Is it a “contributing structure” or not? That’s the question that seems to steer a lot of conversations about historic architecture in the Commonwealth of Virginia (and for practical reasons, naturally). But, there are so many other questions that architects around the state have to raise—and answer—if they’re going to make a lasting and positive impact on stewardship.

This year, Architecture Exchange East (ArchEx, Nov. 1-3, in Richmond) features several related sessions that go beyond policy to address the everyday uses and enduring meaning for the communities who cherish—and utilize—their historic structures. 

Adaptation on the grandest possible scale is the subject of Architecture Incorporated’s Andy Caldwell, AIA in his talk about the transformation of the now LEED Gold St. Elizabeths, the 176-acre hospital-turned-federal facility for the Department of Homeland Security. A few miles away (on the other side of D.C.), Quinn Evans’ Katie Irwin, AIA will present two sessions—one on her firm’s award-winning renovation of DAR Constitution Hall  (as reported by Inform this year), and the central role Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Arlington played after Brown v. Board of Education’s landmark ruling. Looking back to the Reconstruction Era before Brown v. Board, there are other lessons for Virginia as it grapples with its political and pedagogical histories, which come to bear on preserving African American schools, the subject of a talk by consulting architect Jody Lahendro, FAIA (as profiled by AIA Virginia earlier this year). Lahendro, who retired in 2021 as Historic Preservation Architect for the University of Virginia, has spent decades connecting the historic fabric of the state to our contemporary understanding of our own choices, architecturally and socially. Other schools, like William Fox Elementary, offer a counterpoint to education’s history in Virginia, which Quinn Evans’ Kylan Shirley, AIA will touch on in a talk focused mainly on the post-fire rehabilitation of one of Richmond’s storied schools (and school buildings). 

Find out more about these sessions and others, and register today for ArchEx.

Katie Irwin, AIA: Balancing Restoration and Performance at Constitution Hall. As one of Washington, D.C.’s premier venues for concerts and cultural events, the Daughters of the American Revolution’s historic 3,704-seat Constitution Hall (1929), needed restoration as well as increased flexibility for performances and safety and accessibility upgrades. The challenge was how to be true to the original architect, John Russell Pope’s intent, while accomplishing these other goals. An ambitious three-phase restoration and modernization process culminated in a $14 million renovation of the auditorium itself. The highlight of the third phase was the replication of the original laylight with 972 edge-lit LED removable panels to recreate daylight and twinkling starlight.

    Jody Lahendro, FAIA: Preserving African American Schools in Virginia
    Their simple, distinctive building forms are scattered through the rural Virginia landscape; often abandoned and choked with vines but still recognizable as a type. They are the extant, threatened artifacts of a revolution in African American education in the early 20th century. Jody Lahendro will review the cultural and architectural history behind these Progressive Era schoolhouses, their unique design features, typical condition and design problems, and the architectural process for planning their preservation.

    Andy Caldwell, AIA: St Elizabeth’s Historic Mental Hospital Transformation
    This will be presented as an illustrated lecture focused on lessons learned from the challenging adaptive reuse and historic rehabilitation of the original 170+ year old St Elizabeths mental hospital buildings in Washington, DC. Originally constructed over a period of about 25 years, the oldest buildings on the old historic mental hospital campus were transformed into new LEED Gold government offices over a period of six years. Exterior load bearing brick walls were supported in place while a new structure was constructed inside. The presentation will provide real world examples, seldom scene construction methods and successful design solutions in an engaging format.
    Kylan Shirley, AIA: New Old School: Reinventing William Fox Elementary
    In February 2022, a fire started in the attic of William Fox Elementary School. The school was built in 1910, and is an icon in the Fan community of Richmond, Virginia. The reconstruction efforts are extensive and must preserve and restore the historic character, as well as the spirit of community that had been infused into the building over 100 years of use. In this session, we will discuss methods and tactics for integrating new infrastructure into old buildings, in all aspects that a building must serve its users.

    Katie Irwin, AIA: History of Integration Informs Schools of the Future
    History often inspires design. This has been especially true for Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Arlington, VA, originally known as Stratford Junior High (1949). In 1959, it was the first public school to be integrated in Virginia after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Today the school is a testament to equity and innovation in education. The project drew from its rich history and robust community engagement to transform the existing facility into an innovative space for collaborative learning. We will explore the ways this history has been celebrated in the revitalized facility and continues to tell the story of racial equality through spaces for learning. Our modernization and expansion of this historic school building celebrates its importance in history.