Adaptive Reuse

A Fresh Start for Pittsburgh's Bakery Square

Posted on: September 26th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh, PA is having a sweet second act. Thanks to a preservation-minded redesign by firm Strada LLC, this former Nabisco factory has traded baked cookies for browser cookies and become the LEED-certified home for several technology tenants, including Google's regional office.

We chatted with John Martine, founding principal and lead design partner at Strada (not to mention a preservationist), about striking the balance between preserving a building's heritage and adapting it for modern use.

The exterior of Bakery Square as it appears today.

Tell me about Bakery Square’s history. What was the building’s former function?

It was built in 1917-1918 as a bakery factory for National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Crackers and cookies were made at this particular Nabisco plant until it closed in 1998. The building was then purchased by the Atlantic Baking Company in 2001, which continued to operate it as a bakery until 2004. The smell of baking cookies was a sweetly memorable landmark in the East End neighborhoods surrounding the factory for many years.

What is it now?

The building is now the major office building and anchor of a mixed-use complex of offices, retail, hotel and a parking garage known as Bakery Square.

What was your role in transforming Bakery Square into the office and retail hub that it is today?

Strada's primary role has been to transform most of the Nabisco building into office space for a variety of technology companies. Initially, Strada was commissioned by Google to design the two uppermost floors, six and seven (which is partially a mezzanine), into offices for their growing Pittsburgh staff. This effort was quickly followed by Phase 2, with additional designs for Google’s expansion on the fifth floor.

In addition, we are completing interior architecture for other technology tenants including University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Technology Development Center and Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. The building is now 100% leased by technology companies.


The 6th floor of the Nabisco Building before construction.

What were the benefits (and drawbacks) to adapting the cookie factory into spaces for technology companies?

There were many benefits in adapting this factory space for contemporary office use. Users like Google are drawn to the open floor plans, natural light and materials, and aged character of historic structures -- they fell in love with the scratched and worn wood floors that show the patina of 90 years of industrial use.

There is abundant natural light because of the expansive fenestration already in place, which helped to achieve LEED for Interiors Gold certification. And unusually generous floor to ceiling heights allow for a greater feeling of openness and provide ample space for the necessary mechanical systems so they didn’t become a visual distraction. In summary, there were far greater benefits than drawbacks.


The same view of the 6th floor after completion. In the foreground is a cluster of workstations with steel and brick conference towers beyond.

What were the challenges you faced in preserving some of the building’s original features while making the space tech-friendly for its new tenants? How did you overcome any of these challenges?

For the most part, we stripped the building's interior spaces bare of equipment, exposing the bones of the industrial floor plates and the structure. The design team devised a strategy that took full advantage of the existing post-industrial space with its high ceilings, amazing natural light, and quirky features.

The existing 60’ wide x 200’ long x 30’ high open space, with its trussed ceiling, lent itself well to forming the foundation of a one-of-a-kind “wow” factor. The team placed several large architectural elements within the vast space to enhance the visual and spatial experience of it. Elements included a curved lecture hall with viewing gallery, several one- and two-story conference towers, a giant cargo net hammock, and a bamboo forest with 10’-high cascading water walls.


This open-circle seating area on the 5th floor, known as the Think Pit, provides an ideal space for collaboration or relaxation.

However, salvaging all of these elements created obvious challenges -- for example, auspending a 20’ x 20’ cargo net hammock from an existing concrete truss spanning 60’, and reinforcing 5’-deep beams to support an exterior roof deck.

What will the building’s rebirth mean for the neighborhood and the city today?

The project has been a huge success for the developer with the attraction of immensely desirable tenants like Google, and the building is now fully leased. Bakery Square has also become an important anchor in the revitalization of the East Liberty section of the city that was historically the second largest commercial center in Pittsburgh, but suffered badly from the effects of urban renewal in the 1960’s. It -- and other projects like it throughout the city -- are a testament to the enduring economic, aesthetic, and social value of historic structures.


The flooring material of this 5th floor cafe is made using scraps left over from the furniture industry.

What’s the next chapter in Bakery Square’s story? Has it inspired other preservation or development stories nearby?

As luck would have it, a major development site has come available directly across the street from the Nabisco building in the form of a decommissioned middle school built in the 1970s. The developer of Bakery Square is in the process of acquiring this 13-acre site for the next phase of development, Bakery Square 2.0. Although this will be new construction, it will expand the mixed-use character of Bakery Square by adding residences, as well as new office buildings, to the project. Strada is the master planner and urban designer for this next phase.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

 

Written by Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB

For more than 30 years, historic preservation tax incentives have been helping architects, builders, and private citizens transform historic buildings for new uses, preserving architectural heritage, and benefiting communities all over the country. I should know, because using tax credit incentives has been key to my business for just as many years, allowing me and one of my partners Mike Binette to save clients money while restoring more than 150 historic commercial, industrial, and educational structures -- many of which can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

We are proud of what we’ve achieved in and around Boston -- an American city rich in history and beautiful old buildings -- but we’re also excited about how these incentives have helped Boston and cities like it all over the country.


Bourne Mill, one of America's oldest cotton gins, in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

The recent debate over historic preservation tax incentives is long on political orthodoxy but short on common sense. The benefits of these tax credits are indisputable. By redeveloping historic buildings, tax credits save our architectural heritage and spur new private investment, create construction jobs, and set the stage for new economic activities, such as tourism.

There’s nothing like a broken window to scare off businesses. Any savvy investor will agree that commercial activity gets a bump when abandoned buildings are brought back to life, or derelict properties are restored to their former grandeur.

But there’s much more. Many historic buildings serve as the visual gateway to entire towns and neighborhoods. They anchor their communities, and often had a central role in making them happen. Examples are everywhere -- churches, town halls, first settler homesteads, factories, schools, mills, lighthouses, and office and institutional buildings. Our architecture firm has spent four decades restoring and adapting old mills and other historic structures throughout New England and along the East Coast -- each of which has precipitated in some way the rebirth and growth of the community.


St. Aidan's Catholic Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John F. Kennedy was baptized.

Why does this matter? First, these landmarks are part of the fabric and collective memory of their communities. Generations of families made their living inside those factories, connecting the old stone walls with their family history. They root us to the place.

More so, these old buildings have great bones and can reinvigorate their neighborhoods once again. Many adapted mills have taken on new lives, such as commercial, hospitality, community centers and a wide array of residential type uses. In this way, these historic structures have brought their towns and neighborhoods back to life.

Preservation is also the greenest thing we can do. For example, in Dorchester, Mass., the 1765 Baker Chocolate Factory grew to employ hundreds. After shuttering in 1969, it sat mute and untended until its conversion to a community of apartments, assisted living, and more. The work took decades to complete and recycled tons of brick, granite block and many hundreds of massive wood beams and deck.

Today, Dorchester Lower Mills not only has hundreds of new residents, it has become a vibrant downtown with cafés, boutiques, and a bustling grocery store. People visit for fun, ambiance -- and history. In this way, historic tax credits create a valuable commodity: hope.


Baker Chocolate Factory (side view) in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Proof of old and historic buildings' attraction and economic value is everywhere. And many of our friends and clients -- mayors, real estate developers, bankers, and residents -- will vouch that the same results never would have been accomplished without historic federal and state tax credits.

Our country’s history deserves better than a wrecking ball. If you believe in America’s past -- and our chances for a better collective future -- historic tax credits are something you can and must believe in, too.

Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB and Michael Binette, AIA, NCARB, are partners at The Architectural Team, Inc., a Boston-based architecture firm specializing in master planning, hospitality, mixed-use, multi-family housing, and historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to raising awareness of the importance of the historic tax credit and advocating for a few strategic improvements that would expand its already impressive track record of saving places, creating jobs and revitalizing communities. You can help! Visit SaveHistoricCredit.org.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

A long summer weekend finds me escaping the stifling D.C. heat back in my hometown of Cleveland and again in the thick of some innovative preservation work, this time at Crop Bistro & Bar, the dual-purpose restaurant and research and development kitchen of chef and restaurateur, Steve Schimoler, in the heart of the historic Ohio City neighborhood.

The kitchen specializes in modern American cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients and tonight, my quail stuffed with pecan cornbread, drizzled with a fresh plum sauce, and served on a bed of baby kale salad is exceptional. But perhaps the most impressive element of the meal is the setting.

To create both a viable restaurant and a legitimate research and development kitchen, Schimoler needed a big space. What he found was the United Bank Building. The classical 1925 structure designed by architects Frank Walker and Harry Weeks features six massive arched windows along the building’s facade, a coffered ceiling, 12 bronze light fixtures ornamented in gold, and 17,000 square feet of floor space, including a 5,000-square-foot vault that now serves as a private dining room.


Diners can walk through the original vault into a private dining room.

The space was originally pitched to Schimoler as a manufacturing facility for special items designed in his test kitchens.

“So I came over and did the tour and I’m like, ‘No way,’” says Schimoler. “There’s no way you can turn this into a manufacturing facility. And I immediately was smitten with the space. I’m a total sucker for historic buildings and I knew at that moment when I walked through here, I said ‘I’m going to do a restaurant here.’”


Inside the vault.

Schimoler did much of the adaptive reuse planning and restoration work himself, including the design of the restaurant layout and the building of the bar, which entailed cutting and hand-polishing original white Carerra Marble that was discovered in the basement. He also restored the 1925 mural of a marketplace, which revealed billowing storm clouds in the background – perhaps a prescient nod, Schimoler suggests, to the October 1929 stock market crash that shuttered the building four years after its completion.

“It was almost like it was [originally] designed to be a restaurant,” Schimoler says of the building. “I have restaurateurs and chefs come in here from all over the country and they’re like, ‘we couldn’t have designed it as a better restaurant.’ It’s kind of scary.”

But the United Bank Building isn’t Schimoler’s first foray into historic preservation. He previously adapted a 200-year-old grist mill in Waterbury, Vermont that lacked running water and electricity into a similar restaurant venture, renaming it The Mist Grill (since closed).

Schimoler says his love for historic buildings is the result of his upbringing in an 18th century home on Long Island and a mother who was active in their local preservation society.

“One of the things that I’m really most proud of is that we have thousands and thousands of people that are coming through the doors of Crop who are getting a chance to see this piece of history,” he says.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

 

Last week, National Trust staffers took a field trip -- or, more accurately, a tunnel trip.

We descended into the steamy underground for a little-seen glimpse of Washington’s past -- the 75,000 sq. ft. trolley station and one-time fallout station that served DC’s popular Dupont Circle neighborhood until it was closed in 1975. (More on Dupont Underground's history here.)

 
Now, the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) -- a group of dedicated architects, designers, businesspeople, and community leaders -- is working to reinvent the unused space as “a world-class center for arts, design, and innovative entrepreneurship.”

Our enthusiastic guide on this shadowy tour was Julian Hunt, ACDU’s founder and interim chairman as well as a Principal at Hunt Laudi Studio. His aim is to get the community excited about the possibilities the space affords and fire up their imaginations about how it can become a civic hub.

 
And fire them up he did. We left our 90-minute tour buzzing about the impact such a vibrant, multi-use space could have on the surrounding neighborhood. The plans call for green spaces, arts, community space, and civic engagement -- all with a preservation-friendly through line of adaptive reuse.

I followed up with my colleagues after the tour to capture their reactions to and reflections on the project, and their comments are as multi-faceted as Dupont Underground itself:

Lauren B.: I would love to see the space used to showcase local artists and for underground art walks, installations, interactive plays, and a haunted house. Revitalizing the trolley tracks would set an example about recycling old spaces for new uses and hopefully inspire similar projects.

Andy G.: I hope that the space is easily accessible by the public without changing the appealing and historic aspects of the above ground Dupont Circle community. I’d like to see a space that is well-maintained, frequently used, and that enhances the connectivity of Dupont Circle.

Tanya B.: Dupont Circle is a gathering space for DC’s homeless population. Why not build on the fact that the underground space had been occupied by many homeless before Dupont Underground got access, cleaned it up, and secured it? Creating jobs with livable wages will help. Can there be some sort of job training attached to whatever employment system gets created with Dupont Underground?

Claire H.: I would love to see the space transformed into a public, cultural center through partnerships with the neighborhood’s museums and embassies.

Dennis H.: When Americans (and likely the rest of the world) think about Washington, D.C., they think of tradition, classical architecture, museums, and partisan politics. Cutting-edge preservation, not so much. But converting the abandoned tunnels into a vibrant, useful space would put D.C. in the global spotlight for innovation.

Ann T.: The tunnels are odd, but quite beautiful in a strange way. It’s hard for me to picture any sort of regular activity down there. So I think I’d hope for something bizarre and new and playful that I can’t quite imagine -- something arts-related or artist-inspired. I was actually most intrigued by the above-ground entrances to the tunnels and the accompanying revitalized public spaces and how they could knit the city together. The quality of the designs for both the tunnel and the above-ground improvements was high and had a real “big city, global city” feel.

John P.: The Tour was almost like being in a sci-fi movie of a great city’s archaeological find and we were touring the find and talking about its history -- what it was and why it was and why it ended. We knew the truth and facts of course, but it was still a fascinating footprint of local times gone by and history.

Priya C.: After walking through the Dupont Underground I can see the space becoming something vibrant, distinctive, and creative. I think that like anything that has been abandoned it has the potential to spur on conversation -- and I hope that it will become a place where residents and visitors alike can gather and mingle. The impact it could have on the city is boundless -- not only as a piece of architecture that puts the city on the map in a modern sense, but also as a way to take old memories of what the underground used to be into the next generation. I know that the project is immense, but it is brimming with possibility and wonder.

And what would I like to see? I hope the tunnels once again connect the city in a thoughtful, purposeful way -- not with trolley tracks as of yore, but with smart planning and people-friendly design. Watching this project evolve right in our backyard is a rare delight, and to one day be able to say “I saw it when …” would be a great sign of progress.

If our experience has intrigued you, we encourage you to stay in touch with Dupont Undergound on Twitter, Facebook, and through their mailing list. You can also join as a volunteer, share your ideas for the space, and donate to the cause.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Denver's Emerson School Building Reopens After Green Restoration

Posted on: May 30th, 2012 by Jim Lindberg

 

The flag of the National Trust is flying high over the historic Emerson School in Denver, Colorado! National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown returned to their 5th grade “flag patrol” days to hoist the National Trust's banner as part of last week’s grand opening festivities, which also included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house attended by more than 250 guests.


National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown preparing to raise the flags.

These events marked the completion of a $3.2 million “green rehabilitation” of the Emerson School. Donated to the National Trust in 2010, this 1885 schoolhouse is now home to the Trust’s Denver Field Office, as well as seven other nonprofit organizations, including Historic Denver, Colorado Preservation, and Downtown Colorado.

When we launched the Emerson School project last August, part of our plan was to demonstrate replicable approaches for making older buildings more energy efficient and sustainable. With the project now complete, we can point to four basic, adaptable strategies used at the Emerson School that we believe can apply to similar building retrofit projects. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.