Things We Do: Historical Commission
There’s a lot more to architecture than just drawing pictures of buildings. One major thing we help clients with is approvals from the many agencies that regulate buildings. Here in Philadelphia, many (but let’s face it, not enough) buildings are on the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s “Philadelphia Register of Historic Places”. Sometimes, an individual building is listed, and sometimes entire blocks or neighborhoods are.
Being on the historic register doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to your house, but it does mean that what you want to do will need to be pre-approved by the Historical Commission. There are lots of different scenarios you might be looking at, but here’s on example:
We worked on this lovely building on North 21st Street. The front looks great, but the inside was a mess. The building is listed on the register, so we knew that we’d need to meet with the Historical Commission to get approvals.
In our case, the exterior changes we wanted were minor. We wanted to clean up the front facade, and maybe replace some windows if they needed it. In the back, which is visible from a side street, we wanted to replace some windows and rebuild a bay window that was in disrepair.
What success looks like.
After doing some drawings to show the extent of the work we needed to do, I met with the staff at the Historical Commission to discuss our plans. They offered some suggestions, and used their expertise to help determine the proper shape and character of the bay window, so it would fit its context.
After the meeting, we revised our drawings and went back for another review. Due to the small scale of our changes, the staff was able to approve the work “over the counter”, and we left with approval stamps.
For larger projects, there is a more extensive process. This involves meeting with a committee of architects, preservationists, and engineers (the Architectural Committee) for a meeting similar to the one we had with the staff. It is open to the public and involves more-detailed review and suggestions. After the Committee reviews the project, they make a recommendation to the Historical Commission. This is the group that makes the final vote. Again, the project is presented at a public hearing, and then the members of the Commission ask question and make a final determination on the project. Ultimately, the goal is to preserve Philadelphia’s architectural heritage–a worthy goal!
We’ve been through both the process with clients several times. If you’ve heard horror stories about historic buildings, don’t worry! We can help.