Additions and Renovations to Historic Buildings Using Contemporary Style

If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it but if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life – Frank Lloyd Wright. What a simple a shape is to one may be a masterpiece to another. Find an architect to create the balance between what once was and what something needs to become is naturally a challenge as they design additions to and rehabilitate historic properties. This task is not only challenging but also exhilarating for an architect.


Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Desden, Germany – Wikimedia Commons

The Palm Beach architectsBoca Raton architects and West Palm Beach Architects’ guidelines for preserving, rehabilitating, restoring and reconstructing historic buildings are discussed in the Secretary of Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Those responsible for developing and promulgating preservation standards and guidance, specifically as it relates to historic buildings, is the office of Technical Preservation Services (TPS) in the Cultural Resources Directorate of the National Park Service.

There is no formula for designing a new addition or related new construction on a site, nor is there generally only one design approach. Given the task to create a new addition or add on to an existing structure the architect must keep in mind the proportions between the original historical building and the current new addition. Dresden’s Military History Museumin Germany, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is an ideal example of how the architect kept in mind the massing scale and detail of the original building yet the new addition is clearly unlike the original neoclassical structure.

Rex Nichols, the chairman of historical preservation board in Boca Raton, says “one of the more challenging aspects of a design is to incorporate a fresh, clean, minimalist, contemporary style that is compatible to the historic building. Part of an architect’s responsibility as they plan their design is to keep in mind the use of current technology and sustainable materials and practices such as impact windows and doors with low E glass, maximum insulation and solar panels for energy conservation”. 

The topic of sustainability shaped by Florida architects can also be found in detail in the Secretary of Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. New additions and related new construction that meet the standards can be any architectural style, traditional, contemporary or a simplified version of the historic building. To maintain the historic character and the identity of the building being enlarged many architects would argue that there should be a balance between how different the new addition is and its compatibility to the original historical building. The danger in this approach is the possibility of there not being any distinction between the old and the new design resulting in predictable, dull solutions. As one looks around at many contemporary buildings, the excitement of the design is the expression of the architectural proportions and forms which do not necessarily relate to the function of the building.

By using a more contemporary design the architect has the freedom to create a less predictable and more exciting design solution while still taking advantage of the most current and up to date intelligent materials and technology available. The final design of the new construction is a clearly distinct piece of architectural style that stands as its own and both compliments the original historical building yet simultaneously does not distract from or hinder the integrity of the original.

By Michael Hutchinson and Rex Nichols

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