BBS Architects Engineers

BBS Wins 2018 Preservation Iowa Award

August 9, 2018

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BBS Architects Engineers and our partners have been awarded a 2018 Preservation at Its Best Award for the restoration of the Catholic Pastoral Center in Des Moines, IA.  This award given by Preservation Iowa is in recognition of excellent examples of historic preservation efforts in the category of "Sustainability in Preservation".

The Catholic Pastoral Center, originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was originally the Home Federal Savings & Loan completed in 1962. 

In the late 1950s, Home Federal Savings & Loan president Jonathan Fletcher and director Joseph Chamberlain spent over two weeks traveling throughout the United States looking at buildings and interviewing architects to design their new building, ultimately selecting Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Mies’ design for the Home Federal building sets it back from the busy street corner to create a granite-paved open plaza that protects the view of the 1891 St. Ambrose Cathedral across the street. The tinted glass curtain wall suspends on black steel columns over a clear glass recessed first story. The materials seamlessly flow from exterior to interior, with everything carefully aligned within the Miesian grid.

In 1990 the bank failed and went into receivership during the savings and loan crisis. When demolition threatened the building in the early 1990s, architecture and art lovers from around the world wrote letters to the City of Des Moines and Iowa State Historic Preservation Office in efforts to prevent demolition. The building was declared a local historic landmark by the Des Moines City Council in 1992. Soon after, “angel” purchasers deeded the building to the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, which has owned and occupied the building ever since.  The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

The original black painted exterior steel façade had dramatically faded to a chalky gray. Paint was peeling and the steel was showing signs of rust that had totally compromised many of the curtainwall components. Exterior travertine wall panels were cracked, broken, or shifted out of their original position. Granite pavers throughout the outdoor plaza were dangerous to pedestrians due to breaks and misalignment caused by vehicle traffic and weather.

The original ¼” plate glass windows were still present throughout the building. Tinted film had been added at the second and third floor windows which dramatically altered the exterior appearance. Large transom windows at the main floor had previously been replaced with smaller pieces joined by silicone due to cost.

Building mechanical and electrical systems had undergone several piecemeal renovations. The original windows and failed window seals contributed to the mechanical systems operating nearly 50% below energy code requirements. Plumbing throughout the building was so corroded that water damage of plaster ceilings was extensive. Lighting, power, and communication systems did not meet the needs of modern office functions.

The ethos of the design team was that the renovation should rehabilitate Mies van der Rohe’s original design with enhancements as required for safety and function while using the lightest possible touch.

All exterior glass was replaced with high-strength laminated glass in rebuilt stops and new sealant to provide improved thermal performance while maintaining the original appearance. A non-contributing skywalk that had been added to the west side of the building was removed, and the original envelope design was fully reconstructed in its place.

The exterior walls were stripped down to bare metal, repaired, primed, and given a new black finish selected to match the original color and sheen. Original interior paint colors were also matched.  Granite pavers and travertine wall panels were removed, salvaged for reuse where possible, and reinstalled with matching new material as needed.

Most of the original plumbing fixtures were retained although restrooms were renovated to meet current building code and accessibility requirements. Upgrades to heating and cooling systems included retrofitting the original unit heaters (Modines) at each window on 2nd and 3rd floors with new coils. The original characteristic “eggcrate” light fixtures used throughout the building were cleaned, refinished, and retrofitted with new LED lamps tuned to match the color of the original lighting.  These improvements brought the building into compliance with current energy code requirements.

Site and building signage elements at the exterior were renovated to include current messaging but with original font and character spacing.  Interior code and function-required signage is also true to the original character. All signage has been installed using methods that have no permanent impact on the building and materials.

The owner’s primary project goal was to renovate the facility to “provide a working environment for current and future needs for the next 50 years.” The simple and flexible nature of Mies’ design allowed our team to make extensive improvements while maintaining a “light touch” and due respect for this work of a modern master.

Public access to the original Banking Floor at main level and Community Room at the lower level provide opportunities for large and small groups to enjoy the integrity of Mies’ design.

For More Information, Visit our Catholic Pastoral Center project page.

For More Information:

Historic Rehabilitation Design & Construction Team:

Architect & Engineer of Record: BBS Architects Engineers
Historic Preservation Architect: Harboe Architects PC
Landscape Architect: Genus Landscape Architecture
Architectural Historian: Jennifer James Communications LC
Historic Preservation Consultant: Stephen J. Stimmel
Construction Manager: Neumann Brothers, Inc.

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