Heitmann & Associates President and CEO Glenn Heitmann is surprised that more developers do not take advantage of one solution to the demand for new residential or commercial space: retrofitting an existing building. Like other cities in the United States, said Heitmann, Kansas City, Missouri is home to a surfeit of buildings constructed during the 1950s and 1960s “that have gone through a useful life cycle as it relates to the facade.” But while these structures might not meet contemporary demands for efficiency and comfort, “Rather than tear them down and start over, we can say there are choices,” said Heitmann.
Heitmann, who will participate in a presentation block on “(Re)designing Downtown” at the upcoming Facades+AM Kansas City symposium, sees existing buildings as “clean canvases” onto which builders can project just about anything, from surface rehabilitation to a complete aesthetic update. That said, a few facade-related factors outside the design and construction teams’ control can help determine the scope of the retrofit. The first is that renovated buildings must meet current building codes. “A building built in the 1950s was constructed for that code,” said Heitmann. “But keep in mind that your new building skin has to comply [with contemporary codes]. That means anything we do now needs to be airtight and thermally efficient.”
The retrofit of 1801 K Street in Washington, DC involved placing a new curtain wall over the original facade while the building remained occupied. (Courtesy Heitmann & Associates)
Second, explained Heitmann, would-be retrofitters must consider the condition of the anchors holding up the existing cladding. If they are in good shape, the team can opt to keep them in place. But if “over the years air or water infiltration has compromised structural integrity,” said Heitmann, they may need to start from scratch. Asbestos can also present a challenge. “Most people think about asbestos on the interior,” said Heitmann. “What I’m talking about is sealant or byproducts that make up the exterior facade.” In bringing up asbestos, he said, his intention is not to “use scare tactics,” but instead to encourage architects and builders to think through every facade renovation “clearly and holistically.”
Whether of an occupied or a vacant building, said Heitmann, retrofitting can be a powerful tool by which to improve a property’s financial value—not to mention occupant comfort. One example he cited was an office building in prime location that, through renovation, catapulted from Class B to Class A. Another concerned a “very high end” residential structure constructed in the 1960s. “People were frustrated,” said Heitmann. “They loved it, they loved the views, but they saw their investment dwindling” due to inefficiencies. A revamped skin, including new glazing and framing, brought the property up to snuff.
Learn more from Heitmann and other facades experts from Kansas City and beyond at Facades+AM Kansas City. Register today to secure one of the few seats remaining.
At Missouri State University’s Pummill Hall, the design and construction team replaced the original curtain wall with a new glass and aluminum-framed curtain wall. (Courtesy Heitmann & Associates)