The Greening of Engine House No. 5: Creating Colorado's First LEED Platinum Historic Building
By Claire L. Lanier, with contributions from Joseph Saldibar
Historic preservation practices many forms—restoration, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and adaptive reuse—but rarely does it employ all four techniques at once and enhance energy efficiency. But it is possible. In 2011, SLATERPAULL Architects revived Engine House No. 5 in Denver’s Lower Downtown to create Colorado’s first LEED Platinum historic building using these four techniques.
As architects skilled in both preservation and sustainable design, SLATERPAULL sought to preserve the historic integrity and acquire LEED certification, with assistance from the State Historical Fund, a program of History Colorado, and Federal and State Historic Preservation Tax Credits.
Built in 1922, Engine House No. 5 had since drifted far from its historic appearance. Where there were once three five-by-five-foot single-pane windows was now opaque garage doors or brick walls, blocking light and heat to the interior. Gone was the historic “eyebrow” roof, and an unsightly wooden panel hid the original terra-cotta brick-inlay sign.
Using historic photographs as a guide, SLATERPAULL set out to return the building to its 1922 appearance. First, the deteriorated brick and terra cotta masonry were repaired, followed by restoration of most of the large windows—that is, rebuilding them using original materials to match the historic appearance and uphold the building’s historic integrity.
While the original, single-pane glass is not as insulating as a modern thermal material, other systems like the internal “green” HVAC system and the roof’s solar panels make up for the energy efficiency lost using authentic materials. “No historic building is the same as the next one, so it requires the right approach—looking at your space and seeing what fits it best,” says Gary Petri, Principal Architect at SLATERPAULL.
Perhaps the most notable merge of preservation and sustainability is the reconstruction of the “eyebrow” roof. This reconstruction—or rebuilding using modern materials—honors its historic aesthetic while providing solar shading for the second-story windows, thus augmenting the building’s energy efficiency.
Because it originally functioned as a garage, the expansive interior was simple to manipulate. SLATERPAULL adaptively reused the space to fit the needs of the firm while complying with LEED status.
Projects funded by the State Historical Fund, and those using Federal and State Historic Preservation Tax Credits, are required to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. These guidelines cover everything from materials usage to structural design. SLATERPAULL adhered to the standards with little difficulty and remained true to their vision of sustainability. “What we’ve proved is that you can make historic buildings sustainable,” says Petri.
Historic integrity and LEED certification can coexist. And Engine House No. 5 is now more respectful of Denver’s future while honoring its past.