Revising Preservation Brief 14

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of The Alliance Review, a publication of the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions.

Figure 3: This new addition, which features a drive-through teller window, to a historic Classical Revival-style bank was designed to appear as a compatible infill structure, rather than an addition to the bank.

Figure 4: Historic school buildings are commonly rehabilitated for multi-family housing. This often requires more space and, consequently, new construction, such as the building shown here, which is compatible with the historic school and its site.

A rendering of proposed infill construction within a dense urban historic district.

Figure 2: A tight urban setting may sometimes accommodate a larger addition if the primary elevation is designed to give the appearance of being several buildings by breaking up the facade into elements that are consistent with the scale of the historic building and adjacent buildings.

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One of the objectives in selecting illustrations for the new brief was to include a representative sample of building types, from single-family and multifamily residential to small, as well as larger–scale commercial, institutional and religious structures, and as many as possible different geographical regions of the country (Figure 2). And, thanks to reduced printing costs, it was now possible to print preservation briefs in color! Aside from the obvious fact that a color publication is more attractive, color enhances the reader’s awareness and ability to understand the point being made by the photograph. The intent in selecting illustrations was also to show new additions that reflected a variety of styles, from more differentiated to more referential to the historic building. An added challenge was to find enough "good" examples of new additions to illustrate. The NPS relies on tax incentives project files, which all too often do not provide good quality photographs, for the majority of the illustrations it uses for its educational programs, from publications and web features to professional presentations at conferences.

Although often asked about "infill" construction, because this is technically not a rehabilitation issue, the NPS does not have specific guidance that addresses this. However, the revised brief does include a section on new additions in densely–built urban environments, which is much the same as infill construction. "A densely-built neighborhood such as a downtown commercial core offers a particular opportunity to design an addition that will have a minimal impact on the historic building. Treating the addition as a separate or infill building may be the best approach when designing an addition that will have the least impact on the historic building and the district. In these instances there may be no need for a direct visual link to the historic building. Height and setback from the street should generally be consistent with those of the historic building and other surrounding buildings in the district. Thus, in most urban commercial areas the addition should not be set back from the façade of the historic building." (Figure 3)

Another topic that is not included in the brief because it is not an addition is new construction on the site of a historic building or adjacent to a historic property. New construction as it relates to historic buildings may sometimes also be considered infill. It is reviewed in rehabilitation projects from the standpoint of how it impacts the character of the historic building and, when applicable, the historic district in which it is located. The historic property must remain predominant and its historic character must be retained. Generally the same recommendations for compatible new additions apply equally to new construction. (Figure 4)

Almost two years have passed since the revised preservation brief was published. All too soon it may be time to update again, but only to refresh the illustrations. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation were crafted to stand the test of time. So far they have and the guidance they provide has not changed. Thus, Preservation Brief 14 should continue to serve its purpose by providing valuable insight regarding compatible new additions to historic buildings in rehabilitation projects.

Editor’s Note: Preservation Brief 14: New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns is available to download in PDF format or you may purchase printed copies of the brief.