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Engineering Inc. magazine

Renovating historic structures requires pioneering approaches and knowledge of past practices to provide today’s solutions

In 2009, two Texans surveyed the same historic site in Houston’s Fourth Ward and made very different observa­tions. One, a Houston city official, saw the remnants of a church founded by freed slaves in the 1890s and a priceless cultural landmark. Another—a structural engineer—also appreciated the building’s significance while noting another issue: the church’s north wall, 55 feet tall and cracked, posed an imminent safety threat to passersby.

“I immediately called the city and said, ‘We can’t do anything until we make it safe,” recalls the engineer, Jacob Bice, senior principal at Walter P Moore.

Those contrasting impressions underscore the challenges that engineers often face on historic preservation projects. The goals on such projects can include preserving as much of a historic structure as possible—especially the facade and other significant aesthetics—while also modernizing the building and enhancing its structural integrity. That often means massive design changes to the building’s core.

However, that sort of painstaking preservation isn’t right for every old building, or even every historic building. Cost is a fac­tor, as are the wishes of building owners and other stakeholders.

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June 13, 2024



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