"The preservation of historic buildings may be the best possible approach to sustainability"      

By Rita Cook     

Both Nancy McCoy and Marcel Quimby have lived and traveled around the world, certainly seeing along the way historic buildings much older than most in the United States. Both, however, decided to come back to the Dallas area to help preserve the historic architecture in the area. Their goal, as Marcel Quimby of Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture says, “to preserve as much of the historic building or structure as possible” when doing their restoration projects.

For her part Quimby, whose childhood was spent living in historic environments overseas, says "the concept of ‘throwaway’ environments was quite foreign to me when I returned to the States for high school.” While attending college in Southwest Louisiana at the architecture school at University of Louisiana at Lafayette Quimby says she “embraced the vernacular of designing with the culture and climate.  "I’ve always had a great appreciation for the strength of design of historic architecture,” which is typically ‘eco-friendly’ as it’s called now.”

 (The historic structures at Fair Park, still in use)

Quimby’s partner at the firm since 2007, Nancy McCoy says she chose to get into historic preservation while in college studying Environmental Design. After a semester in France she became interested in the idea of re-using and recycling buildings as a way of minimizing the waste that perceived Americans were producing.

“The greenest building is the one that’s already there,” both Quimby and McCoy agree.   “We consider the preservation of historic buildings to be the best possible approach to sustainability,” says Quimby.  “How much greener can you get than retaining existing materials and ensuring they’ll continue in their original use for decades to come?”

In fact, she continues “Historic buildings typically are remarkably well made with materials that are much stronger and durable than new so we do try to keep these, preserve and restore, or repair when necessary.  The more sustainable approach is to retain existing and historic materials many which are 80 to 100 years old then to remove and replace with something else that will most likely then need replacement again in a generation.”

In a seminar that Quimby and McCoy spoke at late last year the theme was mid-century modern architecture and McCoy says “The materials used to construct some modern or mid-century era architecture were often state of the art at the time, but have since been refined and improved substantially, which makes it difficult and sometimes inadvisable to retain and repair the original materials, which is what we typically seek to do.”  Quimby points out that Dallas’ Statler Hilton is one example of a historic building that is significant for several reasons; its ownership by Conrad Hilton, the architect William B. Tabler and the fact that it was a remarkably modern building that garnered architectural press across the country when it opened.   

 “The opportunity to preserve and protect historic buildings is something everyone in the firm enjoys,” Quimby say of the number of projects she has worked on over the years.  “It’s truly satisfying to see the finished project and know we’ve contributed to its continued use and enjoyment by its owners and the public for decades to come.”   Overall Quimby adds “[People should] think about the life of the building and understand how it’s performed since most historic buildings have stood the test of time well and can continue to do so.  Changes and alterations should be thoughtfully done only after one truly understands the building.  One runs the risk of damaging a buildings’ historic character by the removal and replacement of historic materials or modifications that are not in character with the building and voiding its natural ‘eco- friendly’ design. 

Expensive upgrades that have a limited lifespan may not be the best choice in the long run.”  Indeed, there is a place for restoring versus destroying and rebuilding and both Quimby and McCoy are passionate about it.  “We get to do what we love to do, which is to help preserve and take care of historic and existing buildings,” McCoy concludes. “As architects, we have a responsibility to use materials wisely. One of the reasons I got into historic preservation was my reaction to the architectural waste that is often produced by our culture – throw away buildings, for example.”


For more information about Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture, LLP visit www.quimbymccoy.com.


Rehabilitation of a Historic Landscape or Park
Esplanade and Parry Avenue Gate Restoration
3939 Grand Avenue
Dallas, TX
Property Owner: City of Dallas Park & Recreation Department
Project Architect: Nancy McCoy, FAIA, Quimby-McCoy Preservation Architecture, LLP

The imageof Fair Park and the recently completed Esplanade and Parry Avenue Gate Restoration project, Dallas

An image is of Caruth Homeplace, an 1872 home converted to office use.

Credit Quimby McCoy and the photographer, Carolyn Brown.