Recently I came upon a construction site where a new, precast concrete building was being erected. The factory built exterior walls had been tipped onto foundations and temporarily supported with wooden bracing and the thoroughly modern structure gave me no clue to its future use. I'll admit to being the kind of person who spends a fair amount of time noticing such things as I move through the world and to me, this looked weird. It had funny bones, not good bones.
Many of the buildings we have renovated over the years begin the redevelopment process with a walk through. This typically involves touring 100+ year old buildings that may have been abandoned or misused for decades. They're covered in dirt, filled with junk, and loaded with poor design and construction ideas.
After years of neglect, they're suddenly surrounded by an up and coming neighborhood and ripe for redevelopment. On the walk through, architects are asked to ignore the dirt, the junk, and the bad decisions to determine that the building has, in fact...good bones.
If the building has bad bones, it’s more than likely falling down and will be torn down in the end. If it has weird or funny bones, it has some major element that will need to be worked around, or it has some other oddity that has everyone scratching their collective heads. If it has ugly bones it's a structure that is for one reason or another, inherently unattractive. But what about good bones?
Architects are asked to ignore the dirt, the junk, and the bad decisions to determine that the building has good bones.
Having good bones can mean many things. We look for buildings which can be opened up to provide dramatic increases in daylight, structural bays that are spacious and provide greater flexibility, stairs and other vertical circulation that allow people to easily come and go into the redeveloped building without the significant costs involved in moving these critical building systems.
We also look for materials that could be revealed to beautifully highlight the age and construction of the building, programmatic functions like loading docks or garages, and structural capacity that will allow for many different uses and therefore provide more options in the future.
When does a building have enough going for it to justify redevelopment?
The truth about good bones is that no one building will be perfect on all fronts. So does the building have enough going for it to justify the risk and significant cost associated with it’s redevelopment? This is an assessment that many professionals make together - architects and engineers, real estate brokers, owners and developers. Everyone has their own point of view, and their own definition of good bones. When we lead this conversation, and all of the different criteria are considered together, a clear decision can be made.
RoehrSchmitt and our partners have had the privilege to work with many buildings that have good bones. We take great pride in knowing we've revealed some unique elements in projects that were not evident during that fateful first walk through. There's nothing more satisfying than completing a challenging project and looking back at the many things we were able to see beyond in order to reveal the diamond in the rough.