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04.15.2009
01_Adaptive Reuse
Four preservation projects -- a barn, a grain elevator, a nurses' dormitory, and a power plant -- show that repurposing old buildings for new uses needn't sacrifice soul.

Sharon Risedorph Photography
 

1.

St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation
St. Kitts, West Indies
Sander Architects

Adaptive reuse doesn’t get much more drastic than Los Angeles–based Sander Architects’ transformation of a derelict, 18th-century cotton barn into a scientific research facility. Situated on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean, the existing building was little more than a ruin when work got started in 2004. Hurricanes had blown the roof off, termites had eaten through the timber framing, and jungle foliage had enshrouded the structure. But what remained of the two- to three-foot-thick stone walls, quarried from the island’s volcanic base, was as sturdy as ever and possessed enough charm to convince the facility’s manager, Gene Redmond, that it was worth preserving. “It’s a beautiful old structure,” said Redmond. “The first architect I talked to advised bulldozing it. I said, ‘No, thank you.’”


The 18th-century barn was built of sturdy stone walls, quarried from the island's volcanic base.
 
gene redmond

 
 

While the walls were in good shape, the design called for raising them four feet to maximize usable space on the upper floor of the 10,000-square-foot facility. Two feet of this height was added with stone cannibalized from other structures of the same vintage on the island. The remaining two feet was made up by a clerestory window along the base of the pitched roof, which lets ample daylight into the interior. Gaps in the envelope were filled with new concrete block walls, which were then plastered over, or glass brick, which offers the benefit of letting light in while remaining impervious to hurricanes. The roof—itself capable of withstanding 500-mile-per-hour winds—is made up of insulated corrugated iron panels on custom-designed, light-gauge steel framing. The framing was prefabricated in sections in Richmond, California, and shipped to the island, where local labor bolted them in place. The architects also designed a curve in the hip of the roof to avoid the typical pointy ridge, where wind can get in and tear things apart.

The architects completely reframed the building’s three floors with poured-in-place concrete, with the exception of one existing stone column that is off kilter by a foot from its base to its top. “Whoever built this must have drunk too much grog,” said principal Whitney Sander, “but it still functions. It’s load bearing. The foundation wanted to get rid of it, but I fought for it. This crazy element is part of the soul of the building.”
 





Bradley Images 
 

2.

Silo Point
Baltimore, Maryland
Parameter

When it was completed in 1923, the grain elevator in Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood was the largest and fastest in the world, every year conveying 3.8 million bushels of grain from railcars to transatlantic cargo ships. By 2003, however, the facility had become a dilapidated nuisance to owner Archer Daniels Midland. But developer Patrick Turner and architect Chris Pfaeffle of Baltimore firm Parameter saw potential in the structure. “Looking at it I thought, tall, long, thin—residential would be interesting,” said Pfaeffle. It was also a 300-foot-tall building on the water in an area zoned for low-rise residential and industrial uses. “The developer and myself, we love old buildings,” continued Pfaeffle. “We really wanted to keep it because it was a great building, but it would have been impossible to build anything new that tall in this neighborhood.”


The rugged structure required both wholesale and surgical interventions. 
 
jeanine turner

 
 

Repurposing the one-time grain plant for residential use while maintaining its industrial aesthetic required both surgical and wholesale interventions. Most of the 23-story tower, with its traditional loft-style layouts and 14-by-14-foot windows, was a cinch, but the top six stories—where the grain scales once lived—were enclosed in a corrugated iron box framed with steel dunnage designed to support cranes, not the load of floors. Parameter demolished and completely reframed this portion of the building with a new steel structure positioned on the existing concrete column grid. Since the existing structure wasn’t completely plumb, much of the new steel had to be fabricated on site, assembled in sections on the ground and then craned up to the top and bolted in place. For cladding, the architects replicated the existing facade, except at the top two stories, which comprise an all-glass penthouse.

Adjacent to the tower portion was a 130-foot-tall silo farm, each silo a hermetically sealed concrete bunker. Fitting residential spaces into this portion proved too difficult, so the architects demolished most of it. In the center of the space they erected a 540-car parking garage wrapped with new glass-clad residential spaces, all built upon the existing foundation. Silos were left in place at the corners, as well as in a row separating the garage from the tower, where Parameter inserted linking bridges. “You can walk through the silos,” said Pfaeffle, “and look 100 feet up and 30 feet down—a space that once would have killed you.”
 





Paul Rivera/Archphoto
 

3.

P.S. 59
New York
Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects

When New York City’s Educational Construction Fund struck a deal with a developer to build a new home for P.S. 59 that would be topped by revenue-producing property, part of the bargain was the provision of swing space so the elementary school students would have a place to attend class while construction was underway. Looking for a space sufficient to accommodate 500 children, the developer found a 90-year-old dormitory for nurses attached to the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. Though a little narrow in plan, the building fit the bill nicely, and the hospital was willing to let it go. Together with the School Construction Authority (SCA), the developer hired Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects (EE&K) to reconfigure the dorm’s musty halls into what should become the first completed school to meet the requirements of the city’s Green Schools Guide and Rating System.


A long-span structure was placed atop the existing dormitory building to accommodate a new gym.
 
COURTESY EE&K
 
 
 

To bring the building up to SCA standards, EE&K started with a complete gut of the interior and the rearrangement of the stair and elevator cores. “A residential property in New York City has generous allowances for dead-end corridors,” said James Greenberg of EE&K, “but a school or anything else has very restrictive regulations for safety reasons.” The next challenge was to integrate mechanical systems within the nine-foot-six-inch floor-to-ceiling heights. “It was really a Rubik’s Cube to make the mechanical systems work,” continued Greenberg. “We had to have everything in a single stratum. We ran split ducts with sprinklers between them. It was hairsplitting work.”

The most challenging aspect of the adaptation was finding room for a gym. As nothing obvious presented itself within the existing envelope, the architects removed the roof as well as the sixth floor’s columns and replaced them with a long-span structure that provides a 16-foot-high clear space from the floor to the bottoms of the beams. Raising the roof above the level of the existing parapet also gave EE&K room to insert clerestory windows. Though the building’s masonry walls are load bearing, they weren’t sufficient to support the new space. To remedy this, the architects ran transfer beams beneath the floor of the gym to carry the load to the steel column grid below. This also opened up space for a spring-loaded acoustic isolation barrier, to keep those studying unaware of those playing.
 





www.mcconnellphoto.net
 

4.

Seaholm
Austin, Texas
Ayers Saint Gross

On a prominent site separating a booming downtown residential district from Town Lake, the Seaholm Power Plant, built in the 1950s, is one of Austin’s most distinctive midcentury structures. Its red neon sign, towering stacks, and stark concrete mass are immediately recognizable landmarks. So when it was decommissioned in 1996, and following a nine-year remediation of hazardous materials, the city drafted a redevelopment masterplan and issued an RFQ to develop the site.

The winning team, including Southwest Strategies Group and Baltimore architects Ayers Saint Gross (ASG), programmed the site for new high- and low-rise construction to house a mix of office, residential, hospitality, and special-event space. The Seaholm building itself, with its cavernous turbine hall ringed by high clerestory windows, was envisioned as a retail center. “The model is the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco,” said Ann Powell of ASG.


The 8-acre development will reconnect the city to the colorado river.  
 
COURTESY tbg

 
 

While the interior of the turbine hall will be renovated to maintain its industrial, cast-in-place concrete aesthetic, the south portion of the building, one-time offices of Austin Energy, will be retained for commercial use. The boilers and stacks that abut the north edge of the building will be semi-deconstructed, leaving parts of these elements, as well as the massive steel armature that supports them, to be integrated into a landscaped plaza that anchors the development. “The landscape architects are excited about using the physical structure,” said Powell, “taking the narrative of what the power plant did and reinventing it.”

The project, which is seeking a LEED Silver rating, will also take the reinvention of Seaholm’s narrative below grade. In generating electricity, the plant drew water from the lake for cooling purposes. Once the water was used, it was returned to its source, but before that happened its temperature had to be brought back down. This was accomplished via a network of underground pipes, which the architects plan to incorporate into a stormwater retention and irrigation system. “We wanted to identify a way of tying old and new together,” said Powell, “to take the 1950s version of how things worked and make it part of today.”

Aaron Seward

Aaron Seward is an associate editor at AN.