Each time we are asked to work to preserve historic buildings or landmarks, we start by looking at the project from two different perspectives. One perspective is seeing the aspects of the project that are similar to working on new construction. The second is being prepared to foresee characteristics uniquely inherent to aging buildings, which other engineers may not be as familiar with and which may not be addressed by current Codes.
The first step is detective work. That is solving the riddle of how the building was built and understanding the archaic materials and systems used and the effects caused by time and moisture.
One example, we must understand cast and wrought irons and how they differ from each other and modern steel. Another is being well-versed in the properties and capacities of mortars, masonry materials, and wood products used for construction. Then we determine the extent of the damage and deterioration, the causes, how to mitigate them, and how to integrate and connect the new elements needed to restore it.
The mid-South has additional regional challenges, such as requirements for seismic anchorage. Historically, construction materials used in this region of the country were not as high quality as in more industrialized regions. Also, there is a shortage of skilled craftspeople to provide the restoration labor. Budgets for any restoration work are typically tight as well. The buildings we strive to preserve here simply start off having less monetary value than those built in preservation-rich areas such as Chicago or New England. In the mid-South, we will lose buildings to immediate demolition or, more slowly due to substandard work if our proposed solutions are not cost-effective or not fully implemented. Even with this challenge, it is possible to find solutions that stand the test of time, and when we do, it is beautiful. We strive to find clients interested in quality preservation.
We must work closely with architects, contractors, specialty craftspeople, restoration and repair industry experts, government agencies, and preservation-focused entities to achieve long-term results.