Research is at the heart of everything that Ann Beha Architects (ABA) does. The Boston-based firm has helmed major historic restoration and expansion projects for clients in the arts, education, and civic realms since it was founded in the 1980s. Today, ABA is a 35-person team respected for its sensitivity to the past and its progressive vision of the future. The firm is known for dusting off forgotten buildings and marshalling them into the present day through a process rooted in understanding the structure’s past, its relationship to the community, and the specific needs of the client.

Founder and principal Ann Beha, FAIA, has a background in historic preservation, as do longtime principals Pamela Hawkes, FAIA, and Thomas Hotaling, AIA. “Our job is finding a contemporary voice within a historic center,” Beha says.

The architects achieve this goal through intensive study of the site and the structure. Take the design for the University of Pennsylvania’s Music Building led by the newest ABA principal, Philip Chen, AIA. Constructed in 1892, the building is on Philadelphia’s Register of Historic Places, but it was poorly suited for a contemporary music program. Chen and his team carefully restored the original building while doubling the space available to programming through a contemporary addition that bolsters the original structure.

It became Penn’s first LEED Gold project. But it is the program, according to Chen, that makes it particularly sustainable. “One of our approaches when dealing with an existing structure is to infuse it with a vital program that makes it well used. That prolongs the life of any building,” he says.

The firm has earned AIA Honor Awards from the New York and New Jersey chapters as well as recognition for their significant contributions to historic preservation from the Boston Society of Architects and the Andover Architectural Society. (They also earned a nod in ARCHITECT’s Annual Design Review for their transformation of the Cambridge Public Library.)

This work isn’t always easy, and it often requires the firm to act as advocates as well as architects. “In the U.S., people have felt that to do an addition or a renovation of a historic building, you had to defer to the historic building,” says Hawkes. “We see our work as part of a continuum of this history and we feel strongly that the way to honor our historic resources best is not to mimic them, but to work in a conversation where each era is robustly reflected.”