New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings (Part C)

By The Old House Web

A sizeable addition was placed on a non-significant rear elevation of a late-19th century Greek Revival house that was rehabilitated for use as a bank with a drive-up component. The old building and new addition were sensitively joined by a small connecting hyphen. This approach meets the Standards for Rehabilitation. Photo: NPS files.

A contemporary new addition (above left) was designed to fit into a insignificant U-shaped area on a rear elevation of a historic library building. Note the new addition is lower than the historic building and clearly differentiated in appearance. This approach meets the Standards for Rehabilitation. Photo: NPS files.

This highly visible new rooftop addition appears to be part of the historic building because of its replicative design and historicized detailing, such as the arched windows. This approach does not meet the Standards for Rehabilitation. Photo: NPS files.

The following statement of approach could be applied equally to the preservation of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of National Register significance: "A conservator works within a conservation ethic so that the integrity of the object as an historic entity is maintained. The concern is not just with the original state of the object, but the way in which it has been changed and used over the centuries. Where a new intervention must be made to save the object, either to stabilize it or to consolidate it, it is generally accepted that those interventions must be clear, obvious, and reversible. It is this same attitude to change that is relevant to conservation policies and attitudes to historic towns..."

Rather than establishing a clear and obvious difference between old and new, it might seem more in keeping with the historic character simply to repeat the historic form, material, features, and detailing in a new addition. But when the new work is indistinguishable from the old in appearance, then the "real" National Register property may no longer be perceived and appreciated by the public.

Thus, the third consideration in planning a new addition is to be sure that it will protect those visual qualities that made the building eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

A question often asked is what if the historic character is not compromised by an addition that appears to have been built in the same period? A small porch or a wing that copied the historic materials and detailing placed on a rear elevation might not alter the public perception of the historic form and massing. Therefore, it is conceivable that a modest addition could be replicative without changing the resource's historic character; generally, however, this approach is not recommended because using the same wall plane, roof line, cornice height, materials, siding lap, and window type in an addition can easily make the new work appear to be part of the historic building. If this happens on a visible elevation, it becomes unclear as to which features are historic and which are new, thus confusing the authenticity of the historic resource itself.

The National Park Service policy on new additions, adopted in 1967, is an outgrowth and continuation of a general philosophical approach to change first expressed by John Ruskin in England in the 1850s, formalized by William Morris in the founding of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877, expanded by the Society in 1924 and, finally, reiterated in the 1964 Venice Charter--a document that continues to be followed by 64 national committees of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The 1967 Administrative Policies for Historical Areas of the National Park System thus states, "...a modern addition should be readily distinguishable from the older work; however, the new work should be harmonious with the old in scale, proportion, materials, and color. Such additions should be as inconspicuous as possible from the public view." Similarly, the Secretary of the Interior's 1977 "Standards for Rehabilitation" call for the new work to be "compatible with the size, scale, color, material, and character of the property, neighborhood, or environment."

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