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It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained and the appropriate types of materials are used, then the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused in preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.

As important as it is to preserve how our historical buildings actually are, inevitably replacements will need to be made when features are so deteriorated that stabilzation, conservation, or restoration are simply not viable options.

One example is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (the smallest National Park at the corner of 3rd and Pine Street in Philadelphia). We worked with the National Park Service to restore the exterior of the building including to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof.

To accurately preserve the Kosciuszko house, we needed to match not just the size, shape, and textures of the shingles themselves, but also the craftsmanship details added during the manufacturing and installation that characterized the roof. To do this, we ordered hand-split cedar shakes and had our detail-oriented artisan craftsmen recreate the original installation.

Video of shakes being hand-split for our order.

Without this attention to detail, the Kosciuszko house would not have been preserved as an accurate testimonial to our architectural heritage. It would have been easier and less expensive to replace the shake roof with any number of other options, including some that are commonly considered “historically accurate,” but they would have not been historically accurate on this house. Even if they were considered “period appropriate,” when we choose a different treatment than what was there originally, we are altering, not preserving, the very things that make the building historic.

In order to avoid significant and sometimes irreparable damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing pats of your building’s features. Use materials that match old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually). Also, document the original material, the replacement process, and materials used, for future reference and research.

Things to ask yourself about the materials on your building:

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of original features?
  • Have I had my building evaluated by a qualified contractor to identify any inappropriate replacement materials or approaches?
  • Do I document all replacements I do, including written and photographic documentation, noting the materials, details and tooling on both the original and the replacement?
  • Are there any parts of my building’s original features that are deteriorated or missing and need replacement?
  • Is it possible to replace the deteriorated parts instead of replacing the whole feature?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if remediation is needed for any not-in-kind replacements previously performed on my building? 

About Danielle Keperling

Danielle Groshong-Keperling has worked full-time in the restoration industry since 2001, but her education in the traditional trades, construction industry, and historical preservation was built from an early age through her Father's work in the traditional trades and her Mother's love of historic architecture. Now, with Jonathan (an artisan craftsman in his own right), her partner in business and life, they work together to help historic building owners restore and preserve their piece of our built history.

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