Design for Innovation
RC-cover-seneca hotel.jpg


16 February 2017 - Tim Hawk

As a modern architect, I prefer to work in our era. To find innovation that is driven by the latest technology and all that is new and next. But, if you practice in the Midwest, there is a solid collection of historic buildings that demand our attention, and these buildings have the potential for continued relevance for years to come.

Ohio became a state on February 19, 1803. We are the seventeenth state and entered the union seven years after Tennessee and nine years before Louisiana. The state has been around for 214 years, which explains why we have some significant buildings in the region to appreciate. Many of our buildings were erected in the middle of the 20th century. In Columbus, several famous architects were prolific and their structures form the foundation of all that is historical in our city. Richards, McCarty and Bulford designed the Columbus Museum of Art, the Joseph P. Kinneary United States Courthouse, the Ohio National Bank, the White-Haines Building, and the Ohio Deaf School. Even more well-known was Frank Packard, who was a prolific designer of distinguished residences throughout Columbus. Packard also designed North High School, the Old Governor’s Mansion, the Columbus Savings and Trust Building, the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad Station, and the Seneca Hotel.  In addition to these buildings, which are clearly historic, we have a pretty good stock of mid-century modern buildings which are now in need of renovation. There is plenty to work with and our design community is very interested in translating these buildings to make the city more and more vibrant.

When we are faced with the adaptation of historic structures, I prefer to migrate historic facilities and extend their useful lives far into the future. Others prefer to restore facilities, and bring them back to their original luster. Clearly, there are two schools of thought, and there is a lot of dialogue surrounding these two positions.

In Ohio, representatives of the Ohio Historical Connection prefer that architects clearly note modern interventions as exactly that…modern interventions. Officials at the City of Columbus’s Historic Preservation Office recommend matching history when a building is adapted. So, when one designs an adaptive re-use in Columbus, each side will weigh in and it is the designers challenge to balance both perspectives.

This tight-rope line was in full tilt when our team renovated Packard’s Seneca Hotel. This building had sat empty for some time after it had exhausted its useful lives as both a hotel and the home of state agencies. When we found it, the homeless had set up camp and the city had ordered the sidewalk to be covered in scaffolding to protect passersby from the potential of falling debris.

Our client had a vision to convert the building to apartments on a limited budget, and our team had to work hard to prioritize the improvements. Yes, there was a lot of pressure to restore this landmark to its former glory, but, the resources didn’t match up and there were a lot of choices that had to be made. In the end, the team worked to restore historic details in the lobby, and the exterior façade was restored. But, the team replaced the original windows with a matching window, and we designed a new entry canopy which was based upon the original. The team found pictures of the original canopy and detailed the new canopy to match the original aesthetic. Along Broad Street, the façade was translated to a more modern aesthetic which made it clear that this intervention occurred. So, in many ways, the design team balanced the two different rehabilitation strategies. We restored some components and translated others.

The project has been complete for years and the building continues to attract new tenants. The building holds a stately presence along Grant and Broad in downtown Columbus. It’s almost as if the building has been and will be there forever. 


Firm Principal  |