AIA New Jersey’s Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner, AIA, Practices Preservation As a Form of Sustainability

March 30, 2019

Photo by Richard Trenner

AIA New Jersey’s Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner, AIA, Practices Preservation As a Form of Sustainability


Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP

Principal of Historic Building Architects, LLC


I was born in London and raised in the UK, so from an early age I was surrounded by old buildings steeped in history. I loved these structures, the stories they told and the settings they contributed so much to. When I went to college at the University of Edinburgh to study architecture, I already knew that for me personally, creating a brand-new building in an untouched green field, context-free, didn’t feel sustainable. So I earned my professional degrees with a focus on preservation architecture, and got my license to practice as an architect in the UK in 1986. A couple of years later, I moved to the U.S. seeking opportunities to work on early 20th-century buildings, gaining work experience with a couple of firms (on amazing buildings such as the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wingspread, in Wisconsin!) I became NCARB certified, then licensed in several states. After returning from a 6-month mid-career course in Rome at ICCROM, I started my own firm, Historic Building Architects, in 1994, first in the house I shared with my husband and two sons, then in 2000 investing in a late 18th-century stone house in Trenton for our growing historic preservation firm.


The Team at Historic Building Architects. Photo by Richard Trenner










Today, many restoration and renovation projects later, I continue to find this work very gratifying and I really enjoy mentoring younger practitioners in this specialty. I only wish that more people knew how exciting it is, with all the science and technology that are being brought to bear on preservation and conservation today. My staff and I are always learning more about cutting-edge innovations such as Non-Destructive Evaluation techniques, drones for surveying existing buildings, 3D modelling, and other ways to keep the costs of preservation projects reasonable, by allowing us to figure out the optimal ways to provide preventive and appropriate fixes to building conditions often caused by aging or inappropriate repairs. The UK is big on material science, and research and planning in the field of preservation architecture so here, we are an unusual architectural practice.


Photo by Richard Trenner












We go into projects with the goals of preserving historic structures of value, specifying and monitoring 100-year repairs. I feel that after we’ve done our job right, a valuable structure will still look very much itself, but cleaner and tidier than before we started. It will continue to embody a sense of place, and tell the story of its own history. Older buildings provide the social context within which newer ones can begin their own stories. The iconic structures of the Modern Movement need preservation, as will contemporary buildings someday — those that history will deem worth preserving.

As a woman architect, I am continually surprised at people’s general assumptions that women don’t know much about construction. My staff and I are hands-on on site, because the buildings we work with already exist, and have to be closely examined and diagnosed; and we just keep up this level of involvement as much as possible all the way through the execution of our construction documents. I find that contractors are pleased to be recognized for their knowledge; the construction administration phase is important and our staff members appreciate the chance to learn from it.


Photo by Richard Trenner 



In our historic research on buildings, we often find stories about the women in a community or organization who have been the most active and persistent in efforts to celebrate and preserve existing historic buildings. One can speculate on why that might be, but I for one am very grateful for their efforts.


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