The Essex

Case Study – The Essex

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The Essex

Future Proofing A Landmark

As architect Carl Elefante so eloquently put it, “the greenest building is one that’s already built.” The Essex, originally built in 1905, prominently stands in the heart of Downtown Norfolk. Its stately façade proudly faces the TIDE light rail station on the MacArthur lawn and is at the core of our Historic District. By choosing to restore the Essex we took the immense step of saving a contributing structure that had been sitting vacant for over 10 years and was in danger of demolition. While the changes to the building over time were photographically well documented, it was clear to us the best guiding “period of historic significance” for this transformation was the year it was built, as the building’s form, proportions, and overall appearance were at its best.

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank and Plume Streets c. 1911 (courtesy of Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank And Plume Streets In 2017 Prior To Renovation

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank And Plume Streets In 2019 After Renovation

Plume Street Facade Of The Essex In 2019 After Renovation

Bank Street Facade Of The Essex In 2019 After Renovation

Rooftop Patio At The Essex With MacArthur Square And Downtown Norfolk In The Background

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Exterior

Throughout the building’s life, the exterior and interior had evolved. Over time exterior masonry had been removed, windows were covered up, awnings were added, and much of the exterior had been whittled away. We have made every stride identifiable to re-establish and restore the masonry façade that adorns E Plume and Bank Street to its original design by removing the awnings, adding masonry piers, and reinstating operable transoms into the street level storefront bay pattern.

1st Floor Forum And Conference Area

1st Floor Forum Prior To Renovation

1st Floor Forum During Construction

1st Floor Forum and Conference Area During Construction

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1st Floor

Over the last century, the 1st floor of the building had been significantly modified with each new owner and occupant. Previous owners boarded up exterior windows, cut and patched exterior walls, and reconfigured interior walls to the point where none of the 1st floor building components were considered historically significant. This allowed us the ability to remove all obstructions and open up the floor plan to create a new, larger space. Prior to the renovation, when you entered the building there was a “foyer” area and an old elevator.

The installation of this elevator in the 1940’s caused the removal of the original wooden grand stair. This non-historic elevator was removed and the wooden grand stair was rebuilt to open up all three floors, allowing daylight to penetrate the previously dark hallways. A new, larger elevator was positioned in the back of the building for accessibility and a period compliant terrazzo floor was installed throughout the entire 1st floor space. Opening up the 1st floor, creating a large forum space with direct access to a full-service kitchen enables our firm to provide the VIA team, the community, and local entrepreneurs with a place to coordinate meetings, seminars, staff retreats, parties, book signings and more.

Meet@319

We are excited to welcome local communities, out-of-town visitors, and organizations to enjoy the space for any and all occasions. For more information on reserving our 1st floor forum, check out MEET@319.

2nd Floor Hallway, Living Room, And Breakout Space

2nd Floor Living Room

Historic Office c. 1910s (photographer unknown)

2nd Floor Offices During Construction

2nd Floor Office Under Construction

2nd Floor Office

3rd Floor Hallway Prior To Renovation

2nd Floor Hallway During Construction

3rd Floor Hallway And Conference Room

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Upper Floors

The 2nd and 3rd floors were consistently used as support offices throughout the building’s history. We considered the preservation and reuse of the original design elements such as the windows, doors, transoms, and wood moldings. During excavation, existing vinyl tiles were removed from the floor to find beautiful heart pine wood flooring and original terrazzo. Uncovering these magnificent elements was truly exciting and we decided to restore both the wood floor and terrazzo to their original character. We removed the dark sheet paneling from the walls and implemented a new, light colored paint throughout. When inspecting the baseboards, we discovered marble that had been painted over. These marble baseboards were carefully cleaned and restored to “like-new” condition. The original windows had to be taken off site for repainting and their counterweights were repaired, allowing them to open as they were intended by design. The office doors were fully restored to their original capacity, and multiple layers of dropped ceiling was torn away to reveal the original height intention of the hallways. The transoms above the corridor doors were rebuilt, restoring the natural, passive convection air flow. The transoms were an important feature for the early occupants since they did not have air conditioning and needed to utilize the transom technology for temperate seasons. Today, we can celebrate the popular and energy saving desire for fresh air movement through the interior spaces. During the 2nd + 3rd floor restoration only two partitions were removed to create a workspace large enough to fulfill our firm’s needs and a flexible space for potential growth. In honor of the original office design, we placed perpendicular wood panels in the floor to reflect the original  partitions that were removed.

The breezeway behind the building housed a dangerous, broken down fire escape leading down to an exit onto Bank Street. Keeping to the original exit pattern, a new fire escape was constructed that now extends past the third floor up to the rooftop. We repaired the roof and incorporated a large skylight over the interior stairwell illuminating and increasing natural light throughout the building. On the rooftop we designed a beautiful mahogany deck with planters offering our team and visitors a lush green urban oasis for daily use and pleasure. The views are spectacular and enable guests to see Downtown Norfolk from a different and unique perspective.

Sustainability and the Future

All design decisions “toe-the-line” between building efficiency and the guidance of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources as well as the Department of the Interior National Park Service Historic Tax Credit Program, with all eyes on the future. As Architects and Designers we approached this project as a unique opportunity to “practice what we preach” on multiple levels and really create a piece of demonstrational architecture by making an old place new again. This 110 year old monument has been future-proofed and will continue to contribute to the City of Norfolk for many years to come. Soon our data collection capabilities will begin to provide the proof and real numbers to support the dialogue of sustainable design and rehabilitation to prove our investment is solid.

The Essex has earned the Viridiant Building Sustainability Award, Norfolk Preservation Collective Excellence for Commercial Historic Preservation Award, Virginia Energy Efficiency Leadership Award, Hampton Roads American Institute of Architects Award for Historical Preservation, and the Hampton Roads Association for Commercial Real Estate Award for Historic Preservation. Among these honors, The Essex has been recognized in The Virginian Pilot, and VA Construction Journal. Currently, The Essex has earned EarthCraft Platinum Certification and we are in pursuit for The Essex to obtain LEED Certification.

The real innovation is that we have truly made every effort to drive inventive change in the way that building owners design and occupy buildings, by doing it ourselves, in a way that is efficient, impactful, is respectful to historic structures, and also absolutely beautiful!  We believe The Essex and its vast transformation is our way of showing the community “best practices” to invest, design, restore, preserve, and create smarter buildings for the future.

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO WORK, MEET, OR SOCIALIZE ANYWHERE ELSE?

SIEMENS Partnership

As a firm focused on the future we strategically partnered with SIEMENS to enable The Essex to be SIEMENS’s East Coast Technology BETA site. We now monitor and control our entire building through building automation software and sensing devices as well as  new plug-in building software and hardware innovations. This includes full integration of fire, security, building access, water, HVAC, lighting, shade controls, window checks, and occupancy sensors.

Historical, Construction, and Additional Current Photos

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank and Plume Streets c. 1911 (courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

Looking Down Plume Street At The Essex In 1949 (courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank and Plume Streets In 1959 (courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

The Essex From Plume Street In 1983 (courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank and Plume Streets Prior To Renovation

The Essex From The Corner Of Bank and Plume Streets

1st Floor Forum Prior To Renovation

1st Floor Kitchen Prior To Renovation

1st Floor Forum During Construction

1st Floor Forum During Construction

1st Floor Forum And Conference Space

Historic Office From c. 1910s (photographer unknown)

3rd Floor Hallway Prior To Renovation

2nd Floor Office During Construction

2nd Floor Office During Construction

2nd Floor Hallway During Construction

3rd Floor Hallway And Conference Room

2nd Floor Offices

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