True Green Cities/Celebrating Nine Years: Construction in the Time of Corona

It’s been nine years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Given I never expected to be celebrating nine years on lockdown (week 6) due to the novel corona virus global health crisis.  But I still plan to present 5 positive stories from the past year this week to celebrate nine years in business.  

Construction in the Time of Corona

Lately I’ve been participating with colleagues on Zoom calls to discuss our experiences as architects in this new pandemic world.  Some of the questions we have been wrestling with include:  Is it ethical to ask our staff/consultants to go to a site right now even if has been determined as an essential project?  How could they get there safely?  Who should provide the masks, eye coverings and gloves? How do you keep at least six feet between your colleagues when you’re walking up stairways or need to take elevators? How do you say “NO” to a client who insists you come to Washington, DC (as an example) to conduct an existing conditions study?  And how do we as owners take on responsibility when a pandemic is not covered by any of our insurances?

What is the Niagara Machine & Tool Works Factory at 683 Northland?

The Niagara Machine & Tool Works Factory at 683 Northland is at the center of the redevelopment of the Northland Corridor.  Originally designed by Green & Wicks in 1910, with significant additions built through 1967, the 240,000 square foot factory is being converted into the Northland Work force Training Center funded by the Buffalo Billion, Rehabilitation Tax Credits, New Market Tax Credits and Brownfield Tax Credits.  BAC is collaborating with the prime firm, Watts A & E, as the preservation architect and historian.  BAC is advising and reviewing all design work, editing and preparing specifications, managing the historic preservation tax credit process and creating and curating a cultural center and exhibit gallery within the complex.  The Part 1 and first two phases of the Part 2 have been approved by the National Park Service. The historic district National Register nomination was prepared by BAC and approved in 2018. The Part 3 (the final) submission is being prepared now. 

The Northland Workforce Training Center represents a revival in an industrial neighborhood that was once considered forgotten by its residents.  The reuse of a former prominent machining and tool factory as an energy and manufacturing educational center maintains the industrial significance of the complex.  The features that provide the character of the building, such as the sawtooth and monitor windows and the exposed structure, have both aesthetic and practical implications in the final product.  The project at 683 Northland Avenue is the first step in the revitalization and reuse of one of Buffalo’s great historic factory districts.

Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my nine-year old venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. Greening an existing, vacant building is one of the greenest actions we can take.  We look forward to enjoying activities in the complex again once the pandemic settles us into a new normal. 

Background Details (If you would like to know more about the project)

Phase 1 – the Northland Workforce Training Center, completed in September of 2018, houses administrative space, classrooms, and industrial shops and labs in over 100,000 square feet —all designed to train and turn out highly skilled members of the local workforce to meet the requirements of the 21st century advanced manufacturing and electric utility industries by developing approximately half of the building.

Phase 2, slated for completion in the spring of 2020, will provide approximately 135,000 square feet of industrial space for a combined total construction cost in the range of $80 million. Buffalo Manufacturing Works (BMW), a group that assists innovation-driven organizations to better compete by partnering with their internal manufacturing, engineering and research and development teams, will occupy approximately 50,000 square feet of space within the industrial space.

The former Niagara Machine & Tool Works Factory is significant as an intact representative example of a large-scale tool and machine factory designed and built during the first half of the twentieth century.  The company played an important role in defense contracting for World War I and World War II, as well as in the development of the East Side of Buffalo along the Belt Line railroad.  Noted Buffalo architectural firm Green & Wicks designed the original buildings, with additions from local civil engineers.  The complex includes an exposed reinforced-concrete-framed, four-story office building with fire-proof construction, concrete and brick walls, reinforced concrete floors, and a flat roof with a parapet.  The manufacturing spaces are a mix of exposed concrete and steel structure with concrete and brick walls and a series of steel-framed sawtooth and monitor skylights. 

There were many challenges to rehabilitating this long-abandoned and deteriorating structure.  The existing windows, skylights, clerestories, and monitors were single glazed with rusted steel frames or damaged aluminum frames.  The glazing throughout the building was cracked and all openings contained asbestos and lead materials.  As part of the rehabilitation, complete abatement and replacement of all existing doors, windows, skylights, and monitors occurred.  The new windows, although aluminum, were designed to match the original steel as closely as possible.  A historic mullion cap was custom-created for the project to mimic the profile of the original steel skylight and monitor frames.  Simulated divided lites and operable hoppers were added along the north (Northland Avenue) elevation of the building to mimic the original steel windows from the 1910-1912 era.  The wood block flooring that existed in the factory space was contaminated and had to be removed in the scope of work.  To pay homage to the historical flooring, a wood floor inlay was created in the public gallery space within the building.  The masonry and concrete walls that encompass the building were all uninsulated and damaged.  To comply with current energy codes, interior insulation had to be added in some of the spaces, but existing walls were exposed where possible.  Samples of the original mortar were lab tested for its original composition to be replicated for brick repointing and replacement work.  The factory building was structurally sound but required some structural retrofits to meet current snow loads required by code.  The roofs were all over 20 years old and leaking in many areas.  The rehabilitation included a complete roof replacement with similar materials. A Green & Wicks-designed entrance along the north elevation that had been removed at some point was restored as the main lobby public entrance.

In order to comply with historic guidelines, all existing exterior openings and structural materials were retained.  The thermal glazing in the sawtooth, monitor, and clerestory windows was selected to provide maximum comfort on the interior of the space while maintaining the original aesthetics of the complex.  Although some windows, particularly along the primary (north) façade of the complex, had been replaced in the 1960’s, all new windows were designed to replicate the original design as shown in architectural drawings obtained from the City of Buffalo.  The windows on the first, third, and fourth floors of the office building were originally double hung with true divided lites and of unknown material.  Aluminum double hung windows with simulated divided lites were installed during the rehabilitation.  The windows on the second floor were originally designed by Green & Wicks without divided lites and the new windows are respectful to that design.  The existing roof deck was retained where possible.  Where replacement was necessary, a 7-1/4” Tectum plank was used to closely resemble the original concrete plank design.  The interior factory space had to be partitioned in order to use the space practically, but vision windows were installed along the walls between laboratory spaces to provide a visual continuation reminiscent of the former factory floor.  All concrete and masonry ornament along the Northland Avenue façade of the complex were restored.  New entrances and exits as required for egress were added to secondary facades only.

(I apologize for the wonky formatting; the website is under renovation and its updates are on hold during this global health crisis.)

© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013