Tacoma Municipal Building – Condition Assessment

Tacoma Municipal Building from the southwest. Copyright, Richaven PLLC, 2020.

In 2019, Richaven Architecture & Preservation updated the Tacoma Municipal Building’s facade condition assessment using drone technology. Richaven demonstrated that there appears to be an increase in the number of points of deterioration on the building. Richaven also found that the severity of the observed issues appears to have increased across the board and that more intense and detailed investigation was warranted.

Following this success, in 2019-2020 the City of Tacoma contracted with Richaven for Phase 2 of the project to provide a detailed condition assessment update and budget costs for rehabilitation work, which is now in progress. Brian Rich, principal of Richaven, spent several weeks on a swing stage making close up observations, investigating every part of the façade, and noting work that needs to be done.  During this phase, samples of the cast stone were sent to the material testing lab for analysis of the materials and a better understanding of the deterioration pathology on the building. While working under the challenging circumstances of a swing stage, safety gear, and COVID-19 precautions was difficult enough, south facade exposure to the sun and 80 degrees made it significantly more difficult!

Clad in Romanite stone and copper paneling, the Art Deco style Tacoma Municipal Building was designed by John Graham, Sr., the Rhodes Medical Arts Building was built in 1930. At the time it was built, The Rhodes Medical Arts Tower was viewed as a rare privately funded work project to support the economy during the Great Depression. The Tacoma Municipal Building Complex consists of three buildings:  the Tacoma Municipal Building and tower, the Tacoma Municipal Building Garage, and Tacoma Municipal Building North. The 277-foot-tall, 17-story high-rise building was, for many years, the tallest building in Tacoma and still offers a commanding view of the downtown area.  Home to Tacoma’s government, TMB is listed on the Tacoma, Washington, and National Registers of Historic Places.

Related Article: https://www.djc.com/news/co/12131600.html

Webinar: Future-Proofing & Catalyzing Business Agility

Monday, July 29, 2019 @ 12:00 noon EST. http://catalyzingbusinessagility.com/community/#BR

Recently, the founder of the Catalyzing Business Agility website forum, Sinan Si Alhir) invited Mr. Rich to talk about Future-Proofing and the elements in this philosophy that are common with business agility.

Catalyzing Business Agility is a forum where, “in the spirit of community, we invite a kaleidoscope of perspectives that span clients, coaches/consultants, authors, and influencers across industries/domains and vantage points to explore their individual experience with Business, Agility, Business Agility, Strategy, Leadership, Culture, Execution, Technology, Transformation, and Digital Transformation.”

Here, Lynn Stafford has defined business agility as “your company’s ‘preventative health care regimen’ intended to promote sustained growth and strengthen organizational immunity to ward off cold sores and nasty, market hangovers.” The connection here is that the Principles of Future-Proofing are also a preventive care program for the built environment. The Principles can also be applied in the context of your business.

James Key Lim describes business agility as “the ability to adapt to change in a way that allows the business to survive and thrive.”

Barbara Trautlein asks “Are we able to deftly respond to changes in our environment? Do we sense what’s happening externally and proactively seek to learn and grow in new directions? Are we simultaneously able to remain true to our core — keep pointing true north — while keeping pace with change — dynamic homeostasis? Do we wisely discern between reinvention and stability

Attend the webinar to find out more: Monday, July 29, 2019 @ 12:00 noon EST. http://catalyzingbusinessagility.com/community/#BR

Overcommitteed? Aren’t We All!

Overcommitteed.  No this isn’t a misspelling!  “Overcommitteed” is the term I’ve just developed and come to use to describe the phenomena of being committed to too many different committees, regardless of whether it’s in our personal lives, professional lives or in our personal lives.

Today we find such meaning in the use of our expertise to help others that many of us would rather donate their time than their hard earned cash.  Of course, there are many organizations that are looking for the expertise that we can provide to support them.  I’ve been intensely interested in historic preservation – and so I volunteer a lot of my time and expertise to historic preservation organizations.  The value to these organizations is that they don’t necessarily have to hire an outside expert to get quick information on a particular issue.  I can provide it for them quickly and confidently at no expense.

So why do we do this?  The value to the volunteers is that they gain specific real world experience that bolsters their career in a meaningful way and allows them to work in areas of interest.  The trick to being successful in the volunteer world is to carefully manage your commitments so that you really do have the time to offer.  Look for well run committees and ways to be highly effective in committees.  A well run committee:


1. Has a clearly  agenda and purpose

2. Has completed work outside of meeting times to prepare for the meeting,

3. Is well managed (on time, leader keeps the focus on issues at hand)

4. Includes highly involved, committed members


Are you overcommitteed?

Richaven Principal, Brian Rich, Selected to the UW Husky 100

The University of Washington’s Husky 100 is an honor celebrating 100 students who are leaders on- and off-campus, committed to a discovery mindset, ready for what’s next, and connect the dots between personal, professional, and volunteer service.  Brian D. Rich, Principal of Richaven PLLC, creator of the Principles of Future-Proofing, and a UW graduate student, was selected to be a member of the 2016 Husky 100.

More information is available at:



10 Principles of Future-Proofing Historic Buildings


Figure 1: In 1982, unintended use of grout with too much gypsum caused the terra-cotta walrus heads to crack and deteriorate rapidly at the Arctic Building in Seattle WA. Credit; Brian Rich, 2013


Normally, prudent architectural design, building science, building analysis software, and best practices are enough to ensure that an intervention (renovation, rehabilitation, etc.) in an historic building does not damage the structure and reduce its service life.  Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.  Future-proofing is used in other industries such as electronics, medical industry, industrial design, and, more recently, in design for climate change.  The principles of future-proofing are extracted from other industries and codified as a system for approaching an intervention in an historic building.


Figure 5: Rotted wood due to improperly installed membrane or siding. Credit: http://www.moldknowledge.com/dry%20rot%20photo%206.JPG

At a school in Eastern Washington, the glazed terra cotta pops off in small chunks the size of a half dollar coin.  In another structure in Western Washington, a concrete wall is installed inside of the existing brick and cast stone façade for seismic structural reinforcement.  In a newly renovated structure in the Mid-West, the insulated exterior walls of a brick masonry building aren’t delivering the anticipated thermal performance and costing the owners significant money to continue operating.  Why does this happen?  Is the renovation of old buildings damaging them rather than preserving them?  It is instructive to introduce the concept of “future-proofing” and how it can be applied to the built environment.


How, then, does one respond to the rehabilitation of an existing structure, such as the school in the example above, where the long term viability of the existing building fabric is put at risk and deteriorates more rapidly after the sustainable renovation?  One would hope that the expertise of the architect and their design team would be able to anticipate the needs of a building such that its rehabilitation actually extends, rather than shortens, its service life.  Normally the realm of prudent design would cover this, but it seems that the immediate needs of the client too often come first and that the existing building structures come later.

Figure 1:  Spalled stone due to rust jacking at a railing.  Credit:  Brian Rich, 2013

Figure 1: Spalled stone due to rust jacking at a railing. Credit: Brian Rich, 2013


The technical understanding of how a building works and what an architect must do to make sure it works properly is known under many different terms.  Building science, building technology, and good practice design often describe this work.  Good design also includes a detailed understanding of materials science, building pathology, design and detailing, construction techniques and sequencing, amongst other skills.  Often times, there is so much to handle that even with a team of experts, one cannot understand all of the aspects of building design that must come together to make a successful project.  Indeed it is often existing buildings that, while they are available to be studied in the full reality of their construction, are the most baffling and difficult to understand because of the complexity of the interactions between all of the building components, the climactic conditions, and the occupants.

In addition to the common issues of completing a project design, the recent trend towards inclusion of sustainable design features in projects has become required for architects to compete in the marketplace.  This market has been created by rating systems in the 1970s and 1980s which give the building more value in the market when they are design and built to higher levels of sustainability.  The emphasis in the sustainable rating systems started with a focus around building systems (mechanical and electrical, primarily).  The initial solutions to increase sustainability were incomplete solutions that improved the performance of these systems.  Sustainable design rating systems have grown to include water systems, siting, building materials, and other aspects of the built environment, but continue to give our existing building stock only minor attention.

Figure 1:  Environmental impacts of buildings on the environment.  (Western Village)

Figure 1: Environmental impacts of buildings on the environment. (Western Village)

The existing building stock is one of the most valuable assets that the human race has created – and the most damaging to the environment.  The “annual replacement rate of buildings (the percent of the total building stock newly constructed or majorly renovated each year) has historically been about 2%.” (Easton, 2013)  During slow economic periods, this replacement rate can be even slower.  Buildings account for 73% of electricity consumption in the U.S. and 38% of CO2 emissions. (Energy Information Administration, 2013; US Department of Energy, 2012)

It has been long argued that rehabilitation of an existing building is one of the most sustainable strategies for a project to employ.  This research is closely linked to sustainable design strategies by reducing material consumption, loss of embodied energy, and reduction of construction waste, reduction in energy consumption, and reduction in CO2 emissions.  The ultimate goal of this research is to promote the rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of our existing building stock and extend their useful service lives rather than contributing to the consumption of our planet’s resources.

This research is further linked to the concept of life cycle analysis.  While it is beneficial to the environment when one designs a building that reduces its energy consumption by 50% of an accepted standard, the reality of this achievement is significantly different when a full life cycle analysis is considered.  As a simple example, consider the difference between the scenario of renovating an existing building versus tearing down the existing building and constructing a new one of the same size but with more efficient building systems and a life expectancy of 20 to 30 years.  This sounds great until one considers that the existing building as a masonry structure with a reinforced concrete frame that with a little work could last for another 100+ years.  One would have to build at least 3 new structures to take the place of the existing structure for the same period of time.  Further, the payback period for a new building can be as little as 7 to 8 years, depending on the scope of the project, the nature of the existing building, strategies employed, and the basis for measurement. (Katz, 2011)   his payback period grows to 60 to 80 years when one accounts for the embodied energy of the existing structure that was demolished. (Frey et al., 2011)  Given this simple life cycle comparison, it is evident that rehabilitation of existing structures is much better for the environment than even the most efficient new construction.

Figure 2:  Years Of Carbon Equivalency For Existing Building Reuse Versus New Construction. (Frey)

Figure 2: Years Of Carbon Equivalency For Existing Building Reuse Versus New Construction. (Frey)

In addition to the consideration of the value of existing structures through life cycle analysis, the issues become more complex when working with a structure that is protected by formal historic designation.  Historic landmark designation at the local, city, county, state or national levels is possible for almost all older structures provided they meet certain minimum criteria.  When considering such a designated building in the United States, most often, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties come into play.  Consideration of the Standards for Rehabilitation makes clear that designated historic building fabric shall be protected.  Standard 5 states that “distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property shall be preserved.”  Standard 9 is also instructive:  “New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize a property.” (Weeks, 1995)  Thus, the design of an intervention in a designated historic structure that causes damage to the structure is not in accordance with the Secretary’s Standards.


There are several industries using the term “future-proofing” today outside of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry.  In general, the term refers to the ability of something to continue to be of value into the distant future; that the item does not become obsolete.

Figure XX:  The Brooklyn Bridge - a future-proof structure that has stood up to centuries of traffic and expansions.  Credit:  Brian Rich, 2013

Figure XX: The Brooklyn Bridge – a future-proof structure that has stood up to centuries of traffic and expansions. Credit: Brian Rich, 2013

The concept of future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.  This term is commonly found in the electronics, data storage, and communications systems.  It is also found in Industrial Design, computers, software, health care/medical, and product design.

Study of the principles behind “future-proofing” both within the AEC industry and among outside industries can give vital information about the basis of future-proofing.  This information can be distilled into several principles which describe the concept of future-proofing.  The principles can be applied to the design of interventions in historic buildings that will not cause further deterioration of the building. In combination with careful analysis with computational analysis software, the principles of future-proofing can help to prevent the problems with buildings mentioned in the introduction.


In future-proof electrical systems buildings should have “flexible distribution systems to allow communication technologies to expand.”(Coley, Kershaw and Eames, 2012)  Image related processing software should be flexible, adaptable, and programmable to be able to work with several different potential media in the future as well as to handle increasing file sizes.  Image related processing software should also be scalable and embeddable – in other words, the use or place where the software is employed is variable and the software needs to accommodate the variable environment.  Higher processing integration is required to support future computational requirements in image processing as well. (Barreneche, 1995)

In wireless phone networks, future-proofing of the network hardware and software systems deployed become critical because they are so costly to deploy that it is not economically viable to replace each system when changes in the network operations occur.  Telecommunications system designers focus heavily on the ability of a system to be reused and to be flexible in order to continue competing in the marketplace. (Thomas et al., 2003)

Figure 2:  Brick spalling due to  mortar installed that was harder than the brick.  Credit:  Brian Rich, 2013

Figure 2: Brick spalling due to mortar installed that was harder than the brick. Credit: Brian Rich, 2013

In 1998, teleradiology (the ability to send radiology images such as x-rays and CAT scans over the internet to a reviewing radiologist) was in its infancy.  Doctors developed their own systems, aware that technology would change over time.  They consciously included future-proof as one of the characteristics that their investment would need to have.  To these doctors, future-proof meant open modular architecture and interoperability so that as technology advanced it would be possible to update the hardware and software modules within the system without disrupting the remaining modules.  This draws out two characteristics of future-proofing that are important to the built environment:  interoperability and the ability to be adapted to future technologies as they were developed. (Roberson and Shieh, 1998)


In industrial design, future-proofing designs seek to prevent obsolescence by analyzing the decrease in desirability of products.  Desirability is measured in categories such as function, appearance, and emotional value.  The products with more functional design, better appearance, and which accumulate emotional value faster tend to be retained longer and are considered future-proof.  Industrial design ultimately strives to encourage people to buy less by creating objects with higher levels of desirability.  Some of the characteristics of future-proof products that come out of this study include a timeless nature, high durability, aesthetic appearances that capture and hold the interest of buyers.  Ideally, as an object ages, its desirability is maintained or increases with increased emotional attachment.  Products that fit into society’s current paradigm of progress, while simultaneously making progress, also tend to have increased desirability. (Kerr, 2011)  Industrial design teaches that future-proof products are timeless, have high durability, and develop ongoing aesthetic and emotional attraction.

Figure 10:  Several industries use the term “future-proof” to describe aspects of their practice.  The practice of architecture also has several ways of supporting future-proof design.  (Brian Rich, 2013)

Figure 10: Several industries use the term “future-proof” to describe aspects of their practice. The practice of architecture also has several ways of supporting future-proof design. (Brian Rich, 2013)


In one region of New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay, a study was conducted to determine what would be required to future-proof the regional economy with specific reference to the water system.  The study specifically sought to understand the existing and potential water demand in the region as well as how this potential demand might change with climate change and more intense land use.  This information was used to develop demand estimates that would inform the improvements to the regional water system.  Future-proofing thus includes forward planning for future development and increased demands on resources.  However, the study focuses on future demands almost exclusively and does not address other components of future-proofing such as contingency plans to handle disastrous damage to the system or durability of the materials in the system. (Bloomer and Page, 2012)


The term “future-proofing” in relation to sustainable design began to be used in 2007.  It has been used more often in sustainable design in relation to energy conservation to minimize the effects of future global temperature rise and/or rising energy costs.  By far, the most common use of the term “future-proofing” is found in relation to sustainable design and energy conservation in particular.  In this context, the term is usually referring to the ability of a structure to withstand impacts from future shortages in energy and resources, increasing world population, and environmental issues, by reducing the amount of energy consumption in the building.  Understanding the use of “future-proofing” in this field assists in development of the concept of future-proofing as applied to existing structures.

In the realm of sustainable environmental issues, future-proof is used generally to describe the ability of a design to resist the impact of potential climate change due to global warming.  Two characteristics describe this impact.  First, “dependency on fossil fuels will be more or less completely eliminated and replaced by renewable energy sources.”  Second, “Society, infrastructure and the economy will be well adapted to the residual impacts of climate change.” (Godfrey, Agarwal and Dias, 2010)

In the design of low energy consuming dwellings, “buildings of the future should be sustainable, low-energy and able to accommodate social, technological, economic and regulatory changes, thus maximizing life cycle value.”   The goal is to “reduce the likelihood of a prematurely obsolete building design.” (Georgiadou, Hacking and Guthrie, 2012)

Figure 4:  Mold caused by too much water vapor trapped within a building.  Credit:  http://media.kmvt.com/images/MOLD1.jpg_BIM.jpg

Figure 4: Mold caused by too much water vapor trapped within a building. Credit: http://media.kmvt.com/images/MOLD1.jpg_BIM.jpg

In Australia, research commissioned by the Health Infrastructure New South Wales explored “practical, cost-effective, design-related strategies for “future-proofing” the buildings of a major Australian health department.”  This study concluded that “a focus on a whole life-cycle approach to the design and operation of health facilities clearly would have benefits.”  By designing in flexibility and adaptability of structures (see Figure 4), one may “defer the obsolescence and consequent need for demolition and replacement of many health facilities, thereby reducing overall demand for building materials and energy.” (Carthey et al., 2011)

The ability of a building’s structural system to accommodate projected climate changes and whether “non-structural [behavioral] adaptations might have a great enough effect to offset any errors from… …an erroneous choice of climate change projection.”  The essence of the discussion is whether adjustments in the occupant’s behavior can future-proof the building against errors in judgment in estimates of the impacts of global climate change.  There are clearly many factors involved and the paper does not go into them in exhaustive detail. However it is clear that “soft adaptations” such as changes in behavior (such as turning lights off, opening windows for cooling) can have a significant impact on the ability of a building to continue to function as the environment around it changes.  Thus adaptability is an important criteria in the concept of future-proofing” buildings.  Adaptability is a theme that begins to come through in many of the other studies on future-proofing.  (Coley, Kershaw and Eames, 2012)

There are examples of sustainable technologies that can be used in existing buildings to take “advantage of up-to-date technologies in the enhancement of the energetic performance of buildings.”  The intent is to understand how to follow the new European Energy Standards to attain the best in energy savings.  The subject speaks to historic buildings and specifically of façade renewal, focusing on energy conservation.  These technologies include “improvement of thermal and acoustic performance, solar shadings, passive solar energy systems, and active solar energy systems.”  The main value of this study to future-proofing is not the specific technologies, but rather the concept of working with an existing façade by overlapping it rather than modifying the existing one.  The employment of ventilated facades, double skin glass facades, and solar shadings take advantage of the thermal mass of existing buildings commonly found in Italy.  These techniques not only work with thermal mass walls, but also protect damaged and deteriorating historic facades to varying degrees.  (Brunoro, 2008)

Figure XX:  The Arctic Building in Seattle, WA.  The 1982 walrus tusk repairs were not future-proof:  accelerated deterioration of the walrus heads ensued.  Credit;  Brian Rich, 2013

Figure XX: The Arctic Building in Seattle, WA. The 1982 walrus tusk repairs were not future-proof: accelerated deterioration of the walrus heads ensued. Credit; Brian Rich, 2013


Use of the term “future-proofing” has been uncommon in the AEC industry, especially with relation to historic buildings until recently.  In 1997, the MAFF laboratories at York, England were described in an article as “future-proof” by being flexible enough to adapt to developing rather than static scientific research.  The standard building envelope and MEP services provided could be tailored for each type of research to be performed. (Lawson, 1997)  In 2009, “future-proof” was used in reference to “megatrends” that were driving education of planners in Australia. (Meng, 2009)  A similar term, “fatigue proofing,” was used in 2007 to describe steel cover plates in bridge construction that would not fail due to fatigue cracking. (Albrecht and Lenwari, 2007)  In 2012, a New Zealand based organization outlined 8 principles of future-proof buildings:  smart energy use, increased health and safety, increased life cycle duration, increased quality of materials and installation, increased security, increased sound control for noise pollution, adaptable spatial design, and reduced carbon footprint. (CMS, 2012)

Another approach to future-proofing suggests that only in more extensive refurbishments to a building should future-proofing be considered.  Even then, the proposed time horizon for future-proofing events is 15 to 25 years.  The explanation for this particular time horizon for future-proof improvements is unclear. (Shah, 2012)  This author believes that time horizons for future-proofing are much more dependent on the potential service life of the structure, the nature of the intervention, and several other factors.  The result is that time horizons for future-proof interventions could vary from 15 years (rapidly changing technology interventions) to hundreds of years (major structural interventions).

In the valuation of real estate, there are three traditional forms of obsolescence which affect property values:  physical, functional, and aesthetic.  Physical obsolescence occurs when the physical material of the property deteriorates to the point where it needs to be replaced or renovated.  Functional obsolescence occurs when the property is no longer capable of serving the intended use or function.  Aesthetic obsolescence occurs when fashions change, when something is no longer in style.  A potential fourth form has emerged as well:  sustainable obsolescence.  Sustainable obsolescence proposes to be a combination of the above forms in many ways.  Sustainable obsolescence occurs when a property no longer meets one or more sustainable design goals. (Reed and Warren-Myers, 2012)  Obsolescence is an important characteristic of future-proofing a property because it emphasizes the need for the property to continue to be viable.  Though not explicitly stated, the shocks and stresses to a property in the future are one potential way in which a property may become not future-proof.  It is also important to note that each form of obsolescence can be either curable or incurable.  The separation of curable and incurable obsolescence is ill defined because the amount of effort one is willing to put into correcting it varies depending on several factors:  people, time, budget, availability, etc.

However, the most informative realm for historic buildings within the AEC industry is the concept of resiliency.  A new buzzword among preservationists and sustainable designers, resiliency has several clearly identified principles.  In its common usage, “resilience” describes the ability to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.  In ecology, the term “resilience” the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state. (Applegath et al., 2010)  The principles of a resilient built environment include:

  • Local materials, parts and labor
  • Low energy input
  • High capacity for future flexibility and adaptability of use
  • High durability and redundancy of building systems
  • Environmentally responsive design
  • Sensitivity and responsiveness to changes in constituent parts and environment
  • High level of diversity in component systems and features

One reasonable approach to future-proof sustainable cities is an integrated multi-disciplinary combination of mitigation and adaptation to raise the level of resilience of the city.  In the context of urban environments, resilience is less dependent on an exact understanding of the future than on tolerance of uncertainty and broad programs to absorb the stresses that this environment might face.  The scale of the context is important in this view:  events are viewed as regional stresses rather than local.  The intent for a resilient urban environment is to keep many options open, emphasize diversity in the environment, and perform long range planning that accounts for external systemic shocks. (Thornbush, Golubchikov and Bouzarovski, 2013)  Options and diversity are strategies similar to ecological resilience discussed above.  This approach again points out the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and diversity to future-proofing urban environments.

Figure 6:  The future-proof restoration of a cast iron facade building in the Garment District of New York, NY.  This renovation restored the building’s capacity to bring light to the lowest levels of the basement through glazed sidewalk vault panels (top left) and has helped to ensure the ongoing use and occupancy of the building.  (Brian Rich, 2013)

Figure 6: The future-proof restoration of a cast iron facade building in the Garment District of New York, NY. This renovation restored the building’s capacity to bring light to the lowest levels of the basement through glazed sidewalk vault panels (top left) and has helped to ensure the ongoing use and occupancy of the building. (Brian Rich, 2013)


The design of interventions in existing buildings which are not detrimental to the future of the building may be called “future-proofing.”  Future-proofing includes the careful consideration of how “sustainable” alterations to historic structures affect the original historic material of the structure.  This effect is significant for long service life structures in order to prevent them from deteriorating and being demolished.  This effect is especially significant in designated structures where the intent is to do no harm to the historic fabric of the structure.

Historic buildings are particularly good candidates for future-proofing because they have already survived for 50 to 100 years or more.  Given their performance to date and appropriate interventions, historic building structures are likely to be able to last for centuries.  This durability is evident in the buildings of Europe and Asia which have survived centuries and millennia.  Extension of the service life of our existing building stock through sensitive interventions reduces energy consumption, decreases material waste, retains embodied energy, and promotes a long term relationship with our built environment that is critical to the future survival of the human species on this planet.

Future-proofing of designated historic structures adds a level of complexity to the concepts of future-proofing in other industries as described above.  All interventions on historic structures must comply with the Secretary’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.  The degree of compliance and the Standard selected may vary depending on jurisdiction, type of intervention, significance of the structure, and the nature of the intended interventions.  The underlying principle is that no harm is done to the structure in the course of the intervention which would damage the structure or make it unavailable to future generations.  In addition, it is important that the historic portions of the structure be able to be understood and comprehended apart from the newer interventions. (Weeks, 1995)

Based on the sources reviewed above, there are several principles that can be extracted for application to historic buildings.  Future-proofing of historic structures means:
Comply with the Secretary’s Standards.  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Places provide excellent guidance for the long term retention of an historic building.

  1. Not promote deterioration – do no harm.  It is natural for all building materials to deteriorate.  Interventions in historic structures should not accelerate the deterioration of the existing building fabric.
  2. Allow understanding of the historic structure.  Interventions in historic structures should allow the students of history in our future to understand and appreciate the original historic building as well as the interventions which have kept it viable.
  3. Stimulate flexibility and adaptability.  The interventions in an historic structure should not just allow flexibility and adaptability, but also stimulate it.  Adaptability to the environment, uses, occupant needs, and future technologies is critical to the long service life of a historic building.
  4. Extend service life.  Interventions in historic buildings should help to make the building useable for the long term future – not shorten the service life.
  5. Fortify against extreme weather and shortages of materials and energy.  Interventions should prepare the building for the impacts of climate change by reducing energy consumption, reducing consumption of materials through durable material selections, and be able to be fortified against extreme natural events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.  Ideally buildings would be designed appropriately for seismic zones and sea level change.
  6. Increase durability and redundancy.  Interventions in historic buildings should use equally durable building materials.  Materials that deteriorate more quickly than the original building fabric require further interventions and shorten the service life of the building.
  7. Reduce the likelihood of obsolescence.  The building should be able to continue to be used for centuries into the future. Take an active approach:  regularly evaluate and review current status in terms of future service capacity.  Scan the trends to provide a fresh perspective and determine how your historic building will respond to these trends.
  8. Consider long term life-cycle benefits.  The embodied energy in existing structures should be incorporated in environmental, economic, social, and cultural costs for any project.
  9. Incorporate local materials, parts and labor.  The parts and materials used in historic building interventions should be available locally and installed by local labor.  This means that the materials and manufacturing capabilities will be readily available in the future for efficient repairs.


Due to the lack of literature specifically addressing the future-proofing of the extant building fabric in historic structures, it is important to look to related concepts.  In some areas, this opens the discussion to very broad areas.  Below is an image by the author of the literature web delineating related terminology.  Items shown in red are relevant for conceptual understanding of future-proofing as applied to existing buildings.  Items shown in green are areas likely to be more fruitful in understanding the future-proofing of existing structures.

Resilience is a concept closely related to future-proofing.  Both seek to account for the ability of a building to handle unknown stresses in the future.  However, future-proofing is a broader term than resilience.  Future-proofing includes the concepts of not promoting deterioration, obsolescence, applicability to historic structures, and long term life cycle benefits, whereas resilience largely refers to the ability of an ecosystem to bounce back from and adapt to stresses.

There are several other closely related areas of study within the practice of architecture that are related to future-proofing as well.  Good practice in architectural design always seeks to find the best route to meet a plethora of divergent goals through a building design.  Building science and building technology seek to find the best solution of a particular building assembly to meet environmental and constructability concerns.  Building envelope failures and the science of forensic architectural investigation work toward a better understanding of why bad things happen to buildings and how to not only remedy them, but to prevent them from occurring again in the future.  Incorrectly designed interventions in historic structures and the resulting reduction in the service life of the building is another area closely related to future-proofing.  From each of these areas, there are contributions toward the practice of future-proofing historic buildings.  Future-proofing seeks to provide a framework for consideration of all of these areas of architectural practice.

In conclusion, while there is very little literature specifically related to future-proofing historic structures, there is a significant body of knowledge around the concept of future-proofing within the AEC industry and in other related industries, including:

  • Electronics, Data Storage, & Communications Systems
  • Industrial Design
  • Utility Systems
  • Climate Change and Energy Conservation

These are industries in which “future-proofing” is regularly used.  This body of knowledge may be used to develop a set of principles of future-proofing.   The 10 Principles of Future-proofing and their derivation from related industries can guide the application of the concept of “future-proofing” to and historic structures.  The 10 Principles of Future-Proofing historic buildings are:

  1. Comply with the Secretary’s Standards.
  2. Not promote deterioration – do no harm.
  3. Allow understanding of the historic structure.
  4. Stimulate flexibility and adaptability.
  5. Extend service life.
  6. Fortify against extreme weather and shortages of materials and energy.
  7. Increase durability and redundancy.
  8. Reduce the likelihood of obsolescence.
  9. Consider long term life-cycle benefits.
  10. Incorporate local materials, parts and labor.


Further research on this subject includes the review of the broader subjects related to future-proofing structures, including building science, building technology, etc., as illustrated above.  In addition, further analysis of the capabilities, constraints, and ability of computational software to describe historic building assemblies is required.  While there is a significant body of research regarding the use of building simulation software to describe building performance, it is not clear whether this includes simulation of existing historic structures or whether historic structures are considered too anomalous to be good candidates for simulations.


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  5. Blasnik, Michael. “Lies, Damned Lies, and Modeling.” 17th Annual Building Science Symposium. Building Science Corporation, 5 August 2013. Print.
  6. Bloomer, Dan, and Phillipa Page. Hawke’s Bay Water Demand 2050:  a Report for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council: Page Bloomer Associates Ltd., 28 February 2012. Print.
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  8. Brunoro, Silvia. “An Assessment of Energetic Efficiency Improvement of Existing Building Envelopes in Italy.” Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal 19.6 (2008): 718-30. Print.
  9. Carthey, Jane, et al. “Flexibility:  Beyond the Buzzword – Practical Findings from a Systematic Literature Review.” Health Environments Research and Design Journal 4.4 (Summer 2011): 89-108. Print.
  10. CMS. “What Is Future-Proof Building?” Construction Marketing Services Limited 2012. Web. 18 November 2013.
  11. Coley, David, Tristan Kershaw, and Matt Eames. “A Comparison of Structural and Behavioural Adaptations to Future Proofing Buildings against Higher Temperatures.” Building and Environment 55 (2012): 159-66. Print.
  12. Easton, Jennifer. “Existing Buildings = the 99%.” US Green Building Council. Web. 05 November 2013.
  13. Energy Information Administration, US. “Analysis & Projections.  Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2013.”  14 May 2013. Web. 05 November 2013.
  14. Frey, Patrice, et al. The Greenest Building:  Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse: The National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2011. Print.
  15. Georgiadou, M. C., T. Hacking, and P. Guthrie. “A Conceptual Framework for Future-Proofing the Energy Performance of Buildings.” Energy Policy 47 (2012): 145-55. Print.
  16. Godfrey, Patrick, Jitendra Agarwal, and Priyan Dias. “Systems 2030–Emergent Themes.”  (2010). Print.
  17. Jentsch, M. F., A. S. Bahaj, and P. A. B. James. “Climate Change Future Proofing of Buildings-Generation and Assessment of Building Simulation Weather Files.” Energy and Buildings 40.12 (2008): 2148-68. Print.
  18. Katz, Ashley. “Green Building Facts.” US Green Building Council 1 Jul 2012. Web. 18 November 2013.
  19. Kerr, Joseph Robert. “Future-Proof Design: Must All Good Things Come to an End?” M.E.Des. University of Calgary (Canada), 2011. Print.
  20. Lawson, Bryan. “Future Proof: The Maff Laboratories at York.” Architecture today.82 (1997): 26-26. Print.
  21. Meng, Lee Lik. “Megatrends Driving Planning Education: How Do We Future-Proof Planners?” Australian planner 46.1 (2009): 48-50. Print.
  22. Parker, Phillip, and Cara Lozinsky. “Thermal and Hygrothermal Analysis in Building Envelope Commissioning.” NIBS Building Enclosure Science & Technology Conference. National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), 12-14 April 2010. Print.
  23. Is Sustainability the 4th Form of Obsolescence? PRRES 2010: Proceedings of the Pacific Rim Real Estate Society 16th Annual Conference. 2012. Pacific Rim Real Estate Society (PPRES). Print.
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  27. Thornbush, M., O. Golubchikov, and S. Bouzarovski. “Sustainable Cities Targeted by Combined Mitigation-Adaptation Efforts for Future-Proofing.” Sustainable Cities and Society 9 (2013): 1-9. Print.
  28. US.Department.of.Energy. “Buildings Energy Data Book.  Buildings Share of Electricity Consumption/Sales.” US Department of Energy March 2012. Web2013.
  29. Weeks, Kay D. “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties : With Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural Resource Stewardship and Parnterships, Heritage Preservation Services, 1995. Print.

2013 Fischer Plumbing Baseball

Hey Y’all – Check out the following link for the Little League team I’m coaching this spring!  2013 Fischer Plumbing Baseball.  We have a lot of returning experience with this team and some very promising younger kids joining us.  We’re looking forward to a great season!  Play ball!

Sustaining Our 21st Century Community Through Preservation

An article by David Shribman in the Winter 2013 Notre Dame Magazine discusses the challenges to our community in the 21st century.  He postulates that “[t]he principal challenge facing the United States in the second decade of the 21st century is to adjudicate between the two social goods of conviction and compromise….

If this is true, then how does a nation built on individualism construct a caring, gentle community?  A community that is at once idealistic and stridently supportive of individuals, yet respectful and nurturing to those that are not of our own persuasion – in whatever respect?  Is this a way to think of a sustainable community?  Surely, it seems that when there is no caring, respect, and nurturing in a community, it becomes one of strife, conflict and discordance.  And where there is one that is so focused on individuals, it no longer forms a community of multiple members, but rather communities of one.

In “Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy writes of the lawmakers he selected for his profiles of the Senate at the time:  “Some demonstrated courage through their unyielding devotion to absolute principle.  Others demonstrated courage through their advocacy of conciliation, through their willingness to replace conflict with co-operation.”  He argued that politicians should develop “compromises of issues, not of principles.”  He believed that “we can compromise our political positions, but not ourselves.”

However, in a world where we have become so used to identifying closely with our causes, our “political positions” have become “ourselves.” Or perhaps it’s the other way around:  Our principles have become our “political positions.”  And we do not feel that we can separate the two.  It is, perhaps, this inability to separate the two that divides our society into a splintered collection of special interest groups.  When some see individuals that support a given cause (i.e., a “political position”), that individual is labeled and differentiated from an otherwise indistinguishable morass of humanity.  Unfortuntely, people who apply the label do not often take time to understand the rest of the person behind the label, and the label is who that individual becomes.

Shribman asks, “How do we balance our twin values of order and freedom?”  Of preservation and progress?  Of heritage and the wide open future?

The answers to these three questions are very closely related, I believe.  They are also closely related to the courageous separation of our principles from our “political positions.”  We are mentors to generations who typically give enough time to a subject to hear the sound bite or read the tweet before judging and labeling.  This seems to apply equally to people, video games, and death defying stunts as it does to historic buildings.  Too often I see someone shut down after they hear that a building is a landmark.  They have heard all they need to know and made their judgment.  It might be “cool…” or “that thing???” but rarely is there further discussion of why a structure is designated a landmark unless we can set a hook.

As mentors to the speed dating generation, we can help balance and broaden their principles by preparing the sound bite response and being able to tweet the importance of a structure to someone else.  For instance, Are we able to look at the Taj Mahal in Agra India and say that “it was built by the emperor in memory of his third wife. Myth:  his mausoleum was going to be black marble across the river.”  In two brief sentences we can not only capture the importance of the existing building, but also convey an interesting myth that generates further interest in the subject.

More importantly, we can be examples of the courage that Kennedy reveres.  Often, people’s convictions are right on the surface of their responses.  Perhaps, rather, we should withhold those immediate convictions a bit – especially when we aren’t sure of the whole story.  As the saying goes, we can know what we know, come to know what we don’t know, but it’s very difficult to succeed when we don’t know what we don’t know.  We may hold personal beliefs and principles that are founded on the questionable ground of what we suspect or even verge into the don’t know we don’t know.  However, I suggest that our “political positions” should be based on the bedrock of what we know we know.

What does this have to do with preservation?  As preservation professionals, we are trained to appreciate the broad history of multiple different cultures.  To see them at their best – and worst – and understand their influence upon each other, yet not convict them.  This broad view allows us to be that mentor to the seemingly endless array of self-interested special interest groups that our culture is evolving into.  We can show to one culture what they value and why.  And then we can show them other cultures and help them to understand why something is “other” can be valuable to them and worthy of their respect.

As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, “screw your courage to the sticking place”, bridge this gap, and keep our principles where they belong.

To whom are we conveying the significance of an historic structure?

When you evaluate the integrity of a building, and think about whether it’s in good enough shape to convey its significance, to whom do you imagine it conveying that significance? Or, of course, failing to convey it?

Having served on Landmarks Commissions and other preservation related groups for nearly 10 years now, I find that this is the main challenge of preservation. Most people hear that something is a landmark and their interest stops there. What they usually don’t understand is that there are several criteria for designation – and thus WHY something is historically significant. When I say “most people,” I am referring to the general population that does not deal with landmarks on a day to day basis. However, I have even seen this in some preservation professionals.

As a thoughtful preservation professional, I feel that this is one area where we fail to achieve our goals of preserving our history for future generations. If we can’t articulate our values in the form of why something is important to our society, then how are others ever going to be able to understand? In addition, understanding of these values can help guide us to preserving what is important as we work on a specific structure. Understanding of why something is valuable can actually lead to more flexibility in what you can do with a structure, and flexibility is something that we need a lot more of if we are to break through the perception that preservation is making places museums. Look to the examples of how the Europeans live in their ancient cities.

Integrity of a structure takes this appreciating the value of a structure to yet another level. Because there are, again, several criteria for integrity, and you need not have all seven to “have integrity,” and unless you deal with integrity issues on a regular basis through designation processes, you’re very unlikely to be familiar with them. Again, some preservation professionals and even most preservation architects are not familiar with these issues. And, again, if we can’t articulate our values, how will others be able to understand.

I believe that the right audience for preservation must be the general population rather than an elitist group of knowledgeable (or wealthy) people who have time to care about the issues. Why? Because we should all care about these issues. I believe that the lessons learned from our history are important enough to inform us about our future. I believe that understanding of value to one small segment of society can contribute to one’s appreciation of another society that we may, on the surface, think is weird, strange, or even abhorrent. Preservation is a tool that can help to teach tolerance and appreciation of others. And that’s something we need a lot more of in this world today!

As someone else challenged me, so shall I challenge you: Do you really think that designation criteria and integrity criteria are working to actually convey meaning? And do we just have to keep using what we’ve got? Or is there another system for thinking about how we preserve our history?

What follows here are the comments of several other professionals interested in Historic Preservation.  Enjoy! – Brian

Jennie Dotts • Significance accrues to all bldgs over time and individuals–not institutions–give them meaning. The process of landmark commissions conveying significance/status (along with a plaque) has a place, but it is a top-down, antiquated preservation strategy. That’s why my preservationist partners and I developed Old House Diaries (http://www.oldhouseauthority.com/Home/OldHouseDiaries), a website that allows everyone to document the history of a bldg, tell its story, store and share documents, photos and videos. Our hope is that this will build a recognition and appreciation for the places we value. The diaries could someday save the life of bldg or inform its renovation. You are right in saying that the general public–not only an educated elite–is the audience for preservation.


Robert M. Kelly • I’m more inclined to think that the general population is often blind-sided by drastic old building alterations. Face it, we rarely see it coming. The problem is many-sided, as Brian sketches out. No amount of crowd-sourcing and petition-gathering would achieve as much as more LAWS to avoid the senseless destruction of buildings that should/could/would be saved…if only they were protected, as they are by the laws in Great Britain.

I’m all for better education of the public, but web campaigns and bake sales and letters to the editor are not the solution, because the housing stock of worthwhile is vast, the time is short, and politicians are too easily swayed.

We need better laws which will protect these resources up front, even when they are most obscure and have no champions.


Jeremy Wells • Brian, I think you touched on the most important concept in your response: meaning. Preservation doctrine has arisen around a value system promulgated by experts representing a rather narrow socioeconomic class in which meanings are assumed to be objective and invariant. Unfortunately, we often don’t go to a lot of effort to understand alternate values from a broader range of stakeholders, even if they represent the dominant values associated with a building, place, or landscape. We assume, as professionals, that our value system is indeed objective, but what if, as Waterton, Smith, and Campbell (2006) assert, “the conservation values of experts might be just another set of cultural values”? What I’m getting at here is that we need to evaluate our own value system as much as public values, with the clear objective that preservation/conservation should be intended to benefit people first, and the object second. After all, without people, what point would there be to engage in conservation?

In addition to making too many assumptions on value systems, preservation doctrine also assumes, erroneously, that meaning is somehow an inherent part of a heritage object, when, in fact, we, as cultural groups and individuals, actually put the meaning there. Surely, some useful changes to preservation practice could arise from this basic realization.

There’s been some very interesting work on this subject done by Randall Mason, Laurajane Smith, and Salvador Muñoz Viñas, among others.


C. Jane Cox • This is such a core issue of how preservation gets accomplished on a day to day basis, but one that is rarely discussed, or challenged. How refreshing to read these comments.

As a preservationists in a local government, we are challenged on a weekly basis with finding that the State has determined a resource ineligible for the NR yet we have information that easily demonstrates association with a locally significant pattern of history or association with a locally important person that was missed when the “out-of-towner” evaluating the resource.

Our conundrum then is when the developer trots in with the States determination, that more often than not was evaluated as part of a large package of State review under 106, and leans heavily to evaluating only under Criteria C. We point out the local history connections, which is more often than not missing in the evaluation, and it practically takes an act of congress to get it re-evaluated. While the fact that the field is still skewed so heavily towards architectural merits is another thread, the static DOE on file is an impedence when new information or a new perspective 20 years on changes the significance evaluation.

Buildings in our files evaluated 20 years ago may have in fact gained significance in the intervening years, but a developer armed with a DOE form from the State makes saving the building an uphill battle. Likewise, when a community’s values shift and change, they may see significance in a building that was not considered valuable by the “Professionals”. How do I tell a community that we can not help them save what THEY think is important because an architectural historian from three states over decided 20 years ago that the house was so commonplace it lacked significance.

Not an easy nut to crack with the existing system….

Eugene Aleci • Policy and therefore review procedures can apparently ONLY be based on what are presumed/constructed to be “objective” checklist criteria. This is the “game” that has been established by our legal/scientific approach to everything. If it can’t be quantified by matching a set of criteria, then it has no real value.

It seems that when we reduce historic significance to this checklist approach, and given how inadequately staffed and funded our state SHPOs and local HP orgs tend to be in most places, then we’re really at a disadvantage from the start. Once developers, property owners and their lawyers or site-planners see this, we’re unlikely to win the legal debate, almost from the start; since we’re playing on their field and without their endless resources.

I think building up the community-based approach like the house diaries is a really good one that should be developed, to make these designations more relevant to all. A local college’s art history dept and curriculum gallery division is recently developing a curated museum walk of our city’s local architecture, which will eventually use mobile hand-held devices, digital-satellite mapping, and interpretative content to help people readily recognize and learn why buildings in the city-scape are culturally valuable and have meaning.

David Gaby • As we all know there is a pseudo-scientific checklist for “Significance” built into the MHPA and other statutes and regulations which does over-rely on architecture, and also over-relies on connections with certain ethnic groups….

Reliance on these narrow “principles” does not make preservation systematic. It essentially, combined with the reduced resources in State preservation offices, is depriving preservation of potential constituencies among the general public, people who want to preserve what they understand as heritage. If we continue to use these checklists to deny protection to buildings that are significant locally, as noted in others comments, we are betraying our own heritage as preservationists.

We should instead be lobbying at every level for broader interpretations of “Significance” that can make preservation relevant to a broader group of people, and at the same time using the tax incentives, the energy and sustainability arguments noted by Eugene, and other arguments to make preservation an element that adds value to a project for a developer, rather than one that adds costs and delays.

Larry D. Jones • “I believe that the right audience for preservation must be the general population”, this was the key phrase in the opener for this thread.

Maximilian Ferro, FAIA • ….Recognition of the significance of the past is a romantic notion which has its roots in historicism, tradition, cultural hegemony and the search for roots…all hard to find in an increasingly multi-cultural, socially mobile and dynamic society which worships progress. When HP finally entered the American lexicon, it was a bureaucratic movement, inspired by youthful envy for the grandiloquent but insincere protestations of European Government Authorities who, having just rebuilt all of Europe after WWII, were spewing self-serving moral homilies about new rules based on ridiculous principles….

Preservation springs from nationalist pride and current admiration of stylistic precedents…. …Without the will to reconstruct, preservation is utterly futile….

[I]nstead of having a government that make sanctimonious proclamations against aping the past, give us good planning commissions that encourage well-designed buildings in past styles, and the recreation of lost integrity. Then and only then would real historic fabric be appreciated and safe from dereliction.



Robert M. Kelly • [The] ideas of compatibility and right purpose and integrity are not rocket science but rather common sense.



David Gaby • At the same time I think that perhaps Max’s pessimism about the NPS and the SHPO’s should be married to Jennie’s interest in Democracy. What is needed is not just expertise in the distinction of the various types of columns (or window sash, or fenestration ratios). What is needed is for “Preservation” to reclaim its popular mandate, which derived from the public’s outrage at the wholesale and useless destruction of the 1960s, which included “Urban renewal” as much as Penn Station.

To do this we have to discard the useless and often corrupt distinctions about “Significance”, that is really a cover for snobbery and preservation of ‘Insider agendas”, and make sensible preservation of the built environment both a tool that is available and appropriate to people associated with the large mass of existing buildings, but also one of the leading forces showing the way to a “Sustainable” future….

…[T]he professional community’s attitude towards the assessment of “Significance” is important. The nitpicking approach, with discussion of whether there is artificial siding and so forth, is one of the tools the corrupt bureaucrats are using to intimidate community people. Every time this happens we lose potential constituency for preservation.

As professionals we should not ignore ignorance, especially among those who claim to be “Preservation architects, etc.”, but we should first condemn all those who pose as experts of whatever kind to justify needless waste of our existing built environment. Instead we should adopt a standard that ALL buildings are significant if they seem significant to members of their user communities, and that the “validity” of a structure for preservation should be based on whether it is well-enough preserved to represent its era or type within its cultural context (i.e. it is recognizable as an old house, etc.).



Brian Rich • I would like to bring it back to the question of meaning and “to whom are we conveying significance.” David and others have interestingly pointed out in their comments that often discussions with SHPOs and other officials about value and meaning of a landmark boil down to a question of whether something (apparently insignificant to us) has been changed.

I think that sometimes this is just where some people want the debate to be. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily where the debate should be. I rather measure value of a building from the point of view of what we feel when a structure is gone. Do we say “good riddance,” or do we say “goodbye old friend; I’ll miss you.” If we respond in the latter manner, then that building meant something to us – simple as that.

The Urban Renewal movement is happening again – in a way. Specifically, the sustainable design movement has some people thinking that we should demolish all the old buildings to make way for new, super efficient structures that will save the planet. Well, I’m preaching to the choir when I say that we know existing buildings can be renovated in sustainable ways and help save the planet quicker than replacing the old structures. I believe the sustainable design movement is misunderstood by too many people and that we can do sustainable rehabilitation without having to achieve a certain level of certification.

Of course, there are economic benefits, social and cultural benefits to rehabilitation of existing buildings too. If you want to know more, check out some of my presentations on the topic on my LinkedIn page.

So, if we really want to go this way, how do we codify David’s statement: “ALL buildings are significant if they seem significant to members of their user communities….” How do we regulate feeling in a manner that is not subjective and subject to every potential special interest group that wants to sway a decision one way or the other?

Maximilian Ferro, FAIA • I used to boast that there wasn’t a dog house or woodshed in the country that I couldn’t put on the Register. The NR just gave you an excuse to exercise your scholarly bullshit, and, when the SHPO’s became politicized, the same scholarly bullshit worked just fine the other way. One person’s significance is another’s lack thereof. The whole concept of significance has long been a farce, and needs to be replaced by the concept of appropriateness, which ties individual structures to historic environments.

Julie Paul Brown, AIA, LEED AP • I would like to put forth another related question: Why do we feel the need to “legislate” preservation? Is what we really seek a preservation “ethic”?

Recognizing the value of existing buildings we know is beneficial in multiple ways. “Meaning” is one of them, but as Brian first posed, it is also the most difficult to understand and substantiate…meaning for one may be irrelevant to others. And as Max notes property rights are fiercely defended. Asserting significance -or appropriateness over someone else’s property is a difficult stance to take. I would fear that either would privilege too much over “style” -which I would argue historic buildings are about more than just their style of architecture. They are evidence of what has endured…materially, emotionally, politically. Without at least 1 of those 3 qualities(material durability, emotional attachment, political will/power) they would no longer exist.

David Gaby • I especially think that the concepts of “Appropriateness” and “Environmental Value” should be thought through more fully. At the same time, though they were not INITIALLY involved in legislation, USGBC has been aggressive about setting standards, which have gotten themselves incorporated into funding formulas and code thinking. We in HP should be doing the same, and I think we should begin formulating a program to do this with all deliberate speed…

Jeremy Wells • [W]hen you describe that you “measure value of a building from the point of view of what we feel when a structure is gone,” I’m thinking about people’s emotional attachment to historic places. From my research, this is the real reason why people value historic places, but our regulatory tools have no ability to assess, much less recognize, this aspect of value. It’s an interesting challenge, actually, to “objectively” describe something as subjective as people’s feelings for places.

Maximilian Ferro, FAIA • Perhaps legislation is the wrong road. What we really need is to think about what we are doing, and to have more concern for the Community. So rules could be replaced by public planning, and Form Based Codes could enable entire neighborhoods and environments to reflect the aspirations of their inhabitants.

A Elizabeth Watson, AICP • In our heritage development practice, we create management plans that include interpretive planning – essentially, figuring out how to convey the meaning in a community’s or region’s story. I’ve found the whole process fascinating as a planner, wondering if we couldn’t harness it more for “ordinary” planning, to enrich public education and civic engagement, and placemaking in general. In the case of the challenges here, I wonder if adding some interpretive planning to existing historic preservation processes would help get ahead of the curve – all those too-old surveys; nasty surprises when something unregarded for years turns out to be important somehow, just when a developer decides it’s time to make changes; a public that’s tired of conflict over changes; a preservation message that’s getting lost, with resulting losses in the conflicts; etc.

[W]e’ve recommended organizing neighborhoods…  …to work on the stories to be told and the means to tell them (not just outdoor interpretive signs, perhaps community arts expression, lots of other ways). Those conversations could lead to an understanding of the city’s history and environment, and shared knowledge of structures and spaces and programs that had and have meaning. The first result would be educating residents and visitors about these places, the second would be implementing a plan of action for undertaking improved interpretation. Ultimately, a process like this in a given community could lead to preservation activities with renewed determination to share the stories AND to save those things that have great meaning to the current population…. …I feel certain that if one were to build a preservation-interpretive planning process from scratch, that better and even more meaningful preservation could result.



Virginia Greene • There can be contextual guidelines for contributing vernacular fabric that supports a general cultural backdrop. This sometimes defines a neighborhood or downtown and can celebrate America’s craftsmen who are oftentimes overlooked.



Brian Rich • How long do you save an unoccupied building before determining that it’s just needs to go away?  30 days?  A year?  More?  It’s difficult to discuss this in the context of establishing meaning for a place because even though a place may have meaning, it does not instantly mean that it is ripe for occupation and will be immediately rehabilitated.  There are several other economic, social, and environmental factors that go into rehabilitation of a building that it may be decades before one is rehabilitated.  Nonetheless, nostalgia can serve a role because the character of an area is kept in tact to be handed down to others in the future.



James Shive • “To only save older buildings that have a new use – at what point are these buildings determined to have “no new use” – after a 30 day period? A year?”

Indeed. New ideas for new uses or rehabilitation reuse can come along at any time. The keys are to: (a) preserve the building though actions like mothballing; (b) work seriously at the process of finding those new ideas, and (c) work even harder at marketing the ideas, once they do come along. Surely there are buildings which, through decades of sheer neglect, may well reach the end of their useful lives. However, there is no reason (and I say no excuse) for letting them essentially become victims of “Demolition by Neglect”.

James Shive • “There can be contextual guidelines for contributing vernacular fabric that supports a general cultural backdrop. This sometimes defines a neighborhood or downtown and can celebrate America’s craftsmen who are oftentimes overlooked.”

Indeed there can, and indeed there should be just that. The challenge is getting it into local guidelines, where it applies. They have to be crafted to meet the local situation and the local resources, but still within the general SOI guidelines, which, as far as I am concerned are the only real statement out there on general guidance. Unfortunately, perhaps far to often, especially locally, preservation commissioners and preservation officers are woefully unaware of even the contents of the SOI standards and guidelines. Likewise, they are too often too influenced by local pressure to “make the standards workable” by local developers and local governments. What too many perhaps do not realize is that there are a lot of folks out there, willing to invest in communities if they demonstrate a real understanding of and appreciation for real preservation.

Jeremy Wells • Eugene – One thing to keep in mind about the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and the seven aspects of integrity, and what I tell my students, is that they were originally created only to be used for federal historic tax credit projects and the National Register. The way that the Standards/Aspects have been uniformly adopted across the country by all manner of governmental and private entities was unanticipated and never intended.  This is not to say that the Standards/Aspects can’t be broadly applied to non-tax credit/non NR projects, as arguably they have helped save historic fabric in many buildings and places as well as identify them, but my issue is the way that they have been uncritically used. It’s as if the assumption is/was that if the government says so, then it must be the way things should be. Here’s a good question: other than those who have received training in historic preservation, does the average person that looks at the Standards/Aspects even understand why they were created and what their intent is? In other words — and this is just my theory — too many people simply use the Standards/Aspects “because they have to” rather than understanding the particular goals being achieved. Even something as fundamental as understanding that the primary goal of the Standards/Aspects is to retain fabric and character-defining features from the period of significance of the structure is not necessarily clear.



Brian Rich • What’s most important here is to carefully read the laws implementing these criteria. We recently had an designation hearing that we had to continue to another date because some in the audience (including some sharp eyed lawyers) actually read the Code. The way the code was written in this case, it grammatically implied that any designation had to meet all 7 criteria in order to be designated. As I understand it, the NPS intent is that some, but not all, of the criteria have to be met in order to make a structure eligible for designation.

Relative to our discussion about to whom we are conveying significance, this can become even more confusing for those who do not understand why a structure is designated. When the condition of a building can be pristine or severely deteriorated, and yet still be designated as a landmark, does this help or hurt the cause of preservation?

Jeremy Wells • Brian,

You bring up an excellent point about conveying significance through integrity/condition. The expert/objective perspective as embodied in preservation doctrine (e.g., the Standards, Venice Charter, 7 aspects of integrity) divorces structural/aesthetic/use value from physical authenticity value (i.e., retaining historic fabric from the period of significance of a structure/place). In my experience, this is one of the fundamental differences in a lay versus professional perspective in preservation: a “ruinous heap” can have oodles of historical integrity/physical authenticity, but yet have little or no potential use value. An easier way that I use to describe this to people is if human beings have altered the fabric of a building or place less than 50 years ago, that’s bad. If mother nature did the same thing, it’s typically not important or can even enhance the patina of place that makes things feel old. And we sometimes wonder why a lay audience doesn’t get the preservation argument…

The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown – Harvard Business Review

The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown – Harvard Business Review.


An awesome article about focusing on the essentials in order to be clear about your success.

Martindale-Kvisvik Chicken House Emergency Stabilization Complete!

The emergency stabilization measures for the Martindale-Kvisvik Chicken House, Barn and garage have been completed.  Richaven worked in cooperation with the contractor to design the cost efficient stabilization measures in time to prevent further deterioration from the winter weather.  The project was completed under budget and gives hope that the structures will survive until they are designated as landmarks and grant funding is available for further restoration work.


All photographs and content copyright Richaven PLLC, 2012

Washington Heritage Barn Program wins NTHP Honor Award!

Congratulations to the Washington Heritage Barn Program!  The program recently was given an Honor Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation at their annual conference in Spokane.  Richaven principal Brian Rich is a member of the Heritage Barn Advisory Committee and attended the awards ceremony.  Here’s the official press release from the National Trust about the award:


Washington’s State Heritage Barn Preservation Initiative is a fantastic example of how a grassroots network can work in collaboration with a variety of officials and agencies to produce legislative success.
House Bill 2115 was approved by the Washington state legislature in 2007 with overwhelming support and established the creation of a state heritage Barn Register, with a matching grant program to provide assistance to historic barn owners rehabilitating their properties. In less than 5 years, 486 barns have been included in the register. Three grant rounds have awarded $1 million in state matching grants to owners of 46 historic barns – 40 of which are still in active agricultural use.
While upgrading and restoring their barns, farmers are utilizing local lumber yards, hardware stores and labor, bringing a boost to the state’s economy. Through this remarkable program, Washington State is sowing the seeds of preservation in all 39 of its counties, and this initiative is certain to keep on growing.
photographs and original content copyright Richaven PLLC, 2012

Richaven goes to Hanford!

An amazing tour through Hanford’s B Reactor where the plutonium was made for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Pop Quiz:  Do you know why there were two bombs dropped in Japan?

Answer:  The first bomb was uranium and it was well known that there was a limited amount available in the world at the time.  The second bomb was plutonium based and proved to the world that the US had the capability of both types of bombs.  It also demonstrated that the US had the potential for many more plutonium bombs since plutonium was relatively easily made and ultimately ended the war.  While the loss of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was tragic, it also prevented the loss of millions more lives in a sea/ground invasion of Japan.

It’s also important to understand the story behind Hanford.  It was one of 3 sites (Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos) that were part of the design and construction of nuclear weapons.  In less than 3 years, the US went from having a tiny reactor in Chicago to bulding towns for 13,000 people at each of the three sites, designing the bombs, producing the uranium and plutonium, assembling the bombs and delivering them to their destinations in Japan.  Just building the towns that supported each site took crews of 50,000 to 60,000 workers that were housed in temporary facilities.  because the crew towns were in security zones, they had to be removed and only small parts are left to show the effort required to build B reactor.

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