Sunday, July 1, 2007

Renovation And Ed McMahon's Teeth

The last time I saw Ed McMahon on TV, I couldn't stop looking at his teeth. Like a lot of older TV stars, he seems to have had a lot of dental work done to keep them smooth and white, and they have now become the most prominent feature of his face.

Even though they're smooth and white, they didn't look right to me -- they just didn't fit with the rest of his face.

That's the way I feel about a lot of window replacements on building renovations. UNCG is re-doing the Brown music building and Aycock auditorium (both of them very attractive buildings), and has chosen to replace the original wood windows with new metal or vinyl clad ones (I can't tell which from the street).

I managed to get a comparison photo of the Brown building's last remaining wood window, which has since been removed. Can you tell which one it is?

At first glance, the old window (on the right) looks bad, doesn't it? At Historic Preservation Commission meetings, people who want to replace their windows often describe windows in this condition as "rotted,"

but if you click and enlarge the picture below, you'll be able to see that the only real problems are peeling paint and old glazing compound. The wood is in very good condition. Most of these old windows were made with old-growth yellow pine, which is very decay resistant. With scraping, sanding, repainting, and reglazing, these windows would be good for another 80 years at least.

Another irreplaceable feature of the old windows is the "wavy" glass, which gives them a distinct appearance that's visible even from a distance. It's a small detail, but one that lends a lot of character to old buildings.

Here's a view of the Aycock auditorium, with new windows fully installed. They look like very good-quality replacement windows, but something about them reminds me of Ed McMahon's teeth.

I'm disappointed that the university decided to go this route, not only because of the aesthetics but also because of the sustainability issue, which is becoming increasingly prominent in the school's public discourse.

Those old windows contain a lot of "embodied energy" which is simply being thrown away, and more energy is being used in manufacturing new windows. Although the new windows are probably somewhat more energy-efficient than the old ones, studies I've seen show that efficiency gains from new windows are generally much smaller than most people think.

And the new windows probably won't last nearly as long as the original ones would have, necessitating more expense and energy outlay for their replacement in a generation or so. Manufacturers call these windows "maintenance free," but that really means that you can't maintain them. When they start to fail, you just have to get rid of them. They can't be repaired.

Case in point: the "new" replacement windows in UNCG's Curry building were just replaced again last year. I doubt that the replacement windows that were replaced were even 30 years old.


Anonymous said...

Methinks the Hogg doth not advertise enough. Or the PGI folks don't talk to the UNCG folks, which is pretty surprising. Or this was all surreptitious, which isn't true, due to state contracts.

How come you didn't know about it before the desecration took place? (or did you and couldn't convince...)

David Wharton said...

I believe Hoggard actually did bid on these jobs, and he IS doing the windows for the Alumni House renovation.

I don't know what all was involved in the decision-making on this project. There are often good reasons for window replacement, but the effect is what it is.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, David.

I was never given a chance to bid on these because, to my knowledge, restoration was not specified the owner.

My educated guess is that I could have made those windows 'new' again for about 60% of the cost of the replacements that they have installed.

And you are correct about the life expectancy of new windows. It is about 20 years. Usually the first thing to go is the seal in the insulated glass, which causes the glass to look 'foggy'. Shortly thereafter, the new lumber starts to fail. The only option is to replace them again, because they are NOT repairable.

I am currently working on The Alumni House and have been hired as a consultant to save the fenestration on the campus' oldest remaining structure: The Julius Foust Building.

UNCG may finally be seeing the light of restoration versus replacement.


David Wharton said...

David, that's great news about the Foust building. It is a Romanesque Revival gem, with some FANTASTIC windows that have been badly shamed by mistreatment (like painting the glass in the fan lights!)

Anonymous said...

Actually, the fan lights are false windows. Brick is behind them.

They were orginally painted black from behind which gave them a proper appearance from the street. Later, when the black paint started to peel from behind, subsequent painters painted the transoms white from the front.

We have proposed to remove the painted glass and replace it with black tinted glass to give the original appearance and avoid the inevitablility of it peeling again from the inside in the future.

TFF Architects engaged a study of the original paint scheme for the windows and it looks like the University is going to go with it.

Red sash, green trim (think Greensboro Historical Museum). It will be beautiful and accurate at the same time.

I'm loving my new role as "consultant". It makes me feel impotent.


David Wharton said...

"It makes me feel impotent."

I'll bet Jinni's not too happy about that.

Interesting about the fan lights. I'm glad TTF is on this job. Both Freyaldenhovens have done a lot for preservation in G'boro.

Anonymous said...

I work part time in McIver building at UNCG on the same hall as the Aycock renovation contractors.

I asked repeatedly if either Architectural Salvage of Greensboro (ASG) or if I could have some of the old Aycock windows. (Aycock's old casement windows would be handsome in our 1925 sunroom, which currently has 1960's aluminum roll out windows.)

First excuse was the asbestos, which I assured them was not a problem as Double Hung staff could remove that for us properly prior to reuse. Then the answers became fuzzier but generally that the windows were already spoken for. I figure the contractor is giving/selling them elsewhere and doesn't want to talk about it further. Never will share specifics as to where the old windows were going.

I was disappointed, of course, but equally frustrated that there was never any clear answer about where the old windows are going.