Greg Donofrio and Meghan Elliott in APT

We are pleased to announce the publication of "Understanding the “World’s Largest” All Reinforced-Concrete Office Building" by Greg Donofrio and Meghan Elliott in the latest issue of the APT Bulletin (Vol. 44, No. 2-3).

An unrecognized building is determined to play a role in the development of the modern reinforced concrete frame, begging the question, “Is engineering history ‘significant’?

"Every building has an engineering and construction history. Some of these histories may yield important insights about technical innovation, socioeconomics, and, quite literally, the structure of our built environment. However, documenting why these aspects of a building’s history make it “significant” as defined by the criteria and evaluation standards of the National Register of Historic Places, administered by the U.S. National Park Service, poses several practical and perhaps even philosophical challenges for preservationists and historians. These issues include difficulties establishing the historical context of building systems for which there is little scholarship, the relative scarcity of archival engineering documents, and the way that the preservation field uses terms related to architectural style and thinks about the trans- mission of significance through physical materials. These challenges may not be exceptional or unique to buildings with potentially significant engineering or construction history. They may, how- ever, be persistent. If so, they have the potential to influence the way preservationists “construct” significance,[1] limiting not only the scope of history documented by the National Register but also access to the economic benefits available for the redevelopment of some buildings in the National Register, which is defined as “the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. ...
...This article begins by introducing the Plymouth Building, a 12-story sky- scraper in downtown Minneapolis built in 1909 and 1910. Its owner contracted Preservation Design Works (PVN) to evaluate the building’s history in the interest of taking advantage of state and federal tax credits available for the rehabilitation of income-producing buildings listed in the National Register. The first section of the paper explains how the preliminary building history and physical details were gleaned from primary, archival source materials, such as old newspaper articles, original construction drawings, and historic photographs. The next section presents an assessment of the Plymouth Building and the evidence for significance that was established based on both primary and secondary sources. Next, the re- search methods are described, using the Plymouth Building as a case study to illustrate widespread impediments to documenting construction and engineering details and evaluating their significance within a broader context of engineering and construction history. The conclusion proposes a range of coordinated strategies which, in time, may mitigate the research challenges Preservation Design Works encountered with the Plymouth Building. These suggestions include digitizing the National Register and making nominations entirely word searchable in order to facilitate research about engineering, encouraging study of engineering and construction history as part of professional engineering pedagogy, and evaluating engineering significance with newer theoretical frameworks increasingly used to understand the history of architecture and technology."  

[1] Howard L. Green argues that not all preservationists are willing to accept that significance is a social construct; see his essay “The Social Construction of Historical Significance” in Preservation of What, for Whom?: A Critical Look at Historical Significance, ed. Michael Tomlan (Ithaca, N.Y.: National Council for Preservation Education, 1998), 85-94.

For information about accessing the full article, please visit the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) website.

PVN StaffMeghan Elliott