Preserving historic buildings allows us to maintain aspects of our cultural heritage and can often be an anchor point for redevelopment. Repurposing historic structures also promotes energy efficiency by reusing existing buildings, maximizing the embodied carbon emissions, and minimizing energy and materials required for new construction. However, renovation and restoration present unique challenges over new construction projects, such as complying with preservation laws, managing hazardous materials, addressing potential rezoning concerns, as well as ensuring the availability of skilled workers. Understanding these challenges before construction begins would help projects be more efficient and avoid cost overruns and delays. Research has focused primarily on architects and designers rather than on construction management approaches, and most has focused outside the United States.

Researchers David Kelly and Hyun Jeong Koo aimed to identify common challenges experienced in historic building renovation and restoration projects in the United States (namely, Detroit) and to provide recommendations for these special project types. They performed a literature review and conducted expert interviews to provide insight for better preplanning, execution, and overall project management. In their paper “Challenges Managing Large Historic Building Renovations: Lessons Learned from Detroit, Michigan,” the authors uncovered several novel findings that contribute to the construction body of knowledge. With these historic projects, the authors identified cost impacts specific to historic tax credits which limit the amount of money available for initial site investigations. The results of this study in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management provide valuable practitioner insights to achieve quality project performance by managing risks embedded in this type of project. Learn more about their research at The abstract is below.


Recently, the number of historic renovation and restoration projects in the US city of Detroit has been increasing to preserve the cultural heritage and to meet current needs. However, this type of project has distinct challenges from new construction projects. This paper reports the results of a qualitative study investigating challenges encountered during historic building renovations in Detroit. The objective is to fill a gap in the construction literature concerning practices for managing large domestic historic building renovation projects. Strong industry interest in the topic also motivated the completion of this study. The expert interview method was used. Semistructured interviews were conducted with six expert practitioners concerning their experiences. Data concerning common challenges, pitfalls, and other issues were gathered, analyzed, and grouped into seven categories (code compliance, historic status, organizational, design, construction, budget/schedule, and technology). The results corroborate many findings and general themes from the prior literature on historic building renovation while reporting several novel findings absent in the reviewed literature. In addition, this paper provides recommendations to avoid and mitigate such challenges. Primary recommendations include developing strong collaborative working protocols between the parties; selecting key team members based on successful past working relationships, not price or cost of service; and, if feasible, conducting hazardous material abatement and selective demolition activities prior to completion of the design to derisk the project. Additionally, 23 secondary recommendations focused on numerous tactical, management, and technical matters are provided. This study contributes to the body of knowledge in the quality and risk management research domain as well as the restoration and renovation construction domain. The practical contribution of this study is to allow industry practitioners to better understand this special type of construction project and strategize quality control and management plans by providing common challenges and recommendations.

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