HMFH Architects

Philosophy
of Renovation

By nature, existing buildings present design constraints. Where some designers see limitations, we see possibility. The quirky, disorganized, and sometimes messy aspects of renovations, combined with the task of introducing new programs and users, stimulate our creative response.

One of the major challenges of renovating buildings, especially those with historic significance, is preserving the architectural character while creating spaces that are relevant and exciting for today’s users. People seek spaces that are visually stimulating, open, and comfortable—qualities that are not typically found in older buildings.

For Worthington Place, a historic manufacturing complex in Cambridge’s Kendall Square that was renovated for residential use, the giant mushroom cap columns become sculptural elements within the domestic setting.

At the MATCH Charter Public School , the 1917 former auto showroom was transformed to become the school’s main gathering space.

 

Worthington Place

For a building’s exterior, the scale and materials of the façade are essential to the look and feel of a neighborhood or campus. With building additions, our intent is to maintain the spirit of the original without mimicking the specific details. For the new arts center at Beaver Country Day School, the richly textured brick of the theater provided a fresh interpretation of the patterns on the adjacent 19th Century buildings.

 

 

When modifications an historic exterior are necessary, such as the addition of an of an energy efficient vestibule to an entrance at Berklee College of Music, often the most effective approach is to introduce new materials as a counterpoint to the original character.

We treat the inside quite differently. A strictly preserved historic interior can feel stuffy—often not a place where students can relax and be themselves. We look for elements of the original architecture that are inherently beautiful and juxtapose them with modern components. Cleaned up and highlighted, the older pieces take on a new life, as can be seen in the renovation of Van Meter Hall at UMass Amherst. Students perceive the original architecture as relevant to their experience and they appreciate the history of the building.

 

Converting an industrial building, as we did recently for the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School, presents very different renovation possibilities. The challenge here is to reveal the power of the raw structure and exploit the inherent qualities of tall ceilings and wide open floor plans. Updates as simple as repainting and changing lighting can be powerfully transformative.

In the end, we want the history of the building to shine through, to find new ways to bring it alive for today’s users.