Meghan Elliott and Greg Donofrio Win the 2013 APT Anne de Fort-Menares Award
Preservation Design Works (PVN)'s Meghan Elliott (Founder and Owner) and Greg Donofrio won the 2013 annual Anne de Fort-Menares Award which "recognizes the article that best demonstrates excellence in the application of historical research to preservation practice published in the APT Bulletin." The Bulletin is the peer-reviewed journal of the International Association for Preservation Technology. In "Understanding the 'World's Largest' All-Reinforced-Concrete Office Building," Donofrio and Elliott describe the research process that led to the historic Plymouth Building's eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and argue the need for systemic changes that would help facilitate research into the significance of engineering and construction history.
The Plymouth Building, a 12-story office building located in downtown Minneapolis, was built in 1909 and 1910. PVN was retained by the building's owner who hoped to take advantage of the state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, but thought that his building was “insignificant” by National Park Service standards. PVN embraced the daunting task of proving the building's eligibility for listing in the National Register through unconventional approaches: engineering and construction history. Unlike architectural significance, which is often recognized in building facades or in the architectural drawings that are frequently kept for their aesthetic value, the structural details of buildings tend to be buried in walls, floors, and ceilings, while engineering drawings are often destroyed for insurance and liability reasons. Donofrio and Elliott argue that this situation is exacerbated by several other factors including: 1) the National Register has yet to be fully digitized, making it impossible to search for other relevant nominations; 2) the pervading philosophy in historic preservation that asserts a property's "significance" is conveyed through visual means, something that is frequently impossible if engineering or construction are considered to be the significant elements of the property; and 3) the fact that engineering and construction history are not a part of engineering education, leaving the field of engineering in a situation where practitioners do not know their own history.
Through an iterative research process, PVN was able to determine, and the NPS agreed, that the Plymouth Building is historically significant as an early example of a reinforced concrete skeleton frame building and cold weather concreting that contributes to our understanding of contemporary engineering design. The article was recently published in Volume XLIV, Number 2-3 of the APT Bulletin. Download a pdf of the Press Release.