Four reasons not to tear down Knoxvilles old buildings

It’s an amazing change…a rebirth that has helped revitalize the city. It hasn’t just changed downtown, it hasn’t just changed who visits and lives downtown, it has actually changed the way the city feels about itself. It’s amazing…and it’s ongoing. 

At Design Innovation Architects, we have been fortunate to be involved in dozens of downtown renovations of all sizes—from the Mast General store, to the Medical Arts Building, to the more recent Lonesome Dove restaurant. And while each has individual challenges and rewards, there are some challenges they all have in common.

Think about what life was like 100 years ago, when most of these structures were first built. It was a simpler time …for buildings and for people.  Heating and cooling? They had windows and fireplaces, perhaps some fans, and maybe a simple boiler system.  When designing with historic restoration in mind, great care is taken to conceal the many large ducts and equipment that provide the fresh air, exhaust the fumes, and condition the spaces. 

Electrical wiring? Minimal. The building would have had knob and tube wires for the one light and the two electrical outlets in a room. Think about how many gadgets now need to be plugged in and accommodated.  It is by design that the facility users don’t realize the existence of an intricate network, behind-the-scene panels, and new large conduits and wiring.

Older buildings were built with fewer exits, and complied with fewer life safety regulations.  Over time, the building codes evolved to address fires and disasters, and to protect the health and safety of the building users and the first responders. Our work is to redesign and convert these buildings to meet today’s safety standards, while not diluting from their historic charm.

So, is it worth it to do all these code mandated upgrades, and go through the laborious renovation process?  Why not tear down these old buildings and start from scratch?  The answer is yes, it is worth it, for many reasons. 

  1. There is the intrinsic value of these magnificent buildings that are unique to only Knoxville, and not your run of the mill everywhere building. 
  2. It is well documented in surveys that people from across the generations prefer to live, work, and dine in historic facilities. 
  3. It is less costly to renovate and bring these buildings into code compliance than building new equal structures, and the valuation of facilities is normally higher in districts with historic buildings.  
  4. We are all aware of the need to reduce our carbon footprint. One may not think about it, but by saving a building and renovating it, studies have shown that the building’s carbon footprint is reduced by up to 70 percent compared to a new building.

Historic preservation is an important goal. We want to maintain the charm and character of our buildings.  We want our children to see the beautiful details and hear the stories that each building tells. That’s what makes them special.

Downtown transformed from being a scruffy city deserted after 5 p.m. to a place that gets noticed all over the world.Kudos to all of those who have been involved in making sure that we’ve kept Knoxville’s historic character through its rebirth.

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