaft space that allows for reasonable distribution of systems. Their exterior envelope was typically very thick masonry with smaller windows that allow for energy saving improvements through the use of double glazed windows and adding insulation to walls, roof and basements. Internally, there are often very decorative reading rooms, lounges and lobbies which embody the schools’ traditions and history.

Additions or changes in these late 19th century buildings are either historically accurate stylistic additions or contrastingly contemporary. On most campuses, these buildings have been restored or colleges are contemplating new restorations in response to poor mid 20th century interventions which have degraded their historic importance.

MID 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1945−1980S

After World War II, the return of American GI’s and the beginning of the baby boom, there was tremendous pressure on campuses to attract a “New Middle Class Student’” with housing, classrooms and athletic programs. In many cases, late 19th century buildings were torn down for new “modern structures”. It was often a philosophy of “out with the old and in with the new”. Unfortunately, the new modern buildings were built very fast and with little emphasis on longevity, planning to be used for only 25−30 years.

Historic styles were still being built on campuses as neo gothic, neo Gorgian or other architectural style revivals However, Bauhaus modern style, which rejected all historic detail, was being designed by hundreds of architects, and not as successfully as the style masters of Mies, Le Corbusier and GropiusThis was also the invention of mass production of building products and the use of concrete as a building material, in a new “Brutalist” style.
Taken together these buildings transformed the size, scale and character of almost every US campus, and in hindsight, often for the worse. Whereas the late 19th century buildings were built thick with many voids to move systems through, mid century modern buildings are very thin with exposed structure and large single glazed windows. In many instances, it is very difficult to thread new systems through these buildings or replace the single glazed windows with equal sized, energy efficient window systems. On many campuses these structures represent buildings with the highest operating and deferred maintenance costs.

When considering renovation and/or adaptive reuse of these structures, they do posses several positive attributes. The structural systems are typically long span, replacing the restrictive bearing wall systems of older building and therefore can accommodate a greater variety of uses. These modern buildings typically have flat roofs where distribution of systems can be done horizontally with multiple vertical shafts. Creating an energy efficient envelope is equally challenging, as glazing systems, structural systems and wall systems connect the outside to the interior without thermal breaks. The building program for mid 20th century buildings was also the expansion of science and technology on campus, which continues today as a growing and changing environment.

LATE 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1980S−2000

Following the 1970’s recessions, where building was reasonably curtailed, the twenty-year period from 1980 to the end of the century saw additional campus growth. Science and technology boomed, as did business schools, law schools and a race for space to be competitive with your peer institutions. Stylistically, there continued to be modern buildings, but also Neo-Georgian, Neoclassical and the newly invented Post Modern historic style.

Renovation of these buildings is just beginning as their systems and programs approach 25−35 years. In most cases, their contemporary structural and mechanical systems need new replacement pieces. In many cases, there were some advanced systems and building technology introduced into these structures, but the continued advancement of high performance and efficient technology, and lowering of its cost, make replacement likely.

As a reaction to the energy crisis of the 1970s emphasis on greater energy efficiency resulted in better envelope and glazing systems. Rapid advances in building envelope technologies were also used extensively in these structures. There were advances in mechanical system design, although these systems may lack today’s energy efficient technology such as heat recovery, economizers or other efficiency elements.

From a physical layout standpoint, classroom, residence, office and other teaching space are comparable to contemporary academic needs.

 

Robert A. Brown, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, is a principal at the Boston architectural firm, CBT.  Paul Viccica, AIA, is an associate principal at CBT.

 

 




Renovate and Reuse: Higher Education’s New Mantra

09 September, 2010


All college and university presidents wish to leave a positive, noticeable mark on their institutions and ensure that they boast cutting-edge facilities that help attract the best students and faculty. For many, cutting-edge means new. Over the past few decades, it is no secret that colleges and universities have engaged in a kind of facilities arms race to build new, state-of-the-art dormitories, dining halls, classrooms, athletic complexes and fine arts centers. Higher educational institutions face enormous competitive pressures to build buildings which rival their peer institutions. These pressures have not abated and may well intensify as colleges compete for a shrinking pool of students in the years to come. But more and more colleges lack the financial resources to continue to participate in this competitive drive to build brand new buildings as endowments have shrunk and donations to fund capital projects have dramatically slowed due to the economic downturn.

Renovating existing buildings might just be the new “new” for colleges and universities.  Renovating or updating systems and technology in existing facilities for the same use, reconfiguring buildings for entirely new functions and building new or replacing old inefficient additions to existing structures can yield enormous benefits - benefits which may even surpass those of new construction.  Those gains can include increased utilization of the campus core, control of scope and program creep, greater efficiency, reduced costs, enhanced sustainability, and improved town-gown relations. In fact, the more you look at renovation and reuse, the more appealing it is as an approach to planning, design and building regardless of the economic climate.

Of Academics, Economics and Neighbors

On most campuses in the United States, especially older institutions, the central campus core represents the iconic image of their college or university.  It is here that you will typically find the oldest and the most important architectural expressions of history, pedagogy and mission. The campus core is often considered sacrosanct by alumni and trustees and any potential change to the core is typically met with resistance, trepidation and fear of altering the “brand”.  For this reason, most new construction takes place on the outskirts of college campuses where there is often underutilized or open property on which to build new buildings to support new or expanding programs or academic services. Often overlooked when expansion of space is considered, buildings that make up the core campus are typically perceived as too architecturally restrictive to be adapted to new uses. These usually historic structures may have outlived their intended usefulness or have gradually evolved to house functions that may not be the optimal use of desirable space at the heart of the campus.

A strategy emphasizing the renovation and reuse of these important buildings can enhance the functionality of the core campus while maintaining the character of the buildings and identity of the college. Creating new uses for older buildings can help integrate an increasingly diverse body of students by bringing them into the center of the campus, as opposed to new buildings which may radiate students out to the edges of campuses.  Renovations are also opportunities to enhance space utilization, such as finding space for additional classrooms or faculty offices out of the same buildings, significantly reducing underutilized space. Reconfiguring can often create better quality space by allowing schools to implement new technologies such as new IT and audio-visual systems, and create smart classrooms and new teaching configurations that support evolving pedagogical approaches.  

New building construction translates into fresh usable space on campus and often engenders a “blue sky” approach, encouraging each department to go-it-alone and push their own demands.  As a result, faculty and administrators may seize opportunities to expand existing and create new programs, sometimes independent of the institutional directive or student/faculty needs. Renovation and reuse tends to create a different dynamic.  Inherent limits on space can help tamp down expectations and curb departmental “wish lists” down to “needs now lists.” At Wellesley College, Pendleton Hall was renovated from an underutilized and technology-poor, general classroom building to a state-of-the-art learning center housing seven academic departments–Anthropology, Economics, Education, Japanese, Political Science, Sociology, and Studio Art–in the center of campus. The results has been dynamic, with more cross-disciplinary teaching and shared symposia. At Middlebury College, the beloved 1927 Starr Library building on the historic Old Stone Row portion of campus was renovated into the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, a new home for five previously disparate departments–English, History, American Literature and Civilization, and Film and Media–in a strategic move by the College when the library was relocated to encourage cross-disciplinary interaction at the heart of the campus.  These existing facilities only have so much built-in capacity and the sometimes difficult process of decision-making during the programming and planning stages, when undertaken as a collaborative effort by all departments involved, can be their critical first interdisciplinary initiative.

Renovation and reuse not only makes sense from an academic perspective but from an economic one as well. At Miami University, the college is looking to make substantial improvements to its existing residential and dining facilities over a twenty year period to increase the diversity of housing arrangements and attract students.  The 41 buildings are being thoroughly analyzed and categorized by level of renovation needed, from minimal to substantial, and budgets are being developed for each level of intervention.  In their dining facilities, improved serving stations, expanded seating and updated finishes will support expanded dining options and improve efficiencies.  These improvements are seen as magnets that can keep more students on campus and help Miami capture monies that might otherwise have been spent off campus.

A recent analysis by Shawmut Design and Construction estimates that campuses can save any where from 23 to 108 percent by renovating an existing building, depending on the age of the structure, in contrast to building new.  The analysis finds that utilizing existing foundations and the shells (outer walls) of buildings can represent enormous cost savings. Colleges also can forego the expense of acquiring additional land, which may be necessary for new construction. This is especially important for urban campuses where the land may be particularly expensive or where property may be unavailable contiguous to the core campus. Renovations do not always require installing new infrastructure to support the buildings, which can be served by existing water and sewer lines, and electrical and IT wiring. While systems upgrades may be needed if a building is being adapted for new uses, these are typically less expensive, not to mention disruptive, than installing new systems. The Shawmut analysis estimates that construction schedules are nearly 20 percent shorter, as the majority of the work is interior where construction is less susceptible to seasonal and weather delays. As a result, payback periods for these investments can be considerably shorter, as colleges extend the life of existing buildings, spread sunk costs over longer time periods and gain new, vital program space.

Renovation and reuse can pay big dividends in a college’s relationship with its neighbors, helping smooth delicate town-gown relations. New construction, because it often is done on the outskirts of campus, is more likely to abut surrounding neighborhoods and directly impact residents.  Even if the intent of adding new buildings is not to expand the number of students but to upgrade facilities, in the public mind new buildings mean more space and thus greater capacity to add students, noise, and traffic.  Even if a college maintains that there will be no increase in student enrollment, it is hard to argue that new buildings located nearer to neighborhoods, built for student use, will not negatively impact their environment. Building anew will generally require campuses to submit to an intensive and often protracted and contentious public approval process. While you may need to secure zoning changes to accommodate a new use for an existing building, the public approvals for existing buildings are considerably easier to attain and the process is less likely to attract negative attention.

Old is the New Modern

Sometimes there is no substitute for new construction.  New dorms may be needed to accommodate higher enrollments or increase the percentage of students living on campus. Colleges and universities may also choose the new construction route for reasons having to do with promoting sustainability, ensuring high-performing facilities and enhancing funding.  But renovation and reuse as a strategy are not an impediment to any of these objectives, and many existing buildings can be efficiently and cost-effectively modified to accomplish a number of these modern goals.

College leaders confront strong pressures from students, board members and their peers to create more environmentally sustainable campuses. It is natural to link energy efficiency and environmentally conscious design to new construction. But sometimes, the oldest buildings on campus embody sustainable elements and can be retrofitted easily to reduce waste and energy consumption. Existing buildings embody energy and materials that were spent in their production. Demolition of existing buildings produces waste while new construction requires that we expend new energy and resources.  Reuse of existing buildings will often produce the least environmental impact. A study undertaken by Mike Jackson noted that energy embodied in existing buildings, particularly well built historic structures, should be included in a holistic approach to sustainability.  Mr. Jackson’s research compared renovating an existing building and improving its efficiency by 30 percent (meeting Energy Star Standards) to the construction of a new building.  It took a period of over 50 years before new construction would achieve any life-cycle energy savings– longer than the life span of most new buildings and certainly longer than the average age for significant renovation of the new structure.

Many existing buildings, especially those built before World War I, are ripe for improvements that enhance their energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. Replacing old mechanical systems for heating, air conditioning and ventilation with new state-of-the art systems can deliver enormous energy savings. The floor-to-ceiling height of old buildings makes it easier to install these new systems.  Air infiltration and solar heat gain have the most dramatic impact on energy use to sustain an acceptable indoor environment. Care must be taken not to undermine the integrity of existing building’s envelope in the name of restoration by carefully evaluating the most effective investments which result in the greatest energy savings without causing harm to the historic structure. Insulating unheated attic and basement spaces, rehabbing existing windows (rather than replacing), eliminating weight pockets that introduce cold air into the building (an equivalent of opening the window) and using window shading devices to cut solar heat gain are examples of non invasive, economical investments with very short payback periods which result in significant energy savings.  

Existing buildings, especially some of the oldest, are extremely well built and have features that can be adapted to many different academic uses, from new dry science buildings to residence halls to faculty offices and classrooms.  Ironically, some of the newest buildings can be the most difficult to upgrade, as many post-World-War II structures were built of poured concrete, and their low ceilings make it difficult to integrate contemporary lighting, technology and electrical systems.

Finally, there is a question of whether colleges can raise funds or sell naming rights for renovations as opposed to brand new facilities. Certainly, there will be donors who will only support a new facility. But, in general, there is no need to forfeit gift and naming opportunities as long as donors can see that the renovation contributes to the educational quality and reputation of the school.  In fact, attaching names of current donors to buildings bearing the names of historic college or university leaders can have a powerful appeal. For example, Donald Everett Axinn, the great businessman and author, saw fit to offer Middlebury College a gift to realize the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library, a renovation and adaptive reuse project that has transformed the campus core.
 
The Optimum Strategy

Colleges and universities can’t decide in the abstract whether pursuing new construction or renovation is the best approach.  That decision will depend on many factors having to do with the site, existing buildings and institutional objectives. Any approach will come with a set of tradeoffs that need to be weighed and balanced against the benefits.  However, as colleges and universities continue to face a challenging and uncertain economic future, they should take a fresh look at their master plans to see how renovation and reuse of many of their existing buildings can help them achieve both short- and long-term objectives. Renovation and reuse are often thought of as “second-best” solutions, but they can be the optimum strategy and produce results every bit as effective as new construction.  Sometimes in architecture, the less obvious the change, the bigger the impact.

Side Bar: Three Waves of Academic Expansion

The academic expansion in the US occurred in three broad waves of building:
1. The late 19th − early 20th century: 1870−1920
2. Post-World War II: 1940−1970
3. Late 20th century : 1980−2000

With each era there were significant advances in building and systems design that either helps or hinders renovation and adaptive reuse. Each era also responds to differing educational challenges in building type, which also impacts the buildings’ ability to take on new users.

LATE 19TH − EARLY 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1870−1920

This was the beginning of most US academic settings as land grant, religious, agricultural or technical institutions. As a reaction against the urban college experience, many of these new 19th century schools were located in rural areas of the country making higher education available to a greater number of Americans. Schools were mostly rural retreats from the harsh city life, with beautiful bucolic formal layouts. Buildings were designed as Georgian, Victorian, Classic and Federal styles and were typically three stories in height, using brick, granite, limestone, wood and slate.

What is unique among these structures is their historic significance to the institution and its heritage. Typically located at the core of the campus, they are the most beloved buildings to the institution and its Alumni.

Their renovation and adaptive reuse preserves treasured buildings, maintains the core campus scale and can re-enliven these buildings with new uses more pertinent to today’s evolving pedagogy. In many cases the buildings have already had one and perhaps two previous renovations in the 1950s and 1970s, which may have impacted their historic fabric. Due to their age, all of their new systems need a complete upgrade to incorporate efficient heating, cooling and fire protection. Buildings of this era typically have raised basements, vacuous roofs and ample vertical shaft space that allows for reasonable distribution of systems. Their exterior envelope was typically very thick masonry with smaller windows that allow for energy saving improvements through the use of double glazed windows and adding insulation to walls, roof and basements. Internally, there are often very decorative reading rooms, lounges and lobbies which embody the schools’ traditions and history.

Additions or changes in these late 19th century buildings are either historically accurate stylistic additions or contrastingly contemporary. On most campuses, these buildings have been restored or colleges are contemplating new restorations in response to poor mid 20th century interventions which have degraded their historic importance.

MID 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1945−1980S

After World War II, the return of American GI’s and the beginning of the baby boom, there was tremendous pressure on campuses to attract a “New Middle Class Student’” with housing, classrooms and athletic programs. In many cases, late 19th century buildings were torn down for new “modern structures”. It was often a philosophy of “out with the old and in with the new”. Unfortunately, the new modern buildings were built very fast and with little emphasis on longevity, planning to be used for only 25−30 years.

Historic styles were still being built on campuses as neo gothic, neo Gorgian or other architectural style revivals However, Bauhaus modern style, which rejected all historic detail, was being designed by hundreds of architects, and not as successfully as the style masters of Mies, Le Corbusier and GropiusThis was also the invention of mass production of building products and the use of concrete as a building material, in a new “Brutalist” style.
Taken together these buildings transformed the size, scale and character of almost every US campus, and in hindsight, often for the worse. Whereas the late 19th century buildings were built thick with many voids to move systems through, mid century modern buildings are very thin with exposed structure and large single glazed windows. In many instances, it is very difficult to thread new systems through these buildings or replace the single glazed windows with equal sized, energy efficient window systems. On many campuses these structures represent buildings with the highest operating and deferred maintenance costs.

When considering renovation and/or adaptive reuse of these structures, they do posses several positive attributes. The structural systems are typically long span, replacing the restrictive bearing wall systems of older building and therefore can accommodate a greater variety of uses. These modern buildings typically have flat roofs where distribution of systems can be done horizontally with multiple vertical shafts. Creating an energy efficient envelope is equally challenging, as glazing systems, structural systems and wall systems connect the outside to the interior without thermal breaks. The building program for mid 20th century buildings was also the expansion of science and technology on campus, which continues today as a growing and changing environment.

LATE 20TH CENTURY BUILDINGS: 1980S−2000

Following the 1970’s recessions, where building was reasonably curtailed, the twenty-year period from 1980 to the end of the century saw additional campus growth. Science and technology boomed, as did business schools, law schools and a race for space to be competitive with your peer institutions. Stylistically, there continued to be modern buildings, but also Neo-Georgian, Neoclassical and the newly invented Post Modern historic style.

Renovation of these buildings is just beginning as their systems and programs approach 25−35 years. In most cases, their contemporary structural and mechanical systems need new replacement pieces. In many cases, there were some advanced systems and building technology introduced into these structures, but the continued advancement of high performance and efficient technology, and lowering of its cost, make replacement likely.

As a reaction to the energy crisis of the 1970s emphasis on greater energy efficiency resulted in better envelope and glazing systems. Rapid advances in building envelope technologies were also used extensively in these structures. There were advances in mechanical system design, although these systems may lack today’s energy efficient technology such as heat recovery, economizers or other efficiency elements.

From a physical layout standpoint, classroom, residence, office and other teaching space are comparable to contemporary academic needs.

 

Robert A. Brown, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, is a principal at the Boston architectural firm, CBT.  Paul Viccica, AIA, is an associate principal at CBT.

 

 

 


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