Michigan Central Station Project Referenced by the National Park Service for Innovative Design Solutions

Lorynn Holloway
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Glass fiber reinforced polymers used in MCS tower featured as innovative design example in NPS preservation brief.

The glass fiber reinforced polymers (GFRP) used to replicate historical elements at Michigan Central Station’s (MCS) tower is featured as an innovative design example in the National Park Service’s (NPS) preservation brief highlighting “The Use of Substitute Materials on Historic Building Exteriors.” Our team of historic building specialists are leading the preservation effort to restore and reimagine the historic elements at MCS.

Historic exterior elements of Michigan Central Station being restored with glass fiber reinforced polymers that replicate the original architecture.
A new, lightweight fiber reinforced polymer is attached to a new metal armature to replicate damaged and missing elements of a terra cotta cornice.

Tom Jester, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP, a principal and COO at Quinn Evans, and a national leader in historic preservation, served as a peer reviewer for the brief. He has directed many of the firm’s most challenging projects including the award-winning modernization of the National Academy of Sciences on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and the renovation of Old City Hall in Richmond, VA.

We continuously explore the art and science of choosing substitute materials in historic building rehabilitation, guided by the principle of preserving the historical character and integrity of these structures. The NPS brief emphasizes the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, which prefer the repair of deteriorated historical materials but also acknowledges the flexibility needed in the use of substitute materials.

Preserving the historical integrity of a building while ensuring its longevity is a delicate balance that rests on the careful selection of materials. The brief highlights the need for substitute materials that arises from various factors, such as the unavailability or poor performance of historical materials, environmental pressures, and code-driven requirements. These factors may necessitate a change in materials to ensure the building's continued existence and functionality. When making this transition, it's essential that the substitute materials match the historical material in all of its visual and physical properties. Economic feasibility plays a crucial role in material selection, but it should not compromise the preservation of the building's historic character. While initial costs are important, long-term durability, maintainability, and life-cycle expenses should be considered.

Jennifer Henriksen, AIA, a principal at Quinn Evans, and Angela Wyrembelski, a senior associate at Quinn Evans, presented a webinar with Kristina Hensel, PE, a structural engineer at Silman Associates for the Michigan Historic Preservation Network highlighting the intricacies of GFRP utilization for the restoration of the tower at the landmark station.

Learn more and read the full brief here.

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