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I have always wondered about the way historic preservation seems to be sidelined in design discussions in our country and can only guess it’s due, in part, to the (previously) seemingly endless source of building materials and land. It’s rare to see a project team work diligently to retain an existing structure and it’s character while creating something new. Hopefully we will see more of this as our resources become more scarce. On a technical note: While the buildings on Couch would need structural rehabilitation, the materials which comprise buildings of that era are of a quality unattainable in today’s lumber market. So while Mudd may have felt that the building was insecure structurally because something new would not look, feel or sound like that today, the renovations required are probably a little more reasonable. Further, upgrades to wood structures are not in the same cost category as upgrades for masonry, concrete, or steel structures. It’s more the planning of spaces and the FAR needed to make a project profitable that comes into conflict with the retention of buildings shaped like these in neighborhoods with this mix of uses. Aside from that, the missing ingredient is, as Henry C. Kunowski states above, a restructuring of design review. The character of a place is the sum of many parts. In the case of a neighborhood targeted for redevelopment like this one, it’s a grave mistake to think that any and all properties could be rebuilt/renovated to a healthy development formula while the neighborhood retains its beautiful, and ultimately profitable, character. I realize we are not discussing and and all properties, but the important thing to remember is that a regulation, standard, or guideline has to work across the board, otherwise it's useless as such and the system gets bogged down in exceptions and appeals. Regarding character, look at NW 23rd and count how many of those buildings are new developments and how many are old buildings. It’s a profitable neighborhood that also has character and it would not feel the same if the lots were all developed to their maximum allowable area. The case of the Galaxy and the apartment houses are perfect to illustrate this for the Burnside/Couch neighborhood. What do they add? Differences in architectural massing, details, and materials that are not possible or at least rare in today's urban environment, be it for reasons of cost or availability. The are adjacent to less distinctly massed and detailed structures and something will undoubtably be missing when the two properties are demolished. It would be a first step in the right direction if design review included thorough consideration of the massing and material character of existing structures. The next step is to incentivize tenant property ownership, as the relationship of tangible benefit, profit, and character are best understood from that perspective. Not to mention, properties tend to be more well-maintained when that is the case.
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Feb 7, 2011