Facade Additions

Additions to historic buildings are required, by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, to be sympathetic to and compatible with the existing building. Standard #9 is written as such:

New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.

Standard #10 is written as such:

New additions and adjacent or related new construction will be undertaken in a such a manner that, if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.

With proper consideration and consultation, a good addition is usually possible. However, sometimes, you’ll come across a building that completely violates all forms and any thoughts of a good addition. Often, this will be an addition on the facade (the front of a building). Sometimes you won’t even realize that there is another building behind it. Take these examples:

Barre Street in Montpelier, VT.

Barre Street in Montpelier, VT. There is an Italianate building behind that storefront addition.

Main Street in Montpelier, VT.

Main Street in Montpelier, VT. There is a small house behind that long front addition.

What do you think? Are facade additions ever appropriate? Considering how much of survey & determination of eligibility is based on the appearance of the street facade, it’s hard to imagine a good facade addition.

7 thoughts on “Facade Additions

  1. Mark says:

    Another interesting topic (man, you’re on fire lately !). You’d have a field day in Toronto, Ontario, where examples like this are the norm along many streetscapes. Most of them aren’t nearly as thoughtful as the grey Italianate structure shown above, believe it or not. I had a good laugh when you stated, “there is a small house behind that long front addition”…..as though it was no longer discernable. One day last year I was walking along a major street in this city and noticed a large, fine Victorian structure that had been completely surrounded by unsympathetic additions, to the point where you could barely see it any more. The problem is at least twofold: 1) at some point residential streets became commercial, and they merely added onto these large residential structures….2) that most of the additions were done so long ago that they predated any sensible regulations wrt massing, materials, scale, etc….

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Mark, thanks! Good point about the residential streets that become commercial. And true, the Italianate is not such a bad example. As far as bad additions go, it’s great that we are reusing building, but even in the name of aesthetics – aside from historic integrity – some should try a little harder!

  2. Jim says:

    I’m sure that at one time these additions made sense to somebody. Probably it was during the time when these structures were “just old houses” and not valued for their architecture, and the owner needed to do something very practical (such as in the case of the added storefront). Doesn’t every style of architecture go through a period in history where it’s not valued because it’s so common?

    • pjsarecomfyn says:

      This is a good point. Another great topic to discuss Kaitlin! This opens the book of the whole “schools of thought” when it comes to preservation. There are those who believe Historic Preservation means to take a building back to its original form, there are those who believe you have to keep all additions to preserve the true life of a structure through time, and there are those of us like me, who aren’t really sure what to think. Bahhaa. I think it can be a case-by-case basis. I think it is easy to see these additions as “ruining” the original fabric of the houses. But at the same time, the storefront addition contributed to the survival of that house as well….so it is hard to know exactly what to think/feel about it.

      • Kaitlin says:

        A case by case basis, for sure. We know that there are different standards to follow for significant buildings: preservation, restoration, rehabilitation, reconstruction. So that can guide us. Some compromise is necessary, but not complete compromise to the structures. Otherwise we’ll just be reusing boxes without any form or detail in a few decades.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Oh, definitely. Some styles take longer than others to be appreciated (like Queen Anne, Shingle and more recently International style and Brutalism).

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