Sunday, August 19, 2012

August AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Furman Hall, Oregon State University (all photos by me unless noted otherwise)

Each August, AIA-Southwestern Oregon moves its monthly meeting to Corvallis in the interest of engaging the chapter's mid-Willamette Valley members. This year, the gathering also included our brethren further north from AIA-Salem. All told, it was a sizable and diverse group, an opportunity to revisit with old friends and also make new connections. 

The subject of the August meeting was the recently completed remodeling of Education Hall on the Oregon State University campus. Rechristened as Furman Hall(1), the project posed numerous challenges for its team of architects, engineers, and builders. We were most fortunate to have three key members of this team on hand to explain how these challenges were met: 
Originally built in 1902 to a design by prominent Albany architect Charles H. Burggraf, the structure was first named Agriculture Hall and later remodeled during the 1930s when it became Education Hall. Its history was tumultuous, including two fires during its tenure as the home of the Chemistry Department.(2) Through the ensuing decades, the interior of building would be subjected to repeated minor remodeling as needs changed. Eventually, it became clear to the university that Education Hall required a major upgrading to meet contemporary pedagogic and life safety standards. 

OSU’s project brief included complete restoration of the building’s Romanesque-revival exterior in keeping with the comprehensive historic preservation plan that is mandated by its location within the campus’ National Historic District.(3) The mandate would necessitate gutting the interior and the almost complete removal and replacement of the original exterior envelope. This in turn led to numerous surprises for the project team, not the least of which were significant structural issues.(4) At the same time, the facility needed to comply with a State of Oregon directive to achieve LEED Silver equivalent standards. 

OSU Project Manager Larrie Easterly describes one of the benches created from sandstone blocks salvaged from the building's original skin.

As recounted by Troy, Matt, and Larrie, the project would become a major success story and a showcase for the merits of the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) project delivery process. Their presentation emphasized the necessity of teamwork and a mutual willingness to always undertake what was in the best interest of the project. 

Conveniently for the benefit our group, the trio enumerated the various trials, tribulations, and features of the job by addressing a series of predetermined questions: 

What were the cost implications of the decision to preserve, upgrade, and reuse rather than replacing the building?
Fortis Construction determined upgrading the existing building at $320 per square foot would be less costly than entirely replacing it. Fortis also deemed reuse the more sustainable choice versus building from scratch. Fortis salvaged, repurposed, or otherwise diverted from the landfill all demolished or removed materials.

What special techniques were used to repair and upgrade structural systems while maintaining the historic integrity of the building exterior?
Meeting the requirements of the Historic District necessitated a laser survey of the original exterior stonework to ensure its accurate replication with the new work. A total of 1.5 million points was located with exactitude by the laser equipment. The seismic upgrade was a hybrid system involving insertion of new lateral-force resisting elements and reinforcement of the existing structure. 

Furman Hall after the removal of its original stone cladding (photo courtesy of FFA Architecture & Interiors, Inc.)

What was the process for replacement of the exterior wall system?
The team documented the existing historic conditions before removing the exterior stonework.(5) Fortis Construction inserted new shear walls and new wall framing with insulation and sheathing to back up the limestone veneer. The windows are new (aluminum-clad wood) with profiles that match the original sashes. Other new elements exactly match the appearance of the building as it was during the 1930s following the series of renovations during that decade. 

How did the special needs of 21st century education influence the interior design while having limited impact on the exterior portions of the building?
FFA designed the interior renovation to meet the 21st century needs of the College of Education. Key features include improved openness and connectivity to encourage better communication and interaction. FFA removed existing walls and inserted an atrium connecting all floors, which is topped with skylights bringing natural light deep into the building. Interior glass walls help further bring natural light deep into each floor. 

Interior atrium of the remodeled Furman Hall.

What efforts were taken to include sustainable materials and systems in the solution? As much of the existing structure possible was saved and re-used. New insulated glass skylights and windows replaced old, leaky units. The new windows are operable, allowing natural ventilation. Energy-efficient heating and ventilating systems, lighting systems and controls, and low-flow plumbing fixtures were also installed. 

How was the building's structural system upgraded and did these upgrades bring the structure up to current seismic code standards?
The design team introduced new CMU shear walls at each of the four corners of the building at all floors. New foundations were required at the shear walls, tied to the perimeter of the existing concrete floor structure and roof structure framing. Also added was new plywood sheathing over the entire existing roof area. 

The restoration included the exact duplication of the original stone facade's features (including lintel stones left in place after a 1930s remodel added a second main building entrance, eliminating a window and obviating the need for the lintel).

What were the most difficult tasks (planning, design, and construction) that challenged the project team and were there any unique or break-through technical solutions or management approaches that can be employed on other similar projects?
The technical challenges associated with removal of the exterior envelope while maintaining the stability of the structure for the rehabilitation were significant. These were complicated by the funding limitations, which required documentation of the exterior and structural upgrades separate from the interior package. Additionally, achieving consensus with the user group proved difficult—translating big ideas into a specific program for the College of Education. 

Time-lapse construction video by Campaign for OSU - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2LeMLqG_AE

The Furman Hall project took 14 months to complete from start of construction through its completion in January 2012. The end result is a historically accurate exterior restoration of Education Hall as it stood during the 1930s (deemed by FFA as its most definitive configuration) and a thoroughly modern and efficient interior remodel.(6) Without a doubt, the team of FFA, Fortis, and OSU has injected new energy into a beloved campus landmark, extending its useful life for many decades to come. The project is a sterling example of how older buildings can successfully be adapted for contemporary use while preserving a worthy heritage. 

Big thanks to Troy, Matt, and Larrie for sharing their experience with us. Thanks too to John Evans and his firm Pillar Consulting Group, Inc. for sponsoring the evening’s presentation.   

(1) The building is a monument to Joyce Collin Furman, who grew up in Lebanon, Oregon and received her degree in math education at OSU. She became a well-known Oregon philanthropist and strong advocate for homeless youth. To honor her memory, Joyce’s husband, William A. Furman, made the lead gift for the project on behalf of the Joyce N. Furman Memorial Trust.

(2) The fires would leave the wooden roof structure charred but structurally sound.

(3) The National Park Service designated the historic core of Oregon State University as a National Historic District in 2009. One major reason that OSU’s historic district now finds itself on the register is the campus plan upon which it was based, created in 1909 by famed architect John C. Olmsted of the Boston-based Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm. OSU is Oregon’s only public or private college or university so represented on the register.  

(4) As the building was opened up, the team discovered much of the structure was not as it seemed. The extent of the fire damage was revealed. Beams failed to actually bear on columns or other supports. And the roof sagged as much as four inches in some places.

(5) The original stone used for the exterior skin was a combination of diorite for the base and sandstone above. The team determined that the diorite base was sound but that the soft sandstone was too compromised to be retained as part of the completed remodel. In its place, FFA selected limestone, which is harder. The stone mason, Columbia Stone, did a remarkable job of replicating the appearance of the original sandstone blocks.

(6) Some, like Steven Semes in his book The Future of the Past, argue that preservation or mere replication of an historic fa├žade while gutting a building’s interior is superficial and violates the original design’s integrity. I suspect I will address this issue in a forthcoming blog post.


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