A restoration of Wilson Hall, a 1931 structure at Virginia’s James Madison University, brought it up to current performance standards.
Glave and Holmes A restoration of Wilson Hall, a 1931 structure at Virginia’s James Madison University, brought it up to current performance standards.

Every year a new crop of buildings becomes eligible for historic preservation, as determined by criteria set forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior: to qualify, structures must be 50 years of age or older. As more and more midcentury buildings qualify, and as an increased focus on sustainability forces architects and clients alike to consider the benefits of new construction versus rehabilitation of existing building stock, the number of buildings requiring renovation is expected to rise exponentially over the next few decades. According to a 2016 study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it can take between 10 to 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction.

In response to this expected increase in demand, Richmond, Va.–based firm Glavé & Holmes Architecture recently founded a specialized studio poised to address it. Susan Reed, AIA, is the firm’s newly minted director of historic preservation, and she is optimistic about the potential that buildings from the past hold.

“Having the preserved historic character in our built environment is essential for quality of experience,” she says. “It seemed like a great time to formalize a dedication to preservation projects. [Preservation] is not more complicated, but you do need people who understand working with existing buildings and historic building materials.”

Why is historic preservation important to the architects at Glavé & Holmes?

The firm was founded in 1965. [Founder] Jim Glavé was a huge preservation advocate, so it’s been in the firm’s DNA throughout its entire existence. I came on board about three years ago, and historic projects have been my focus for 20 years. It’s anticipated that the AEC industry will trend toward renovation versus building new [in the coming decades], especially in higher education. Rehabilitating existing structures is also more sustainable. Working with what you have creates less of a carbon footprint, in addition to preserving historic character.

Will these historic restoration and renovation projects ideally raise the profile of historic preservation’s role in sustainability?

Yes, it’s tied into that. Aside from the fact that there is the expense of a new building, it’s not as sustainable an approach. Sometimes I think taking an existing building and modifying it can be intimidating for people, but it shouldn’t be, especially when there’s a team of qualified architects and designers that can help you. It’s certainly possible.

What are some recent projects that you’ve worked on?

Wilson Hall, at James Madison University, used to be used for classrooms, and was lately more administrative. One of the things we were able to do was put a compatible program back into that building. In that case, it was too prominent of a building and it never would have been considered for demolition, but I think the realization was that you can retain all of the historic character and modernize the building so that it can serve the academic use that it needs to again. The restoration really brought it up to current performance standards and put it back in a vibrant service to the university while retaining historic character. So that’s the kind of thing where it might be intimidating in some scenarios, but it’s certainly possible.

What’s your personal background with historic preservation?

I was 15 when I went on an exchange to Italy, and Florence will have that affect on you. [laughs] Really, that’s kind of when I fell in love with art history and architectural history. My undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia was in art history and architectural history. I considered doing painting conservation but ended up deciding to get a master’s in architecture with a certificate in historic preservation, and I decided I wanted to restore buildings instead of paintings.

What role do historic tax credits play in being able to complete historic preservation projects?

We’ve very fortunate that Virginia has a very strong historic rehabilitation tax credit program, and that, partnered with the federal credits, has been really instrumental in saving a lot of historic buildings. I’ve worked on a lot of projects where clients have said, from the start, that tax credits are essential to making the projects work: 25% for the Virginia credits, paired with 20% for the federal, that’s 45% of your qualified rehabilitation expenses that can go back toward the project. I’m a huge supporter of the tax credit program. The program lets you modernize and update buildings while still respecting the character-defining features. The hoops and hurdles aren’t so much that they should scare people off.

Do clients usually look to the firm to help them navigate that process?

Absolutely. Clients can be as involved or step as far back as they would like from that process, and we handle it all. It’s something we’re very happy to help with.

Are there any upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about?

One that’s coming up is the Branch Museum of Architecture & Design here in Richmond. It’s a 1916 John Russell Pope building that’s absolutely stunning. We’re working with them now, kicking off a series of projects to help stabilize the building envelope.

Also right now the Virginia Commonwealth University Scott House is under construction, due to wrap up in June. It was a 1911 private residence for the Scott family, but VCU now owns it. The interiors are incredible, but the limestone exterior needed a lot of repairs. The historic detailing is being restored and very carefully respected.

How does your studio partner with other firms around the country?

We’re actually doing a historic consulting project in Florida. We’re thrilled to partner with architects that may need the historic expertise we can offer, whether that’s as a partner, a consultant, or an architect of record.

Is there one specific time period you tend to work with more than any other?

It’s quite an exciting range, and we like that. For example, the Waterford Mill, [a recent project], is from 1818, but James Madison University’s Wilson Hall is 1931. As midcentury buildings become historic, we’re excited about the opportunity that their eligibility for the tax credit program opens up. We have worked across the sector of the eras.

We feel that our new studio is a wonderful confirmation of the importance of historic preservation in the field of architect, and I’m honored that I’m getting to head it up. The preservation community is supportive—everyone helps each other.