Too often, yesterday’s urban industrial facilities sit vacant and decaying, or are razed to create space for new mixed-use projects. But, clever adaptive reuse has breathed new life into others - giving outmoded buildings a way to survive in an economy that has changed from heavy industrial manufacturing to an increasingly white-collar base of high-tech industry.
Consider one such success story: Baltimore’s historic Candler Building. Constructed in 1912 and situated strategically near Baltimore’s bustling inner harbor, the 13-story, 580,000-square-foot building served as one of Coca-Cola’s first bottling plants in the country.
The First Shift
Named after the company’s founder, Asa Candler, the building was converted to an office building in the mid-1930s. It housed the Social Security Administration (SSA) from 1936 to 1960, making it the administration’s first operational headquarters.
Shortly after the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, the government started to look for a building to house the new program. After several failed attempts to permanently locate operations in Washington, D.C., the administration heard about the Candler Building and decided to locate operations there temporarily.
According to an article written by retired employee Frances French and published in the October 1976 issue of Oasis (the SSA’s in-house publication), about 2,000 people worked in the administration’s accounting operations in 1937. The offices had only one telephone on the south side of the seventh floor, and employees had to take turns using it.
In the article, French recalled that the building also had only “natural air-conditioning.”
“On a muggy, 90-degree summer day, we simply opened all the windows and let the cooler air reduce our room temperature to 95,” she wrote. “If it didn’t, we had a chance of getting a couple of hours of heat leave.”
The SSA vacated the building in 1960 to occupy a newly constructed facility in the Baltimore suburb of Woodlawn. Over the next 40-plus years, multiple businesses occupied the space, including retail, banking, printing facilities, and more.
Modern Innovation in a Historic Shell
Today, the building - owned by HRPT Properties, a Newton, MA-based real estate investment trust (REIT) - houses high-tech and telecommunications companies such as MCI, as well as Fortune 500 companies, including Constellation Energy.
“While the structure is historical, the tenant mix is not,” notes Rajan Battish, project manager and principal in RTKL Associates Inc.’s Baltimore office and a member of the firm’s Applied Technology Group. “These high-technology-based firms require an extremely high level of 24/7 reliable power, which is much more than a standard office building.”
According to HRPT, the building was last renovated in 1990 - until the REIT purchased it in early 2003.
HRPT began working with RTKL’s Baltimore-based Applied Technology Group on a major overhaul, particularly on the building’s electrical system. Battish says RTKL professionals dissected the existing electrical and mechanical systems.
One of the building’s challenges is its location on Baltimore’s inner harbor; the threat of flooding is always a possibility. HRPT and RTKL witnessed this possibility first-hand in the renovation project’s early stages.
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel swept through Baltimore, cutting off all power in the building and leaving approximately 54 inches of water in the base-
ment - where the Candler Building’s electrical infrastructure was located. “We were able to bring in temporary generators and substation transformers to bring the building back online within 24 hours,” Battish recalls, adding that the $4.5-million electrical upgrade alleviated this concern for the future. The upgrade included replacement of all the building’s redundant incoming service for electrical equipment. The equipment was relocated to the first floor (above flood levels).
The program also included phased demolition of the main feed, emergency back-up, and replacing the facility’s entire electrical infrastructure. The building housed tenants during the upgrade.
“The question was, ‘How do you keep the building operating while doing this massive upgrade to the infrastructure?’” Battish asks. “We had to do some phasing for the installation and transfers of the electrical equipment.”
New infrastructure was installed while the existing equipment in the basement remained in operation. After service was introduced on the new switchgear, existing loads from the old equipment to the new equipment were phased out, providing uninterrupted service.
All of this needed to be done while maintaining the structure’s historic integrity. A major concern was installing heavy electrical infrastructure on the building’s first floor. “The structural challenge of the Candler Building was to analyze the existing floor framing, which was constructed of reinforced concrete,” notes Peter Malmquist, principal and structural engineer in RTKL’s Baltimore office. “We needed to maintain the historic beauty of the building in addition to ensuring the safety of the structure.”
Thanks to the building’s humble industrial roots, moving the infrastructure to the first floor and supporting it structurally wasn’t difficult. “It has a high floor loading, 120 pounds per square foot, thanks to its days as the Coca-Cola bottling plant,” Battish explains. The upgrade also replaced low and medium switchgears, transformers, an emergency generator, and associated life-safety and standby power sources to the tenants.
RTKL served as the lead in commissioning the switchgear that incorporated redundant powerline communication with automatic throw-over schemes for high reliability. The system integrates with emergency power sources and tenant standby power sources.
Battish says that testing was done on weekends and nights. Construction and commissioning was finally concluded in the fall of 2005, bringing 2 years of intensive renovations to completion.
“Bringing an old structure up to speed is pretty tough,” Battish admits, noting that even getting equipment into the building posed some hurdles. “But, we got it done, and it’s working. Because of its technology, [the Candler Building is] more robust than most commercial buildings out there. It is desirable with its multiple paths of redundancy. You can lose some service and keep plugging away.”
Robin Suttell (email@example.com), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.