News & Insights

How Modern Architecture’s Story Will Better Inform Construction Work

By Bob Score, Director of Historic Preservation

The recent passing of architect Ieon Ming (I.M.) Pei shines a light on the debates and challenges of maintaining and restoring Modern and Postmodern architecture. Many of Pei’s buildings are recognized as historically contributing. They are also being repaired and renovated to help sustain them well into the future. Restoration of these buildings will present new challenges in the repair of post-war materials and assemblies as well as how to adapt these buildings to meet current energy conservation standards. While the basic philosophical approaches to conducting preservation work applies regardless of the architectural style, construction managers and architects must find the creative design solutions for interventions that take into account the challenges of structural elements being integral to exterior and interior finishes, which make it harder to conceal new work and modifications.

Earlier this month Consigli, along with its partners Asturian Group and the architectural firm of Quinn Evans, won the design-build contract for the restoration of the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia. The Netherlands Carillon, designed by Dutch architect Joost W.C. Boks and dedicated in 1960, is a striking Modern-era tower clad with flush steel plates and one of the first Modern style monuments in the Washington, D.C. area. The restoration of the Netherlands Carillon will require careful dismantling of the steel cladding, preparation and application of new high-performance coatings as well as the reassembly of the cladding. Mock-ups and consistent quality control will be required to ensure that the new coating systems do not increase the panel dimensions beyond what can be accommodated in the minimal original panel joints.

From a construction management perspective, Modern style buildings require a creative approach to developing restoration treatments and finding the craftspeople that can perform them. Last year, for example, we completed the Smith Campus Center at Harvard University which was the renovation and restoration of the former Holyoke Center, a Brutalist style building originally built in the 1960s. Transforming this building into a contemporary campus center for thousands of occupants while also preserving the historically unique structural elements required innovative and creative solutions. We used Consigli’s own artisan craftsmen that had the knowledge and skills to work with the original building elements but could also harmoniously incorporate new materials. They preserved the original concrete and also performed selective repairs to match the color and texture of the new materials so that it was seamless with the original structure.

When restoring and renovating historic buildings, it is important to understand that these structures are telling a story. Losing I.M. Pei in the midst of Preservation Month reminds us of the significance of an architectural style that he dramatically influenced.  As more Modern era buildings come of age and are recognized as historic buildings, it is important to understand that the expressed structural elements and industrial manufactured materials that characterize the architectural style reflects a time in our society that wanted to do away with traditions of the past in favor of and to embrace the industrial advancements and cultural/political changes of the mid-20th century. Construction managers must commit themselves to preserving the stories told by these buildings when we undertake projects that require their preservation, renovation, or restoration. At the same time, in order to save and preserve these buildings for future generations means finding innovative and creative approaches to adapt them to meet our 21st century needs.