St. Louis-based architecture firm Trivers Associates had to balance historic preservation concerns with modern performance standards when it recently rehabilitated a Beaux Arts federal courthouse located across from the Alamo in San Antonio.
Still, the firm was able to strike just the right balance, earning the project a LEED Platinum certification without disturbing Texas’ most hallowed ground.
Completed last summer, the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse became the first LEED Platinum building owned by the General Services Administration (GSA). The architects employed standard energy-saving techniques, sealing the building’s envelope and upgrading the building’s systems to high-efficiency mechanical and electrical ones, while striving to revive the building’s unique character.
“The building was in dire need of renovation,” said principal Andy Trivers. In addition to flunking the GSA’s energy performance standards, Hipolito lagged in security and accessibility, Trivers said.
An expansive Howard Cook fresco depicting Texas history adorned the lobby, but the whole front entrance of the federal courthouse had been shut down since 9/11, denying access to the public. The renovation inserted low shear-glass partitions that corral and guide visitors through the space to the security screening equipment at the back.
“It’s a delicate intervention of security that works with the historic element,” Trivers said. “Part of maintaining the historic character is not distracting [visitors] with contemporary interventions. All of these things had to be hidden.”
Vertical chases now hide heat-recovery equipment from the street view of the 1937 building, designed by architects Ralph Cameron and Paul Cret and constructed partially within the original walls of the Alamo.
“Essentially a huge ‘doughnut’” is the way Trivers described the six-story Hipolito building, which encloses a five-story light well. The architects inserted a green roof atop the second floor at the bottom of the light well and positioned solar photovoltaic and solar thermal panels on top of the building’s sixth floor.
All of the irrigation for the green roof, as well as for the rest of Hipolito’s landscaping, is collected on site. The building captures rainwater, as well as water from a small stream running underneath the building that the team discovered during initial site surveys.
The design also converted old postal service windows into touch screens, offering information about the building’s mechanical and electrical systems and earning the project a LEED point for education.
Courthouse judges value the use of daylight in historic buildings like Hipolito, Trivers said. “What they don’t love,” he added, “is that [historic buildings] don’t provide the technology they need.”
While retrofitting rooms to optimize daylight and integrate new technology, the design team also restored the building’s original electrical lighting fixtures. Those ornamental luminaires were shipped to Missouri, where St. Louis restoration company Antique Lighting rewired and rebuilt each piece using original materials.