Powerful Example

I’m not a big Facebook user, but I’ve recently started joining groups that speak to my interests and, coincidentally, have lured me onto Facebook more often. For example, I lived in Chicago for many years and truly enjoy editing this magazine about the transformation of existing—sometimes completely derelict—buildings, so I started following a group called “Forgotten Chicago”, which merges these two passions. There often are discussions surrounding photos of stunning homes and commercial buildings that no longer exist in the city. Participants share memories of the building or the area, the people they knew, sometimes even the food they ate inside the building. It’s a wonderful page, full of history and heartfelt recollections. Although I enjoy the group, it also makes me a little sad each time I visit it. I can’t help but wonder what these buildings could be today if someone had the foresight to save them.

My feelings are underscored each year during the Zoom meeting John Riester, retrofit’s publisher, and I host to discuss the Metamorphosis Awards finalists with the judges. The judges’ passion for saving existing buildings is on full display during these meetings and their enthusiasm always encourages John and me. This year was no different; in fact, our five judges (read more about them on page 15) were very focused on the benefits saving these buildings has on their communities.

“Honoring these reused buildings in underserved communities is important,” noted Metamorphosis Awards Judge Dana L. Kelly, partner, principal with Bruner/Cott Architects, during the Zoom discussion. “We spend a lot of our time doing this and some- times we’re not even sure what the outcome is going to be, but these projects make such an impact on these communities.”

Kelly’s words are exemplified in our 1st Place Wild Card winner: Steeple Square in Dubuque, Iowa. Wild Card is a new category, suggested by our 2022 judges, that includes projects that don’t exactly fit into the other awards categories. Steeple Square show- cases a community endeavor to save a historic three-building church complex and return it to Dubuque for use as event space, housing and childcare. During the project, approximately 30 local residents, students and those transitioning from incarceration received training in building restoration, particularly window restoration.

A winner that speaks to what can result from the right vision and team is Book Tower, a 38-story office building opened in Detroit in 1936. Affected by Detroit’s economic struggles, Book Tower was abandoned in 2009. Today, the building is a mix of public and private spaces, including offices, a hotel, apartments and event spaces, and the 1st Place winner in the Metamorpho- sis Awards Adaptive Reuse, High-rise, category. “The property’s diversification means that Book Tower is not just a new apart- ment building in a historic building, but also a catalyst for the entire Washington Boulevard neighborhood,” says Brian Rebain, RA, NCARB, principal at Kraemer Design Group, the project’s historic preservation consultant and the Metamorphosis Award winner. Read more about the project, including how Detroit residents are reacting to the building.

John, the 2023 judges and I encourage you to share this issue of retrofit—and all your issues—when you’ve finished reading. You just may help someone better understand the possibilities for adaptive reuse and transformation of underused buildings in their own neighborhoods. Let’s inspire more retrofitting!

“These awards are a powerful tool,” remarked James Graham, AIA, Graham Baba Architects and a 2023 Metamorphosis Awards judge, during our Zoom meeting. “They help get recognition and exposure and make these projects examples for others to emulate.”

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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