AIA New Jersey Celebrates Historic Preservation Month with the Premier of Historical Buildings in a Post Pandemic Era

May 19, 2021

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AIA New Jersey Celebrates Historic Preservation Month with the Premier of Historical Buildings in a Post Pandemic Era

The AIA NJ Public Awareness Committee is continuing its successful series of free webinars for elected officials, municipal staff, developers, business owners, facility managers, operators, users, and architects to assist them in understanding operations and design changes that can be anticipated as a result of the pandemic. Each webinar will focus on a different building/ business type and feature a panel of AIA architects experienced in that sector. The series is developed and moderated by Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, CID, LEEP AP.

Historic Buildings in a Post Pandemic Era was originally presented live on March 25, 2021 by Jill H. Gotthelf, AIA; Michael Mills, FAIA; Tom Newbold, PE; and Walter Sedovic, FAIA.

From the ashes of a near-apocalyptic year, silver linings are emerging, illuminating approaches to how communities may begin again to safely and sustainably interact within both our built and natural environments.  As we seek to refine and re-engage myriad programs and institutions that underpin our lives and define our neighborhoods, it can be stimulating to see how the confluence of history, science, technology, and innovation successfully managed pandemics and other public health concerns for many generations, well before the advent of vaccines.  Those early approaches – endemic to many heritage buildings – remain powerful examples that can instruct our approaches to today’s health concerns, providing useful guardrails and precedents.

Essentially, this is a process of rediscovery, embracing a central tenet of architects’ ancient art:

  • discerning human needs and desires – environmental, social, healthful, aspirational;
  • evaluating options; and
  • divining solutions that are at once responsive, durable, and inspired.

Preserving this foundational approach is an ideal form of advocacy for history to repeat itself.

As our physical environments once again become settings to nourish social relationships and provide gateways to the larger world around us, there is likely to be corresponding demand to demonstrate that they also are safe zones, unencumbered by the threat of contagion.  Well-crafted heritage buildings, forged with the advancements of their day, are also steeped in tradition and empirical knowledge.  They possess inherent traits that often render them highly adaptable to modern needs, while addressing a more transcendent agenda, one that enhances emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing.  The oil embargo of the 1970s changed our sensitivities, though, birthing a feverish rush to re-engineer our heritage – vanquishing (but not obliterating) many of the favorable features that we now need to re-engage.  This trend toward overlooking healthful, inherent attributes of historic buildings continues to this day.  Insofar as these features still remain, often largely intact and ready to be rediscovered and put back into service, can be a revelation for stewards of heritage properties, one that is both exhilarating and economical.

Creating healthy environments that nurture innovative programs in the wake of a pandemic is an exercise of four interrelated components:  1. Scientific, analyzing conditions on the basis of an expanding universe of knowledge and practice; 2. Architectonic, identifying and capitalizing on intrinsic benefits of early features that support modern goals; 3. Technological, incorporating refined approaches to mechanical systems, both passive and active; and 4. Sensory, supporting a universal approach to wellness that ensures a sense of security when people are invited back in, breaking down barriers between outside and inside, re-evaluating traditional ways of defining space and – above all – recognizing this as our signal moment to re-imagine how buildings can best serve to foster engagement and inclusion.

Case studies focus on holistic approaches to issues of space and wellbeing; blending physical with emotional; rediscovering and re-evaluating existing buildings’ inherent qualities and readily adaptable nature; safety and security; optimizing programmatic needs; expanding accessibility; defining internal connectivity, circulation & egress; providing spatial flexibility; adapting seating plans; evaluating occupancy and density; accommodating emerging live/work needs; systems adaptation and optimization; and refining means and methods of maintenance and operation.

Click below to watch this webinar. 



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