Brutalism at IKEA

I’m a preservationist, but I live in a small condo, in a new building in Vermont. This sounds opposite of a what a preservationist would choose, right? Well, sort of. While the building was constructed in 2014, it was constructed on a parking lot in downtown Burlington. I can walk everywhere and choose to use the car as minimally as possible, embracing an urban lifestyle and shopping local when feasible. Because my condo is small, I have come to embrace IKEA design. It’s minimal, modern, streamlined, and perfect for small space living. I can spot an IKEA piece from across a room or from a glimpse at a photograph and know what is worth buying and what isn’t. Anyone with me?

Recently, I visited IKEA New Haven (CT). I’ve blogged about this IKEA before. It’s the one that sits next to the (now IKEA owned) former Pirelli Tire Building, a 1968 building designed by Marcel Breuer in the Brutalist style. IKEA demolished the two-story wing, but the main block remains. Not the best preservation story.

During my recent visit, I peaked in the windows of the building. It’s still empty. However, news reports say that IKEA is considering rehabilitating the building into a hotel. It’s just a rumor, it seems, but it sounds promising, and maybe would serve as (belated) mitigation for the adverse effects to the building. It would make IKEA a destination, for sure. Ha.


View from the IKEA cafeteria. 


Reflected in IKEA. 


Exterior details. 


Looking up.


Peeking inside the bottom floor of the Pirelli Tire building.


Sitting in the IKEA cafeteria, you can gaze upon the Brutalist architecture. 

What do you think? Do you appreciate Brutalism more as time goes on? Do you love IKEA or steer clear? And where do you live? Urban? Suburban? Rural? New? Historic?


Abandoned New York: Granville House


Granville, NY

Sometimes a house catches your eye and you have to make a U-turn to take a better look. Been there, done that, right? Well, this house in Granville, NY on Route 22 caught my eye. It’s so neat and well-kept, that I couldn’t quite decide what was going on. But it appears that a restoration project has stalled. Have you seen this house? Do you know anything about it?



Slate embedded in the sidewalk matches the house.



Zooming in, it’s not in the best of shape. Missing windows, missing soffits, porch roof in need of help. Yet, look at the details in the porch.



I couldn’t quite call this abandoned as it’s so neat and tidy, perhaps just the restoration is neglected?



The detail remains intact.


I’d love to know the history and current status of this house.

#ihavethisthingwithfloors, Lightner Museum Edition

The mosaic tile floor in the lobby of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, FL, is one of the prettiest floors I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s one of the prettiest rooms. It would be a perfect place for a preservation party! Take a look. 

Coming up: more on the Lightner Museum & Alcazar Hotel. 

Abandoned Vermont: Highgate Springs Church

Highgate Springs, a small town just south of the USA/Canada border, sits on US Route 7, directly adjacent to Interstate 89. Home to lakeside homes, a family resort, and working farms, you wouldn’t know much is there, except for the church steeple that you can see from I-89, if you’re paying attention. Finally, I had the opportunity to drive by and snap a few photographs.


You can immediately see the variety of architectural styles: the stick style gable screen, the Gothic entrance hood and pointed window arches, and the classical modillions on the tower.


The Highgate Springs Union Church, this Victorian Gothic building was constructed in 1877, with a mixture of Stick, Classical, and Gothic details. Originally built as a single-denomination church, it was soon used by a  “union” of Highgate denominations. It is listed in the Vermont State Register of Historic Places (#0609-58).

“The Little White Church,” as it’s locally called, is not technically abandoned, based on what I can find. However, it no longer offers regular services. Instead, it’s used for special events such as weddings from May- October.


The church sits on at a small Y intersection.




The benefit of late spring in Vermont: you can see the buildings through the trees even in mid May.



The entrance.



Looking up to the steeple. The siding is flushboard on the tower, a more expensive look that the typical clapboard (on the right).



Flushboard siding.



Classical, Gothic, and Stick details.



A trick to tell if a building is being used? Is the electrical meter hooked up? If so, it’s not abandoned. Perhaps more neglected. This siding show paint peeling and repairs needed.



Peeking in through the windows.



The altar, as seen through the windows.



The exterior.

Beautiful, yes? And not abandoned, but it could use some maintenance and more funding and greater usage.

Every community seems to have similar issues with churches. What about those near you?

Abandoned Vermont: Ludlow House

At the corner of Main Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Ludlow, VT, sits an 1849 stone house. It’s an impressive building, one that I haven’t noticed in my travels, probably because I’m normally staring at the Fletcher Library across the street from this house. Finally, I noticed it.

This building is an 1849 stone building constructed in the unique “snecked ashlar” style (Scottish tradition), by William Spaulding. Originally there was a store on the first floor. Snecked ashlar is found only in southeast/central Vermont. (Chester village has an entire historic district of snecked ashlar, but otherwise it’s rare.) (State Survey # 1410-12.)

However, get up and close and you’ll be frightened by what you see. Structurally speaking, it’s not good. As in, I wouldn’t stand too close to that building. I think the walls are going to collapse.

I checked out Google Street View, and from the side street (Commonwealth Ave) you can see a Best Western sign on the front lawn (from Main Street it does not show). To confirm, I searched the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation online resource center. And yes, that was the answer! In the 1990s, the Best Western purchased the stone house at 83 Main Street to convert it to a 5 unit inn (click to read the Environmental Review file).  However, the Division for Historic Preservation denied the initial request as it would have adversely affected this historic building. The Division provided suggestions as to how to work with the building, rather than against it, and what features to retain and preserve. At first, Best Western even wanted to put vinyl siding on the building! As you’ll read in the file, the Hotel and the Division came to an agreement on how to move the project forward.

See, preservation is not about stopping progress! Just moving it forward with respect to the past.



83 Main Street.


Shutters falling off the front gable end.


Due to the precarious condition of the building, I wasn’t about to stand under it to read that notice.


It’s hard to capture in a photograph, but the slabs of stone are falling off the exterior wall, which is bulging at the middle. Windows are popping out of the frames.


Another angle. In the middle you can sort of see the damage in the middle of the building elevation (look for the smaller rock instead of the stone slabs).


Rear addition.


This side is just as bad as the other side. Check out the door.


Poor “snecked ashlar” house.

But, what about it now? My first guess was that the Best Western couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep up with the maintenance. However, a bit more digging revealed in January 2015 there was an explosion in the building causing $500,000 worth of damage. Fortunately, no one was injured, but there was substantial structural damage.

Do you live in Ludlow? What’s the latest update?

Cornwall Schoolhouse

Our tour of Vermont one-room schoolhouses continues. Here’s one in Cornwall, VT off Route 30 that I’ve wanted to photograph for years. The Cornwall District No. 3 schoolhouse was constructed in 1830. It operated as a school until the 1950s.

cornwall school 3

Cornwall, VT. District No. 3 school. Stereoscopic view, ca. 1890. 

Today the school is a seasonal residence. The entrance has been enclosed and the vertical siding has been replaced with horizontal clapboards, but the details and characteristics remain intact (brackets, arch, steeple, slate roof, bank of windows). The house looks lonely on a spring day, but looks well maintained.





Looks like a pretty good seasonal residence, doesn’t it? I hope people still use it.

With Your Coffee {Tuesday Edition}

Shard Villa in Salisbury, VT

Hello preservationists and friends! It’s time for an unconventional Tuesday “With Your Coffee” post because it’s good to switch it up once in a while. How’s it going by you? Work and life have been busy around here, but in a good way with challenging work projects, more daylight, and many good reasons to get outside. Here are a few inspiring and fun links that I’ve come across lately, some preservation, some design, etc. What about you? Fill me in!

Have a great day! Let me know if any of these stories spark a conversation. Cheers!

The John Roberts Houses of Burlington, VT

You might be wondering what the John Roberts houses are, as I’ve recently posted a few shots from around Burlington, VT. Good question, and it’s about time I gave you some additional information.

Peering over the picket fence at a John Roberts house in the Old North End of Burlington. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

John Roberts was a builder in Burlington, VT who constructed many Queen Anne style cottages throughout the city in the 1880s/90s. They are recognizable by their similar characteristics: 1.5 story, gable end facing the street, two narrow second story windows above the first floor bay window, a side porch, and decorative millwork on the upper story in the gable. This millwork is diamond cut shingles and criss-crossing patterns of applied stickwork. Many of these houses were built for about $900. There are about 50 of these houses throughout Burlington. (For reference: see the “Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, Vol. III).

A John Roberts house on North Winooski Avenue in the Old North End of Burlington, VT. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on


A slightly less noticeable John Roberts house in the Old North End of Burlington, VT. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

The houses have been altered over the years as you can see in the examples I’ve shared. The bay windows are replaced or the two windows on the upper story are replaced with one window. The porches have been enclosed. The details is painted to match the rest of the house, rendering the tell-tale gable details more difficult to spot.

The same, but different. Can you spot it? #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Looking at the above photo, some of you noticed that these three houses are very similar. Correct! In fact, because  of the alterations, I had to step back from the sidewalk to notice that all three are John Roberts houses. The far left has been covered in vinyl (see photo below). The middle retains the most integrity. the house on the right has replaced the gable window, and converted the porch window to a door, allowing for an additional entrance.

It’s an interesting (albeit sometimes sad) game of comparison and contrast. And it makes you wonder why owners choose to remove some details and not others, why particular windows were replaced. Observing these John Roberts houses truly shows what can happen to buildings over time if craftsmanship is not maintained and respected. Thankfully many of the John Roberts houses are mostly intact. 

And there are 50! Guess I’ll be out there searching for others – some good running entertainment. Do you know of any? If you leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to go take a look!

ROM: A Museum Addition with Much To Say

Institutions grow out of their historic buildings as their functions and purposes change and time progresses. They will need new space. Architects design the latest trends, looking to make a mark on the world. Preservationists seek to find common ground and conversation between historic buildings and architects. Yet, architecture – old and new – remains subjective. The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada is a prime case study for this discussion.

Let’s start here:

The Royal Ontario Museum  (

The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada.

What is that?, you might ask. That is the 1912 Royal Ontario Museum building with the 2007 “Crystal” addition designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Intriguing, yes? Take a look at more photos before we talk (and click here for the project photos from Studio Libeskind).

The view across the street.

The view across the street.

The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent historic buildings.

The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent buildings.

View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).

View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).

My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?

My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?

Checking out the connection on the facade.

Checking out the connection on the facade.

The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

Still with me? It’s a crazy building, but you can’t ignore it or turn away, right? Unable to answer the question of how does the addition connect to the original building from the outside, I ventured inside. Here’s what I found:

The atrium, of sorts.

The atrium, of sorts.

I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.

I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.

Another connection view.

Another connection view.

In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

The entire floor of the new building sloped towards the front door; a little disorienting for those of us accustomed to walking on generally level surfaces. After chatting with one of the employees, I learned that the building was quite controversial and does not have plumbing (it remains in the original building). Interesting. This employee indicated that the addition had a lot of political pressure behind it.

Regardless of public opinion, I want discuss, with you, the addition in terms of historic preservation (or heritage conservation as the Canadians say). Is this style of architecture appropriate for the historic 1912 museum? Is it intriguing? Atrocious? Offensive? Welcoming?

The architect’s portfolio describes the addition as this:

The entire ground level is unified into a seamless space with clarity of circulation and transparency.  The Crystal transforms the ROM’s fortress-like character, turning it into an inspired atmosphere dedicated to the resurgence of the Museum as the dynamic centre of Toronto.

The design succeeds in inviting glimpses up, down, into galleries and even from the street. The large entrance atrium, the Gloria Hyacinth Chen Court, separates the old historic building from the new, providing a nearly complete view of the restored façades of the historic buildings.   The Chen Court also serves as a venue space for all kinds of public events.

Where to start? Well, it’s interesting. It does offer glimpses of the other buildings. One street facade is restored. Still, is this an appropriate treatment of this historic building? Let’s consider what the National Parks Service and Parks Canada would say.

In the United States, we follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation when dealing with historically significant buildings and new additions or alterations, most notably the following two:

  • (#3) Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, will not be undertaken.
  • (#9) New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will 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.

In Canada, the regulations are not identical, though Parks Canada has The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Similar to the US Standards, Parks Canada offers this about rehabilitation:

  • (#2) Conserve the heritage value and character-defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related new construction. Make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.
  • (#3) Create any new additions or related new construction so that the essential form and integrity of a historic place will not be impaired if the new work is removed in the future.

Basically, both the US & Canada’s guidelines say that new addition should be recognizable as new and simultaneously compatible with the old and the environment. And, should the addition be removed it should not impact the historic building (presumably the historic – the more prominent building – would be the one remaining). Due to these standards and guidelines, additions are often subservient to their predecessors. Setback from the original, additions employ similar architectural features without being renditions. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are boring, because – at least if they’re boring – the additions do not overpower the original. From one streetscape, the Crystal overpowers the original, wouldn’t you say?

If we’re talking personal opinion: I like it for its intriguing angles and new approach to additions (I’m tired of boring additions that look like subdued versions of the old, unless the environment calls for such a thing). Yet, after looking through the architect’s portfolio and searching for other modern buildings, this one is not as unique as I would have expected.

But, on a professional review: the addition does not comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It is not visually compatible and removal would damage the building. However, is it not visually compatible because we’re not trained to read buildings with striking modern additions? Should we redefine how we look at buildings and additions? After all, there are countless style-less additions that ruin buildings. Maybe this one doesn’t ruin it so much as highlight a restored facade and engage conversation and community.

What do you think? Does it comply with the Standards? If yes, how? If no, should we look at the Standards in a new way? Or do you despise such modern architecture?

I’d love to have a discussion and hear your thoughts, so please comment below if you’d like to join.

Streets of Old Quebec City

Quebec City (Ville de Quebec, in French) is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and one of the oldest European settlements in North America. Chock full of history, to say the least, and the architecture is spectacular. For preservationists (or heritage conservationists, as Canadians say), architectural historians and those who simply like to look at or photograph pretty buildings, every single building around every corner proved picture-worthy.

Narrow streets, stone buildings, casement windows… it was almost too much to handle. And what continued to be striking: just how neat and tidy and clean every street was. Seriously, one of the cleanest and tidiest cities I’ve seen. Rather than ramble on and on, I’ll let you ramble through these images of the streets of Old Quebec City.

View from dinner.

View from dinner.

So lovely, even without any trees.

So lovely, even without any trees.

Stone and colors!

Stone and colors!

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Street after street.

Street after street.



Down another street.

Down another street.

See? You could take photos for days.  Left to my own devices, I’d still be there doing just that. And that’s only part of Quebec City. Stay tuned. Have you been?