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Bringing Downtown Buildings Into the 21st Century

  • Entrance lobbies. Entrance lobbies are a building's only quasi-public space and create a visitor's first impression. An out-of-fashion lobby is a prime candidate for redesign to enhance its shape, size, finishes and lighting.
  • Elevators. Elevators are extensions of lobbies and may need aesthetic help, as well as technical upgrading if they are too slow and too often under repair.
  • Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. Climate-control systems become obsolete as technology evolves. Today's more sophisticated engineering and mechanical equipment can conserve energy, reduce operating costs, and improve occupant comfort and control. Upgrading these systems is a prime reason for a makeover, and one of the most expensive components.
  • Other systems. Original electrical, plumbing, telecommunications, data-networking and security systems routinely need modernization. Leaking, noisy pipes are often on the remediation list. Aging toilets can be replaced with water-conserving fixtures. State-of-the-art light fixtures are more attractive, consume less electricity and provide better illumination.
  • Hazardous-material elimination. Buildings constructed decades ago may contain dangerous materials, especially asbestos insulation. Getting rid of such materials is yet another motivator for a renewal.
  • Code compliance. Some parts of old building systems don't comply with today's building and safety codes. For example, if renovation would increase total floor area and allowable occupancy, existing fire stair widths may no longer meet emergency exit requirements. Fire detection, warning and suppression systems may be inadequate. A thorough makeover brings aging buildings into compliance.
  • Once today's credit and capital crisis is behind us, Washington's skyline will be punctuated by many more construction cranes than you see now. Most will be for makeovers.

    Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.

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