May 16, 2008
  Washington University Renovation Finds Sustainability by Embracing Its Past
Trivers Associates’ project shows the sustainable value of keeping what you’ve got

by Zach Mortice
Associate Editor

How do you . . . renovate an early 20th-century building for sustainability while preserving its historic façade?

Summary: Trivers Associates’ renovation of Adolphus Busch Hall at Washington University in St. Louis will streamline the building’s organization of space, allow more natural light to penetrate into the building, add contemporary interior materials, and allow for new technological systems and capabilities. The project is slated to be LEED® certified, in large part because the renovation preserves much more of the historic building than it replaces.

The oldest building at Washington University’s main Danforth campus in St. Louis will likely become its first LEED-certified renovated building, in accordance with a new school policy. The renovation of Adolphus Busch Hall, which was designed by the firm of Cope and Stewardson and built in 1901, will channel light inside the building’s corridors, streamline its spaces, and add air conditioning and new technological capabilities.

A gift to Washington University from Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch, Busch Hall is a sumptuous Beaux Arts building that was once the headquarters for the architects and engineers who built the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Located on the south side of the university’s main quad, the 43,000-square-foot Busch Hall is often included in postcard views of Washington University’s impressive stock of Collegiate Gothic architecture. The new Busch Hall will contain classrooms, department and graduate students offices, and a lecture hall for history and foreign language departments. Construction will begin in the summer and is expected to be complete by the summer of 2009.

The building’s last renovation was in 1988, and today, St. Louis-based Trivers Associates’ work will be its first major overhaul. “It’s really never been significantly renovated,” says Joe Brinkman, AIA, of Trivers Associates. “Most of the existing fabric was what was there when it was built.”

Trivers Associates’ renovation won’t touch the building’s rich façade of Missouri red granite and fine limestone detailing—material motifs that unite much of the campus. Brinkman says that this masonry has been expertly maintained. To install air conditioning (which the building has never had) without compromising the picturesque façade, the architects at Trivers hid mechanical equipment in the building’s attic and placed fresh air intakes behind existing parapets.

Opening the inside
Inside Busch Hall, the transformation will be much more apparent. The building’s long, rectangular shape meant that little natural light made it into the long central corridors that are the building’s most important circulation spaces. To remedy this, the architects will use glass partitions between offices and classrooms and the hallways so that light from the modest amount of fenestration in the building will be able to cast out of the rooms and into the hallways. Trivers also spent eight weeks with the academic department representatives who will inhabit the building to figure out how to consolidate ad hoc growth over time and reprioritize space.

Contemporary materials will dominate the building’s interiors, but key aspects of the facility’s Beaux Arts heritage will remain. “It’s always kind of a balancing act, because you sort of want it to be both, and we’re trying very hard to do that,” says Brinkman.

After the renovation, the building’s floors will be made of terrazzo, and acoustic paneling and glass will be used extensively. Restored and original cast iron stairs and wood paneling will remain. Another part of the Trivers Associates mission for Busch Hall was to integrate new technology into the building, such as computer consoles that control all the lights and audio-visual components in rooms.

Less is more
Busch Hall is projected to attain LEED standard certification, and the designers will exploit several advantageous site conditions (proximity to public transportation and the adjacent neighborhood’s population density) to do so. The building will also feature recycled content and low-VOC paints and sealants.

But, the most important sustainability value in this project is what won’t be added. “The mere fact that we’re saving so much of the building is inherently sustainable,” says Brinkman. He says that very often, “sustainable buildings are only thought of as new buildings with a lot of high-tech systems. One of the most sustainable things we can do is keep the stuff we have already, work with it, and adapt it to ways that are more useful to us.”

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Visit Trivers Associates Web site.

Visit Washington University’s Web site.

Take an online campus tour of Washington University’s Danforth campus.