By Jennifer dos Santos, Assoc. A.I.A.
Architecture and design of existing building renovations and restoration is a very specific area of expertise. Renovations to existing buildings provide their own set of challenges and requirements that don’t always exist with the design and construction of new buildings. As such, selecting the right design team is very important. The required due diligence for existing building construction is complex and differs for each and every project. The constraints of the building and site are complex, there are differing code requirements and allowances and the available building materials and finishes are restricted to ones that are compatible with the existing systems.
The importance of understanding and properly documenting the existing conditions cannot be stressed enough. The implications of not understanding them can cause an infinite number of problems during construction. This is true for all renovations from roof replacements to full interior fit-ups. In a perfect world, the original building drawings as well as full and accurate as-built drawings would be available for review and consideration to the renovation designer. However, this is almost never true. This often provides an opportunity for the Architect to become even more familiar with the building as they have to create the existing conditions all over on paper.
Some examples of items that may be overlooked by a design team unfamiliar with existing building renovations are: gas or plumbing pipes that require replacement because of the condition of the pipe, the requirements for sprinklers in locations or spaces that previously did not require them, and ADA compliant features that may not have previously been required. These are just a few examples of items that can be detrimental to the project schedule, budget or both if discovered during construction or (worse!) final inspections. If discovered too late, these can be very costly change orders and can have implications to the other work of the project. For example, if additional sprinkler pipes are required in areas where available ceiling space is already limited, this could affect HVAC ductwork, plumbing and gas piping, and light fixtures. If all of these trades are affected and have to relocate work already installed, this will result in a much greater cost to the Owner.
Therefore, when selecting an Architect for your renovation project, it is important to select one that understands the complexities of existing buildings and has experience working with them.