I saved the best for last this week. I want to talk about what Old Structures does and how it relates to the Best for NYC Challenge.
We are structural engineers, but we do not have a general practice. For years I have defined our niche in casual conversation as “general structural engineering for buildings constructed before 1950.” That’s not exactly right but it gets the idea across: we specialize in working with older buildings; because structural design and construction have changed over time, our expertise lies in how to apply current practice to buildings that predate it. We work with materials and systems that current codes ignore.
We do this kind of work partly because we like it and find it interesting, but it has a deeper meaning than that. Much of our work is classified by others as historic preservation and it’s worth noting here that an alternate name for historic preservation is “cultural resources management.” The idea is that preserving old buildings helps preserve a piece of culture – a piece of our shared history – that has value in itself. In short, New York is what it is because of its people and because of its built environment. Our work helps preserve the buildings of New York because they are (some of them) architecturally beautiful or significant, because they form a part of our collective image of the city, because they form part of the daily life of the people who live in the city, and because in many cases our clients could not afford new buildings even if they wanted them.
Preserving old buildings also reduces the amount of construction waste created and reduces the amount of new materials required. Renovation is less energy- and resource-intensive than demolition and reconstruction , so promoting it seems to us to be a way we can promote sustainability.
The best summary I have of why we believe our work matters is in our office manual: Old Structures is an engineering consulting firm dedicated to the repair and reuse of existing buildings in the interest of preservation of natural resources, cultural heritage, and community. A longer discussion can be found on our B Corp profile page.