Thrush examines America's retrofitting future

George Thrush, Director of the School of Architecture at Northeastern University, takes on the topic of infill in the most recent issue of Architecture Boston.

Facing the very real prospect of the end of the "frontier" mindset, Thrush envisions the next chapter for America's development philosophy.

For 50 years at least, we have been coming to the realization that there is much of value in our existing built world, even if it isn’t perfectly aligned with current needs. We are learning to salvage, restore, and reinvent our buildings, neighborhoods, and historic sites.

But the scale of our reuse is changing. We no longer seek to salvage only unique historic buildings and neighborhoods, but also to retrofit suburban landscapes, malls, industrial sites, and other less obvious choices. There are new kinds of engines driving these decisions. What were once questions of cultural patrimony, as in the failed attempt to save the old Penn Station in New York, are now about environmental and economic issues.

Thrush does a review of the recent literature on retrofit and infill, and comes to the conclusion that

reuse will succeed because it makes economic sense. The locations, large windows, and dimensions of early 20th-century municipal schools made them tempting targets for reuse as residential condominiums. Developers are again calling on architects to help them identify the next phase of easy transformations from one use to another, more profitable one. Not all buildings will meet those exacting criteria. Some will be saved for cultural reasons, but others won’t. And that’s probably a good thing.


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