Two Historic Buildings Set the Tone for a Redevelopment in Westport, Conn.

The solution was aluminum sandwich panel flood gates. The panels have a neoprene gasket around the perimeter. When the user inserts an allen wrench in a socket, it expands the gaskets, creating a watertight barrier. Very large stainless-steel plates bolted to the concrete wall are anchors for the flood gates. The team prepared an Emergency Flood Plan with instructions for a flood event, including where the gates are stored and how to install them. Once the building is evacuated, the gates can be secured in place within hours.

The design of the roof rake boards in the Bedford Building are imitated in the ornamentation on a new building (photo below).

The design of the roof rake boards in the Bedford Building are imitated in the ornamentation on a new building (photo below).

“Some of the flood gates get installed on the front side fully visible from the street, so we had to design concealed attachment details to remain true to the historic character of the buildings,” Herter explains. “We made significant changes to repurpose the buildings for contemporary uses, and it was critical that we took the time to understand the buildings well and maintain their craft, integrity and history.”

Floor Space

Masonry bearing walls in the center of the Bedford Building had to be removed to provide open retail floor plates. Because the walls supported timber framing at the roof and floors, the team had to shore up the structure with a series of steel frames and columns before removing the bearing walls.

As part of the YMCA, the Bedford Building had two stacked gymnasiums on the northeast side, which already offered open floor plates. The south masonry bearing wall of the gymnasiums was 4-stories tall. Once removed, it created a spectacular location for a monumental stair and skylight, connecting all floors and filling the space with daylight.

In all, the design extracted five bearing walls in the Bedford Building and one in the Firehouse. A clear plan of action was essential; all of the interior bearing wall removal had to be precisely coordinated with the shoring, rock-anchors and slab work.

Striking Resemblance

Without an ample budget, the YMCA had let the historic windows fall into disrepair. The windows had steel sashes and were single-glazed with lead caming, but replacing them with new energy-efficient steel windows that resembled the originals was cost prohibitive. Energy-efficient windows that matched the profile of the historic window were outfitted with lead caming on the exterior to imitate the Tudor facades. Some of the original windows went to people involved with the YMCA. Others were repurposed and salvaged.

“The impact those two buildings have on the street is stunning,” Herter says. “In addition to the windows and detailing, the brickwork is spectacular.” The historic brickwork has deep raked joints that create a hard shadow line, which makes the bricks visually stand out. This masonry process is no longer used because of water-infiltration problems. When the team’s masons re- paired small sections of existing brick they used salvaged brick and carefully recreated the same original rake joints. Thanks to the original brick type, the kiln-firing process of the time and the mortar mix used, the original masonry withstood the test of time. In spite of the deep raked joints, there has been almost no brick spalling or mortar joint failures on the existing building.

In the new brick portions, a slight bevel at the bottom of the joint allows water to run off yet still gives a hard shadow line at the top to complement the historic work.

“It’s rare that a building is restored back to its original condition both inside and out,” Riley says. “Here, we conscientiously restored the exterior but gutted the entire interior while taking care to extend the genetic code of the Bedford Building and Firehouse to the additions through details that connect the whole. It’s a transformative project for downtown Westport.”

PHOTOS: Nathaniel Riley Photography

Retrofit Team

The ornamentation on a new building was inspired by the roof rake boards in the Bedford Building (photo above).

The ornamentation on a new building was inspired by the roof rake boards in the Bedford Building (photo above).

Architect: Centerbrook Architects and Planners, Centerbrook, Conn.

  • Jefferson B. Riley, principal in charge
  • Mark Herter, associate principal and project manager
  • Peter Cornell, project architect
  • Jennifer Shea, project architect

Structural and MEP/FP Consultant: BVH Integrated Services, Bloomfield, Conn.
Civil/Survey and Landscape Consultant: Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, New Haven, Conn.
Code Consultant: Philip R. Sherman, Elkins, N.H.
Acoustical Consultant: Acentech, Cambridge, Mass.
Elevator Consultant: VDA—Van Duesen & Associates, Boston
Construction Manager: Turner Construction, Shelton, Conn.
Owner: Bedford Square Associates, Westport, Conn.
Owner’s Representative: Chrusciel Group, East Longmeadow, Mass.


Clad Wood Windows: Marvin Windows and Doors
Existing Brick: Cleaned and repaired
New Brick to Match Existing: Glen-Gery
New Brick at Addition: Redland
Brick Pavers: Whitacre Greer
Existing Slate: Repaired and reflashed
New Slate at Addition: EcoStar LLC (Majestic Slate)
Existing Wood Trim: Repaired or replaced with mahogany profiles to match, repainted
New Exterior Trim at Addition: Boral
New Exterior Cladding at Addition: James Hardie
New Curtainwall and Skylights at Addition: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
Display Windows at Courtyard: Custom steel
Membrane Roof at Addition: Firestone Building Products Co.
Below-grade Waterproofing: W.R. Grace & Co.
Green Roof: American Hydrotech Inc.

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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