Overcoming retrofit and adaptive reuse roadblocks
AIA partner Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope and its Graham Architectural Products brand outline ways to tackle the challenges of one of the most visible components in retrofit projects: Windows.
Millions of square feet of vacant building space have been on the minds of architects and developers even before the pandemic added a significant number of office settings to that total. While retrofits, adaptive reuse, and additions are an attractive solution, historical requirements, codes, structural limitations, and client requisites can quickly generate a to-do list that can send anyone back to the drawing board to design a new structure instead.
While those challenges are formidable, the teams that embrace retrofits and adaptive reuse are checking off each one while bringing rejected buildings back to life to deliver exciting new experiences.
Here are ways to address those retrofit roadblocks:
Call on expertise early
“The owner and architect will zero in on the biggest budget item,” explains Bill Wilder, director of technical sales at Graham Architectural Products (GAP). “To fix a façade, you have to invest in the windows and doors, and windows are often the biggest expense.”
By bringing in the window manufacturer early, the architect can benefit from that expertise to ensure the window product will meet the specification. This is particularly important for projects aiming for historic tax credits.
It's easy to fall in love with a very competitively priced product only to learn that it can’t be approved by the historic approval body. That review and approval process can take 30 to 60 days, and each tweak to the product adds up. Something that should’ve taken two months can push the project six to nine months behind, and the expected financial savings have eroded due to the customizations needed to meet approval. A window manufacturer with experience in historic projects can help ensure the specified product can be approved in a manageable timeframe while meeting thermal, structural, and aesthetic requirements.
Window manufacturers providing window proposal drawings that can be imported into the architect’s drawings offer an important service. “This can be particularly beneficial for historic projects when the company accurately replicates the details of the original windows and provides a side-by-side comparison with proposed windows to resolve any issues,” Wilder explains.
Capture energy performance
Those drawings can be combined with calculations to help identify how to maximize thermal performance. While retaining the original façade appearance is often an important aesthetic requirement for retrofits, it can limit the glass options. This can be because a clear appearance is required on historic projects, or profiles and sightlines are difficult to match. Window manufacturers will have different options for thermal breaks and can also customize the package based on the tear out, how the opening will be sealed, etc.
A closer look at historic restoration: The Battery
Upon completion of its adaptive reuse and addition, the former power station of the Philadelphia Electric Company on the Delaware River — now known as The Battery — will offer event space, a hotel, apartments, commercial space, and more.
The project hit a snag when the team identified damaged concrete surrounds in the 40-foot openings, each of which house 12 to 15 windows. Graham Architectural Products pivoted to replicate the concrete surround detail in its custom “unitized” subframe, which also enhanced water management and created efficiencies for the installation while improving thermal performance.
GAP utilized a similar unitized system for The Battery addition, then delivered the factory-assembled unitized receptors and window units directly to the panel manufacturer so the entire unit could be assembled and sealed for efficient installation.
Don’t equate “custom” with “expensive” before examining the big picture. A custom unit can deliver multiple dividends across the assembly and installation. For example, by creating custom window systems for The Battery, expenses were recaptured for the customer and risk was reduced in many areas by:
- Maximizing thermal performance
- Eliminating trim and structural steel
- Eliminating some carpentry on-site
- Fabricating and assembling the unitized receptor sub-frames in the factory to reduce labor costs of assembling in the field and keep the full warranty with one company
In addition to improving project success and efficiencies and reducing risk and surprise expenses, the evolution of window solutions for retrofits and adaptive reuse projects is helping architects and developers reduce building inventories and preserve the past — as well as the environment — in our communities.
Learn more about Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope brand Graham Architectural Products’ retrofit, adaptive reuse and addition window solutions at grahamwindows.com.