The Value of The Architect Series Presents “Adapted Reuse: Recycling Old Buildings”

May 28, 2022

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Photo by HBA, LLC

The Value of The Architect Series Presents “Adapted Reuse: Recycling Old Buildings”

According to the New Jersey Administrative Code, ARCHITECTS are the only professionals,” through education, training and experience, skilled in the Art and Science of Building Design, that are licensed to practice architecture in New Jersey”
“The Practice of Architecture “means “providing of services in connection with the design, construction, enlargement, or alteration of a building or group of buildings and the spaces within and surrounding those buildings, that are for human use or habitations.”
There is a perception that preservation work is costly. In fact, with good advice from a preservation architect, construction costs can be managed and contained provided a thorough investigation has been completed prior to bidding.

Community Value

Preservation architects can improve the quality of a project, and save time and money while preserving historic structures for future generations. Having worked for the past 30 years on helping to preserve cultural heritage sites it is easy to look back and see the value that we have brought to the projects that we have worked on. Most recently I have noticed how much people value a sense of place and the history in their surroundings. As preservation architects, we work to uncover and tell the hidden stories through the buildings we help preserve. This brings pride and joy to the diverse communities we work with and to our team of professionals and craftsmen. The value is not just cultural but also socio-economic, political, and educational. To successfully sustain cultural heritage sites, preservation architects facilitate a better understanding of their holistic value, which builds consensus and an enthusiastic commitment from communities to preserve and find new uses for the cultural heritage sites in their neighborhoods.


Sustainable Value

As we continue to see the growing impacts of global warming, the idea of recycling old buildings and the sustainable value of such activities should be more readily recognized. Preserving old buildings and finding new uses clearly reduces our landfills, and carbon footprint and preserves our heritage and well-being. Moreover, the quality of construction in these historic buildings is often far superior to anything we build today. For example- look at a 1-inch section of wood from an old window with at least 20 growth rings, then look at a 1-inch section of a new wood window and you will see 4-5 growth rings. There is no doubt the quality and grade of materials offered today are very different from the materials of the past.


Understanding Traditional Construction Value

Preservation architects understand the traditional construction techniques used during different historic periods. We understand how mortise and tenon framing works and can consult closely with preservation structural engineers to design repair solutions that do not change the structural framing paths of old wood-framed buildings, thereby retaining their authenticity. We understand early 20th-century structures that have steel frames hidden behind their classical facades. While every building is unique we have been trained to identify historic construction techniques.


Assessment Value

Most work we do begins with looking at building conditions. Materials have often deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and can be exacerbated by more recent inappropriate alterations and repairs. I often say if historic buildings were maintained, preservation architects would be out of business!  As preservation architects, we do not just identify deteriorated conditions, but work to investigate the cause of the problems because only then can we recommend appropriate long-lasting repairs. Our mantra is to provide 100-year repairs to these buildings because this is both a sustainable and cost-saving activity. For example, it is cheaper to install one slate roof than three asphalt shingle roofs over a 100-year period when you look at the cost of staging, demolition, landfill, and construction work effort with inflation to boot.


Technology and Material Conservation Value

Technology is now used extensively by preservation architects to address hidden deteriorated conditions that can create delays and cost overruns during construction. There is a wide range of non-destructive evaluation (NDE) techniques that can be used to see under the “skin” of buildings. This can include infrared surveys to identify voids and moisture paths and ground-penetrating radar that can identify corroded anchors on the back of masonry. As preservation architects, we understand how historic buildings are constructed and can identify the most useful NDE techniques to be used. We use small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and 3D cameras with rovers to reach places that we could not previously see.  During bidding, this information can be shared with contractors so they understand the conditions too. sUAS software allows us to quantify roof sizes and pitches, and to create 3D scaled models of the building exterior. Technology is now an important part of the preservation architect’s toolbox.

Material science can guide appropriate repairs, identify causes of deteriorated conditions, and provide information on the building’s history. At Historic Building Architects we have our own in-house material conservation laboratory, so that preservation architects can work directly with conservators to identify historic finishes and materials. For example, at Stuart Hall, (Princeton Theological Seminary) we were able to identify three different colored mortars, including a rare bird’s egg blue designed to complement the polychromatic stonework. Paint analysis can help explain the chronology of construction and alterations to buildings. It can also provide the original color scheme for the building and identify the original architect’s design intent. This helps to enhance the character-defining features of the architecture.



As preservation architects, we respect the past and recognize that we are merely stewards caring for the buildings designed by previous architects. In some ways, we live vicariously through these architects and master builders, and I am always in awe and learning from the quality and detailing of their work. For the sake of our planet, we must continue to preserve and adapt historic buildings, to maximize their reuse and respect their authenticity. This is a balancing act that can only be done by a Preservation Architect.


About the Author



Annabelle Radcliffe Trenner founded Historic Building Architects, LLC, Trenton, NJ, an award-winning firm specializing in historic public buildings, in 1994. She was trained as a preservation architect in Scotland and then at ICCROM in Rome.

  • National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Certified,
  • Licensed Architect in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Florida
  • Architects’ Registration Council, United Kingdom
  • Past Board Member of Association Preservation Technology International

Annabelle has a keen interest in the long-term planning for and the ethics of intervention on historic properties. Eager to educate the public, she lectures on preservation issues internationally. One of her interests is the use of technology, and material and NDE science to supplement the visual understanding and planning for the preservation of buildings. She is a small Unmanned Aircraft Systems certified FAA pilot, and since 2014, HBA has been using sUAS to document and survey historic buildings. HBA also specializes in Vision Planning for historic sites transitioning into the public heritage realm and has an in-house material Conservation Laboratory.


She has been interviewed on National Public Radio and NJ Television on historic preservation issues, and following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, by NBC and Fox Business News. She was the preservation expert featured in a new TV show “If We Built It Today” which aired in 2019 with a two-hour special on Notre Dame. Recently completed projects include Stuart Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ, Bayada Home Healthcare Headquarters, Moorestown NJ, which received awards from NJ AIA, Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, NJ HPO and Preservation NJ; Batsto Mansion, Wharton State Park; Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL; Saint Francis De Sales, Philadelphia, PA, and Cedar Bridge Tavern, Barnegat, NJ. Current projects include; Castle Hill Ipswich MA, The Olson House, Cushing, ME. And in New Jersey projects include Princeton University Chapel,  The Old Post Office, Princeton NJ, MAST Naval Science Buildings at Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, Ringwood Manor, Ringwood State Park, and Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hennessy Hall. For more information on her work and the HBA team, please review HBA’s website at

About The Value Of The Architect Series

The VALUE of the ARCHITECT Series, is a periodic ARTICLE,  issued as a BLOG, by the AIA-NJ Public Awareness Committee. The Article’s mission is to EDUCATE the General Public and INFORM an audience of those that work with Architects, deal with the subject of Architecture,  and affect the Professional Practice of Architecture. The series was conceived by Edward N. Rothe, FAIA, Past President of AIA New Jersey, and award-winning architect and businessman. 
The Committee is seeking AIA-NJ members to participate in this important, The VALUE of the ARCHITECT,  series. The series will initially focus on how architectural design can create “Economic Value”. For example, design principles, such as Building Area Efficiency, Low Net to Gross Square Foot Add On Factors, Building Shape, Building Orientation,  Column Spacing, Floor to Floor Heights,  Low Maintenance Exterior Wall Materials and   Interior Finishes, apply to a wide number of project types, Offices, Schools, Hospitals, Apartments, etc. ALL create “Economic Value” by Maximizing Useable  Program Areas while Minimizing Overall Gross Building Areas, INCREASING building revenue/use while REDUCING total building costs.  Site Development projects that maximize Land Use, also create “Economic Value”. Sustainable and Energy Efficient projects that use natural light, roof overhangs, insulating material, and innovation, also provide “Economic Value” by reducing owning and operational costs.  There are also many other examples that can apply.
This is an opportunity for members to increase public awareness of The Value of the Architect while presenting their projects, focusing on “Economic Value”. Interested members should contact Stacey Kliesch, AIA at as soon as possible to be considered.

About Architects, AIA and AIA New Jersey

Facebook:       @AIANJ

Twitter:           @AIANJ

Instagram:      AIA New Jersey

Linkedin:         AIA New Jersey

Architects are creative professionals educated, trained and experienced in the art and science of building design and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.

Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through a dynamic network of more than 250 chapters and more than 95,000 member architects and design professionals, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. The organization’s local chapter, AIA New Jersey, has served as the voice of the architectural profession in the Garden State since 1900. Based in Trenton, AIA New Jersey has over 2,000 members across six sections. For more information, please visit


By | Posted in Historic Resources | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments (0)



Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.

414 Riverview Plaza, Trenton, NJ 08611
(609) 393-5690