Barbara Campagna Q&A: Historic Preservation and Sustainability II

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Design, LEED

Part Two of our Q & A with sustainability consultant, architect, and historic preservationist Barbara Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C. Part One gave us an overview of her work in historic preservation and sustainability; Part Two delves into some highlights and insights from her career in the field.

You can meet Ms. Campagna at our event this Thursday, January 22, on sustainability and historic preservation at the TRESPA Design Center.

Urban Green Council: Which project you've worked on to date would you describe as the absolute hardest? The one you are most proud of? 

Barbara Campagna: Oh, that’s a really hard question! I have been so fortunate to have worked on some of the most significant buildings and projects in the country.  They all have had extreme challenges, which is what makes this field so exciting and rewarding!  One of the hardest was the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, for which I was the first professional preservation architect and officer for the Northwest region of GSA. The restoration and seismic upgrade of this National Historic Landmark courthouse, located in the heart of downtown Portland, was one of GSA’s most controversial projects in the past 10 years due to a major legal suit filed to prevent the work.

Pioneer Courthouse
Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, OR. Photo by Frank Ooms, GSA.

The courthouse underwent a comprehensive exterior restoration, interior rehabilitation and a seismic upgrade using base isolation. The building, which had functioned as both a courthouse and post office for most of its life, was adapted for use as the Court of Appeals. While not a registered LEED project, the team followed all the sound green building construction practices recommended in LEED, including developing a salvage and recycling program for the removed existing fabric.

As the GSA Regional Historic Preservation Officer, one of the most significant contributions I made was my capacity to build consensus among diverse constituencies. The changes made to the historic fabric, including the insertion of a new foundation and the addition of an underground parking garage and new driveway, required that a complex mitigation program be instituted. I created and coordinated a community review committee and process, developed a film which documented the entire design and construction process, designed and developed a walking tour and brochure, and developed educational materials for use in the courthouse. 

I would say the project I am most proud of is the restoration and rehabilitation of the Belvedere Castle in Central Park. Although it was completed almost 20 years ago now, it has held up well.  The project involved the restoration and adaptive use of this National Historic Landmark complex designed in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux as a folly overlooking Manhattan’s original reservoir.  The Castle was reinvented as a children’s discovery center and included complex technological preservation approaches due to the location of the building on a Manhattan schist outcropping overlooking a pond and the Great Lawn. 

Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle in Central Park. Photo by Jeffrey Kilmer.

As the principal-in-charge at my previous firm Campagna & Russo Architects, I was the architect for the restoration and adaptive use of the site, implementing early sustainability approaches such as the use of low-VOC paints and coatings and natural ventilation. The project involved complete repointing, repair of spalled and cracked Manhattan schist and granite, cleaning and repair of interior slate floors and most significantly the design of new casement windows and doors in steel with operable wrought iron security grilles. The design intent of the new windows was to install durable and safe windows which would recede into the deep wall openings, harkening back to the original appearance of the open-air folly.  Its successful reuse reactivated a key area of Central Park and remains one of the most highly used areas there.  Every day I worked on this project I was so proud and humbled.

UGC: What advice would you give to someone interested in entering this unique field?

BC: It is really important to get a good educational and practical base in understanding how to evaluate, document and understand existing buildings. I think I got the perfect education—an architecture degree followed by a historic preservation degree.  But my practical, professional experience was equally important.  My first job in the field was with Giorgio Cavaglieri, one of the real towering figures in the New York City preservation field.  My first projects in his office were the adaptive use of the Shakespeare Festival and the restoration of the Incoming Train Room at Grand Central Terminal. I’ve worked in small, medium and large architecture offices and learned something important from all of them.  Looking back over my 30 years I also think that the opportunities I received to work as both a designer, a client, a nonprofit administrator and a government official have made me more open to flexibility, understanding of all sides of a project and accepting of change in the field. If you had told me even 20 years ago that my career would evolve to a specialty in preservation and sustainability I would have laughed.  But now it seems the most natural evolution.

Bring your own questions to our discussion with Ms. Campagna this Thursday evening.

About the author

Urban Green Council
Dedicated to transforming buildings for a sustainable future.