Rehabilitation and Adaptive Use
When initially assessing the exterior integrity of a mid-century modern building, one needs to carefully determine possible additions. If possible, determine when these changes occurred and if they were part of the original design. This may be difficult if permits and original plans are unavailable. However, if the permits and plans are available and the remodel follows those plans, then the assessment should explain this. If not, then note that too. Other cosmetic changes to the exterior may be difficult to detect unless collective memory and old photographs can verify the original exterior and subsequent changes.
Delayed maintenance for any building creates long-term problems regardless of the building’s age. Delays in exterior maintenance become critical with mid-century modern buildings because of the lifespan of some of the construction materials. Many times buildings constructed after WWII featured experimental components. As technology improved, new construction materials evolved. However, these materials did not necessarily stay in favor or prove to be viable for an extended period of time.
Thus, if the original construction materials are no longer available, there must be an evaluation of substitutions for consistency with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
. The evaluation of the property must assess whether changes are reversible if they were not part of the original design. Evaluation of replacement materials should also consider whether the original is still available when commenting on changes, and whether the substitute closely replicates the original.
Modern structures, no matter the size, are appropriate for new uses. Many buildings still serve their original purpose very well, but it is acceptable under the right zoning conditions to consider additional options. Modern design was planned to be versatile, enabling a building to serve a different purpose with a minimum of alteration. With adaptive use, the exterior remains largely the same, while minor or extensive work on the interior will make the building usable for a new purpose.
Many mid-century modern structures have a small footprint. This certainly goes with one of the era’s mantras of “less is more.” Unfortunately, small size today often presents issues for continued use. There is economy in scale, so unless the new owner is imaginative and hires an architect and/or contractor that share a similar imaginative spirit, the consensus may be to demolish the building. It may also be seen as a better investment.
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