Rehabbing Historic Properties: Where to Start?

By Keat Foong, Executive EditorSee the main feature “Renovating in a Recession.”According to Steven Lovci, project architect at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP, New York, one of the first steps in a historic rehabilitation is to accumulate information about the physical structure of the existing property. Adaptive reuse typically comes with a lot of surprises, he points out. Obtaining as much information as possible about the physical building will minimize the unexpected circumstances that could cost the developer money. For example, on a recent development, transfer beams were discovered in the interior partitions which led to the need to modify the apartments from three- to two-bedrooms. Information on buildings can be obtained from conducting a survey. Getting older buildings’ architectural plans can be more challenging, and these can be obtained from historical societies, architectural firms, libraries or previous owners, Lovci, said. Even then, older plans may not be accurate, as plans may have been modified since the time the documents were drawn, he noted. For example, in a recent project, a generator had been added that was never in the original plans. Also, the drawings may not be meticulously accurate and need to be checked, he noted. For example, the columns may not be precisely where the drawings say they are. “You have to make sure all the columns are in the right place, so that when you are building the space, the column will not end up in the wrong place, for example in the middle of the bathroom,” he says. How far do you take the renovation? Given the current economic conditions, many rehabilitation line items will be deferred. Lovci said that he expects to see more and more drawings will be made for future executions, whereby the changes will be phased in over a period of time. For example, new windows in a recent project were not historic. The architect created a masterplan for the windows so that when they needed to be replaced, they will be replaced by historic designs. Also, developers may not clean buildings, but may just repoint, so that when funding becomes more available, the repointing can be phased in.