Back to the future

Describing a project as adaptive reuse is often no more than an attempt to give a bit more credibility to a boring renovation. It is further complicated by the difficulties inherent in bringing heritage buildings back into use. But occasionally there is an exemplary project where the restoration of a heritage building is successfully combined with sustainability principles.


The 1871 Cambridge City Hall Annex, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began life as the Harvard School. It was renovated in 1942 as a municipal office building, the City Hall Annex. Its parapet and chimneys were removed in the 1950s to create a flat roof. After many subsequent partial renovations, the building was found to be suffering from a mould infestation and was evacuated in February 1999.

“We looked at the need for remediation of the Annex and decided it presented us with an opportunity to demonstrate that a municipality could take a leadership position by completely redesigning the building with historic preservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and environmental sustainability established as primary goals,” says Cambridge Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi. The project was designed with the prestigious U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) Program in mind by HKT Architects Inc. and Arup Engineering.


It’s a pity the interior fitout isn’t a bit more imaginative, but everything else is exemplary. Heritage conservation and sustainability are natural partners not only because of embodied energy issues but also because many old buildings are already built on more sustainable design principles than later builings eg natural ventilation, more durable materials.

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