Historic Building Works Out

Oct. 11, 2010
This historic building gets an addition and learns to work out as a campus recreation and student fitness center

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Renovating an existing building has its challenges. Adding to and renovating an existing building – all while keeping with the historic aesthetic of the area – presents additional, unique complexities. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was able to overcome these challenges as it renovated and expanded its historic Cary Street Gymnasium.

Located in Richmond, VA, VCU's Cary Street Gymnasium was originally an open air market before being converted into City Auditorium – a venue for the city. VCU wanted to keep the historic integrity of the structure, as well as preserve an existing carriage house and cobblestone alleyway (Green Alley) – which served as a pedestrian thoroughfare since the early 19th century – while renovating the existing structure and building an addition with 3 times the square footage.

Because the project had to be in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, the materials used in the addition must signify that it is a new structure without distracting from the identity of the City Auditorium building.

To ensure this, the new addition has a barrel vault roof form, which contrasts to the sloping hip roof form of the City Auditorium, as well as brick and metal panel materials that complement, but are not identical to, the existing building. An atrium wraps around the existing structure, minimizing the connection between the two structures. The restored exterior walls are exposed along the south and east side of the existing structure, where students move around the project in the 2-story daylit atrium. In addition, the points where the buildings meet are clear and attached with a glass connector.


Monroe Park Recreation Center


"The addition was designed to be slightly different in character. It uses slightly different color brick, it doesn't use that very strong hipped roof design, and then we connect to the existing gymnasium with glass connectors because we wanted to preserve and minimize the impact where we touched the building," explains George Nasis, vice president of Moseley Architects. "If the new addition were to be torn down, then the existing building would be intact and could be recovered/restored. It only touches the inside of the existing building at four points and then we came through the existing openings and we created bridges between the existing and the new building. You can walk around the entire existing building on the inside, because there's an atrium that runs up alongside it, and see the existing structure and existing brick – all of which has been restored."

Extending east-west through the building, the historic Green Alley was recreated in the new addition with polished concrete and special striping on the basketball floor. A permanent photo exhibit was installed so that students circulating the facility can understand the importance of the historic urban pedestrian thoroughfare.

In addition, the project needed to complement both the large University buildings and the smaller townhouses in the adjoining residential neighborhood. In order to complement the large University buildings, the structure incorporates brick and metal panels. The east facade takes advantage of the grade change along the street, which helps to preserve a sense of scale to the adjacent townhouses, and is also scaled down so that it complements the 2-story residential structures across South Cherry Street. In addition, the east facade features three individual porches, which establish a rhythmic conversation with the 2-story townhouses with porches.

Based on the requirements of the International Building Code and Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, the connection between the roofs of the Cary Street Gymnasium and the new addition should be seamless – which was not possible with the gym's wooden roof. To accomplish the needed seamless connection, the entire gym roof was removed and replaced with steel that replicated the rhythm and configuration of exposed wood rafters of the original hip slope roof and materials from the inside – allowing the space from the existing building and the addition to seamlessly flow together.

"We wanted to make sure that all of the spaces would flow together – with rec centers you want there to be a lot of connectivity and visual connection so that when you come into the entrance you can see a lot of the other activities," explains Nasis. "The idea is that you're trying to promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage students to get involved in activities that they normally wouldn't. So there's a lot of use of glass and connection so that when you come along you can see other activities – the running track, the racquetball courts, and the fitness space. In order to have all of that space flow together easily and comfortably, we actually had to go into the existing building, tear off the roof (which was wood framed), and replace it with steel so that we could employ a different construction type."

Project Team

(partial list)

Owner: Virginia Commonwealth University
Architect of Record (Award Submitter): Moseley Architects
Construction Manager: Kjellstrom & Lee Construction
Recreation Center Design Architect: Hastings and Chivetta Architects
Exterior Facade Architect: Smith McClain Architects
Civil Engineering: Draper Aden Associates
Landscape Architecture: Higgins & Gerstenmaier, PC
M/E/P and Fire Protection: R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, LLP
Structural Engineering: Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan, PLLC
Audio Visual and Telecommunications: Convergent Technologies Design Group, Inc.
Natatorium Specialist: Counsilman Hunsaker

Not only did this approach allow for seamless movement between the old and new buildings, it made the continuity possible without the use of fire separation walls. "From a life safety perspective it allowed us to connect all of the space together without requiring firewalls," says Nasis. "The wood framed roof was replaced with steel that was designed to look very similar to the way the original wood framing was. The roof from the outside and the skylighting were designed to replicate what had been there previously."

The project is anticipated to achieve LEED Gold Certification and so far has earned 22 points during a LEED Design Review Application from the USGBC. In order to achieve LEED Certification, the project employs several sustainable and energy-efficient design strategies, including:

  • VAV air handling units, increased insulation, and efficient glazing, resulting in a 20% energy reduction.
  • Dual-flush toilets, pint-flush urinals, 0.5 gpm lavatories, and 1.5 gpm showers, resulting in 37% water reduction (over 1,300,000 gallons annually).
  • Two 6,000 gallon cisterns to collect runoff from the building's roof, which will be used for all irrigation on site.
  • Bike racks and access to alternative transportation – there is access to 17 bus stops through the Greater Richmond Transit Company and the VCU Campus Connector bus lines.
  • A salt-sanitizing system that replaces the 2,700 gallons of liquid chlorine that would need to be produced for, transported to, and stored on the site each year for the pools.

The preservation of the historic elements and the scaling of the exterior allow it to fit into the neighborhood and fulfill the University's goal. The building itself serves as a gateway for the Monroe Park Campus of the Virginia Commonwealth University, while the generously-sized windows connect indoor activities with the neighborhood and campus community.


Storefront Doors, Curtainwall, Windows: Kawneer
Aluminum Composite Wall Paneling: W.H. Stovall
Skylights: Naturalite
Insulation: Johns Manville
Metal Roof: NB Handy
Aluminum Windows: Pella
Elevators: Thyssen Krupp
HVAC: Trane
Building Controls: Cooper
Lighting: Lightolier, Philips
Plumbing/Washrooms: Kohler
Ceilings: USG
Tile Flooring: Dal-Tile
Paint: Sherwin Williams

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