Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

Architectural Adaptive Reuse

Restoring buildings to their original state, or at other times giving them new purpose, brings a lot of satisfaction. Our Thomas Jefferson project falls into this category. We are in the process of converting the circa 1920s hotel into 96 apartments targeted at Millennials, complete with food and retail on the ground floor.

One of my favorite parts of this project has been witnessing the old meld with the new.

The ballroom ceiling is a solid example. Here, we combined the original ornate plaster pattern with all new smooth insets. A laser survey allowed us to produce as-built plans and recognize the conduit, sprinkler links, hvac duct and existing structure supports above the ceiling. This let us know what was there without having to disrupt the structure. We took casts of the existing plaster that was in good shape, and used these to make molds/repair the spots where original material was crumbling.

We also left the original wood doors on the residence halls, keeping them as decorative dummies and installing modern new metal doors to function as apartment entry. The original revolving door is still in place, made operational by new components. Exterior terra cotta has been rehabbed to meet current energy codes, while still maintaining the look of the original building envelope.

There is no doubt in my mind that these old structures have a unique cultural value worth preserving. It just takes a lot of patience and sweat to get it right. While a lot of our projects can be accelerated, that’s not the case with these old buildings.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.