Architectual design and construction awareness


What is it?

The practice of re-appropriating existing structures for new purposes, is a concept that has become an important factor in the reduction of sprawl and the survival of our environment. 

In several instances, the technology of Industrial and manufacturing processes has altered space and configuration requirements.  Perhaps a company has gone out of business.  Often times, and for economic purposes, the manufacturing has moved over seas.  What ever the case may be, hundreds of buildings are left abandoned and unused. 

Does it help?

As well as being environmentally conscious, repurposing is often a less expensive alternative for an owner or developer.  It can be extremely advantageous to utilize existing core elements of an existing building to help reduce the costs of new building materials.  The obvious are the main structure and building skins, but many other features such as the glazing systems, interior partitioning, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are often suitable, or at minimum, can be retrofitted to meet the requirements of the current codes.   Existing parking and loading zones are typically another key quality and often times the locale is ideal with existing road systems, public transportation, sidewalks, highway access, as well as adjacency to other building and businesses.  Existing structures also have ‘place’ within in a community that building owners may be able to capitalize on.

Extending a buildings lifecycle is only one piece, but imperative for the survival of our environmental pie.  Repurposing poses less impact on our surrounding eco system and habitats.  It also minimizes the impact on the adjacent infrastructures, such as; roadways, the electrical grid, water supply, drainage and waste systems.  Not to mention it is helping to preserve and maintain our open and green spaces.

Zoning Considerations..

Cities and towns across the nation have also done a great deal of work with carefully considering and developing their master plans and altering their zoning by-laws.  In many instances today, zoning by-laws that have been in place for several decades prohibit adaptive re-use practices.   Cities have always divided areas into single use zones where residential, commercial, industrial and institutional are separated from each other.  With changes in these laws, areas that were always considered ‘single use’ are now becoming ‘mixed use’ zones.  Therefore allowing project owners and developers to look at buildings they may have never considered.  Consider the once abandoned masonry/post and beam textile buildings you see bordering your downtown rivers, that have since been converted into residential or office condos with first floor retail at street level. This is a prime example of adaptive reuse and product of altered zoning.

What ever the project may be, explore your alternatives and take advantage of what may already exist!!


Paul M. Velandry, AIA


Here are some significant items to consider when planning a building project.  Perhaps you are considering a new building, planning for a second floor addition or expanding the existing first floor footprint.  What ever the project or complexity may be, hiring an Architect is the sensible place to start.  You will quickly learn that many entities are stakeholders of your investment and project.

An Architect, as well as being a licensed design professional, he or she will guide you through process of the entire project.  Starting with your budget and working through the design process and contract documents to satisfy your budget.  Your Architect is responsible for coordinating and managing the engineering disciplines involved in your project and are often hired directly by the Architect as consultants. Your Architect will also guide and assist you through the complex permitting process to obtain municipality approvals, the bidding and negotiation process with your potential contractors, as well as the construction administration process and ultimately signing off and working with the local municipality to obtain your building occupancy permit.   Architects are also obligated and bound to protect the interest of their clients at all times.  Licensed Architects and Professional Engineers are required by law for all commercial projects.  What I mean by ‘Commercial’ is any building or space that is occupied by the general public.  Projects that encompass single family residences do not require the assistance of a licensed professional, although you should strongly consider consulting the expertise of an Architect to help facilitate a successful building project.

A proper zoning and building code review is required to determine what type of building, renovation or expansion is best suited for your site and particular goals.  Building codes and zoning by-laws will help point you in the right direction and one of the first tasks your Architect will perform after gathering your goals and Pre-design aspects of the project.  Your Architect will explain his or her findings and how they relate to your project and provide you with experienced suggestions.   The zoning and building department approvals are typically handled administratively, although zoning approvals may require a more formal presentation, especially if your project involves the request of a special permit.  This will depend on the municipality that you are working with.

Zoning by-laws are municipal or regional laws that govern and/or restrict land use and specify zones or districts within a particular town, city or village as either commercial, industrial, residential and other districts that may include mixed-use zones.  The by-laws generally limit building dimensions of each district.  They also specify green space requirements, adequacy of drainage and storm sewers, on site pedestrian walkways as well as building signage and way-finding signage requirements and limitations.  They can also require that certain building features be maintained and/or incorporated.  In addition, they govern the amount of parking required, the location of parking as well as any loading areas required for the building.  Typically these departments have strong considering for future growth and development and population density.  If your project happens to fall within a historic zone or district, other more specific requirements may need to be satisfied.  Specific areas or specific buildings and blocks can be deemed historical or architecturally significant and the owners of these properties are most often restricted to historic rehabilitation standards.  Approvals in these areas are usually not handled administratively during normal town or city business hours, but rather in a more formal setting as a hearing with a required presentation to its board.  The property owner’s Architect and attorney are typically present and handle the presentation.

Building codes are municipal, regional, state and even international codes, depending upon what your particular area or state has chosen to adopt.  The intent of these codes is to maintain safety consistency amongst buildings and to govern the structure and construction of a building.  These codes will determine how large a building can be based upon its intended occupancy use group, how many floors the building can be, how many paths of egress and egress doors are required, whether or not an elevator is required,  what types of building construction will be allowed, and if the structure will need to be fire protected with an automatic fire protection system.  Accessibility codes will also be explored either through the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or your supplemental state regulations.  The job of your Architect is to facilitate and incorporate all these regulations through careful planning and design.  All of which is put in place to protect the health, safety and well-being of every building, and most importantly, its occupants.

There are other codes and regulations that will also need to be considered; such as electrical, plumbing and life safety codes.  These codes are policed by separate departments at your local municipality.  Depending upon your specific project, overall scope, abutting properties and streets; the Conservation Commission, Highway and/or the Department of Public Works will need to be involved regarding surrounding site elements.   Portions of the project that are dictated by these entities are; connections to public utilities, adjacency to public streets and sidewalks, site entry and exit curb cuts, snow removal, and for protection of public water ways and habitats.  Often times, police detail is required (at the owners expense) for the safety of adjacent vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the commencement of this type of work, and most often related to site work.  Approvals will also need to be achieved through your local fire prevention department.  They have interest in the exterior circulation and access provided for emergency vehicles as well as carefully thought out water connections in the event that they need to fight a fire.  They will also require plans that show emergency devices throughout the building. These devices are intended to assist building occupants to safely exit a building during an emergency.  Devices such as: emergency lighting, horns and strobes, lighted exit signs, fire extinguishers and uninterrupted paths of egress to name a few.

 During the construction process, Architects and engineers involved in the project are required to perform periodic site visits to administer the construction process.  Careful inspections of the detailing and construction, verifying that the project is proceeding according to the contract documents and that all the federal, state and municipal codes are satisfied.  The Architect is also required to produce periodic written reports of the projects proceedings and will need to be submitted to the local municipalities.  Your Architect is also responsible for issuing drawing or letter clarifications as prompted by the contractor in the form of RFI’s (request for information) and is responsible for reviewing and approving all shop drawing submissions.  Contractor payment requisitions are also reviewed and payment approval is signed or a request of adjustment is made and then provided to the owner and project financial lender.  These payment requisitions are periodic payments and are based upon percentage of project completion as agreed upon in the owner/contractor contract.  The selected contractor, of course, is responsible for carrying out the project according to the contract documents, all site coordination, storage of all purchased construction materials, facilitating the construction means and methods as well as establishing  a site safety plan throughout the duration of the project.

I am generalizing with this statement, but as an Architect and based upon my client experience, I believe the design and building process is generally taken for granted by most individuals not involved in the industry.  As you can see, the process of a building project is much like a machine with many moving parts.  A carefully thought out design and successful building project requires the expertise of a properly educated, trained and licensed Architect along with the assistance and consultation of professional engineers.

This is a somewhat abbreviated version of the design, permitting, and building process, as several other factors may need consideration depending upon the complexity of your particular project. 

To reiterate the importance of Architects; the most important factor as an Architect involved in any project, is to protect the health, safety and well-being of the general public.

Did you know?  People spend more than 80% of their lives in man-made structures.

Sky is the limit!


Paul M. Velandry, AIA


GREEN – What does Sustainability mean to you?

This being my first post I wanted to touch upon a hot topic that has gained some serious traction in the design and construction industry over the past decade and will become even more imperative as our lives and the environment continue to revolutionize for decades to come.

Along with some other important angles and concepts I will discuss in other posts, I would first like to touch upon a simple term that has been thrown around since the start of the green wave.  A word I see in endless news articles, magazines, billboards, product advertising, business cards and used again and again at industry trade shows like ‘Build Boston’ and Green Build’.  The simple term and catch word;  Sustainability’.  What does it mean to you and how does it relate to your project?

sus·tain //  (s -st n )

tr.v. sus·tained, sus·tain·ing, sus·tains

1. To keep in existence; maintain.

2. To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.

3. To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; prop.

4. To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.

5. To bear up under; withstand, prolong: can’t sustain the blistering heat.

6. To experience or suffer: sustained a fatal injury.

7. To affirm the validity of: The judge has sustained the prosecutor’s objection.

8. To prove or corroborate; confirm.

9. To keep up (a joke or assumed role, for example) competently.

10. Keep on, retain, continue, keep.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Well, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.  To keep in existence; maintain, vitality, withstand, prolong, retain, continue, and keepAll terms used for something that stands the test of time, and in my mind is the most important factor in green design and construction.  Designing and building to last, is something I have become passionate about during my career and use every opportunity possible to explain all of the options, including environmental factors that clients face when entering the project world. 

Education is the foundation and basis of confident decision making.

What flashes through ones mind when reminded of Boston?  Colleges?  The Celtics, Bruins or Fenway Park?  History and heritage?  Perhaps Sam Adams beer?  Well sure, all good answers, but having attended college in Boston and spending a great deal of time in the streets, I think of bricks, bricks and bricks.  Brick walkways and steps, endless brick facades, brick retaining and landscaping walls one lazily sits to reflect, read a book or my favorite, people watch.  Ok, my point; brick is only one item but an important one.  If used and installed correctly, masonry products can last for hundreds of years and longer.  Sure, everything eventually needs to be repaired or replaced, but in comparison to its competitors, I know where I’d hang MY hat.

Sure, selecting sustainable building materials could possibly increase the initial costs of a project, but carefully consider your budget, life cycle, investment and your return on investment, your re-salability, how long you plan to own your building or property, your maintenance and repair costs, your operational costs, and your waste production.  Have you thought about the materials you will need to replace in 15 years?  How much will those materials and labor cost then?  How many fossil fuels will be burned for the manufacturing and logistics? Where will those used and possibly unrecyclable materials go?

There are several other factors in green design and a few of the obvious are energy and water consumption and waste, use of recycled materials, and your direct impact on the eco system.  Another big one that I will discuss in a future post is the prevention of sprawl and how sprawl has a tremendous direct and indirect impact on our environment.

For now, all I know is that there’s a good reason why your Timberlands will outlast you blue light specials!