Sustainable design is about looking to the future, minimizing environmental impact not only during construction but also long after. Adaptive use looks to the past, retaining the rich architectural heritage of older buildings. The Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia brings both strategies together in a boutique hotel that opened in the fall of 2009.
Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants purchased an art deco office building in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood as a way to enter the Philadelphia market. It was built in 1929 as the Architects Building as a home to architects, builders, and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The 24-story high-rise is part of a National Historic District and so was eligible for federal historic tax credits.
Since 2005, Kimpton has had a company-wide formal policy of environmental standards in the operation of its hotels. Kimpton worked with the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Gensler and the Hollywood, California, interior design firm Powerstrip Studio, to adapt the building as its first hotel to receive certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
Achieving success in adaptive use projects requires gaining a thorough understanding of a building’s development possibilities before acquisition, according to Ken Reynolds, senior vice president of development and construction at Kimpton. “We tend to approach the due diligence process as if we are going to build it,” Reynolds says. “So we’ll figure out key counts and decide where mechanical systems, equipment, and entrances and exits can or should be located.”
For the Architects Building, with its narrow floor plate and tight column spacing, one of the biggest challenges was ensuring that it could hold enough rooms to make the project financially viable. “We had to do a fair amount of test fits to see if we could get roughly a dozen rooms per floor,” says Jack Paruta, senior associate at Gensler. “It was like a jigsaw puzzle.” Ultimately, the design team met the goal, carving out 230 rooms in addition to administrative space, a restaurant, and other public spaces. The other big challenge was fitting in a new second fire stair to meet modern life safety requirements.
To achieve federal historic tax credits, the project had to win approval from the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service. At the same time, the design team was focused on meeting the requirements for LEED certification. For the most part, the two goals did not conflict. “Because there wasn’t a whole lot of historic fabric left in the building, most of the new insertions weren’t restricted by historic preservation concerns,” says Paruta. However, the building’s original steel frame windows had deteriorated significantly. “We had to come up with a replacement window that was not only thermally efficient but also a close aesthetic match in color and in profile to the original windows.” The design team prepared a mockup to give the two authorities an idea of how the windows would look. Other changes the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation and National Park Service approved were additions such as a new main entrance canopy, metal awnings over storefronts, and fresh air intake louvers.
Along with the new thermally efficient windows, sustainable design elements include high-efficiency mechanical systems and lighting fixtures, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and extensive use of recycled materials. The hotel has received a Gold LEED certification.
Successful adaptive use projects keep things simple, according to Reynolds: “You can’t do everything. There are always concessions that you have to make.” Problems can arise from trying to change the historic fabric or expand the program too much, he says.
In addition, it is essential to prioritize where to spend money. “For a hotel like this, you’re going to spend most of the dollars on enhancing the guest experience,” says Paruta. He notes that even more restoration work to the exterior could have been performed, but after extensive consideration, “we took some of that money and utilized it on the interior, where it was better spent to enhance the guest experience.”
For Kimpton, the experience has turned out so well that it has just purchased its second Philadelphia historic property, a former office building across from Independence Hall. It plans to transform the structure into a 270-room hotel.