2016 New Haven Preservation Trust Awards

Adapt or Die
Saving Buildings by Updating Them: Changing Use and Applying Technology to Preserve New Haven’s Architectural Legacy

Darwin had it right: without adaptation living things do not survive. To keep New Haven’s architectural legacies alive and to contribute to the city’s cultural environment, buildings need to accept adaptation. They can become museums to the past, change to be useful in the present, or they can be gone forever.

These awards celebrate the middle ground of adaptation, enabling them to live on in our midst.

Irrelevancy threatened three iconic structures in New Haven. Unless these significant pieces of architecture were thoughtfully adapted, their viability and value would be compromised. When a building loses value, it often becomes a liability: and liabilities are often removed.

In the era of urban renewal, hundreds of significant, historic houses were simply removed from New Haven’s fabric. “Progress” meant massing homes in new blocs. Fortunately, some avoided clear cutting. The Nelson Hotchkiss House at 621 Chapel Street was large enough to support three housing units within its existing walls. The New Haven Redevelopment Agency saw the virtue in keeping this Italianate gem intact, consequently preserving the streetscape of Wooster’s Square’s Chapel Street.

Winchester Arms built an amazing complex in 19th-century New Haven. Rows of industrial sheds filled a large site and the weapons produced therein helped to grow the city. Thousands found jobs in industrial New Haven, but now those jobs have left for distant shores: many other factory structures have simply been removed, others are in advanced decay. Forest City Residential Group saw the virtue in adapting old industrial buildings for new uses. Housing and offices have replaced huge machines, materials and workers, and allowing this building type to extend New Haven’s living history.

Kevin Roche designed the Knights of Columbus Tower as a civic icon of the first order. A prominent focal point upon arrival to the city of New Haven, the tower’s dramatically distilled elements of brick and glass make it a fusion of structure, corporate identity and civic pride. Its mid-20th-century technologies of heating/cooling and glazing were in such a state of failure that change was required or a new headquarters would need to be found for the charitable institution. Committed to the city of New Haven, the Knights of Columbus decided to stay. Committed to architectural excellence, their reinvention of the tower’s glass infill and integrated HVAC systems preserved the building’s distinctive design and functional viability.

It’s a simple reality: adapt or die. Thoughtless adaptation ruins the reason to save our legacy buildings; these three buildings have been thoughtfully updated without being desecrated, and The New Haven Preservation Trust salutes their owners.