Renovation and Restoration of Existing Buildings (And the Importance of Teamwork)

In this episode, we talk to Geoff Smith, PE, LEED AP, a Senior Associate at Silman, about the process of existing buildings renovations, and how teamwork plays a major role in these types of projects.

Engineering Quotes:

Existing Buildings

Existing Buildings

Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Geoff:

  • What is meant by the words “existing building” and how can an existing building be sustainable?
  • Retrofitting an existing building can oftentimes be more cost-effective than building a new facility. How do you determine if the investment is worthwhile?
  • What is a probe campaign and how does it affect the renovation process?
  • Why are reviews of existing documents important when retrofitting a building?
  • What about the existing building history? Do you also have to review that?
  • What were some of the pros and cons of working with government agencies?
  • What makes a good collaborative team and how does it affect the projects they work on?
  • When working on renovations over a long time, how do you manage and improve team dynamics?
  • Do you have any career advice for structural engineers when working on building projects?

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Renovation and Restoration of Existing Buildings:

  • An existing building is a building that is already there and has already been built. Existing buildings are sustainable and are worked with to reduce greenhouse gasses and carbon footprints.
  • If the bones of a building can hold up to what the program is for the structure, it is better and more cost-effective to renovate the building instead of tearing it down and building a new one. You will help the environment and help the owner achieve what they are looking for.
  • Tearing down a building, and then constructing a new one is hitting the carbon footprint twice. The old materials must be removed and then the new materials must be manufactured and constructed in their place.
  • Probe campaigning is taking down a building’s finishes until you are left with the structure. It is the best way to confirm if the building drawings are still correct or if there have been modifications to the building and the plans have not been updated accordingly. They are a good way to reduce the risk of a project and understand what work will need to be done to bring it up to standard.
  • When a building was built and where it was built gives a good indication of how it was built. It will help in doing probe campaigning in the correct areas of the building. Understanding the construction methodology at the time it was built has great value. Without knowing the history of the building, you will not know where to start working on it.
  • All drawings of renovations must be submitted to the government departments for review. The reviews can take some time to be done because they have very specific requirements that must be on the drawings. It is to ensure that you are not putting too much load onto the structures that are already quite old.
  • Buy-in from both the design team and the construction team makes a good collaborative team. If you have project teams that work together on a project and are not combatant, it makes the project go a lot smoother and faster.
  • To manage and improve team dynamics over a long time, you must have many face-to-face meetings to iron out any conflicts that may arise. Face-to-face meetings help to let each party see that the emails they send and receive involve other people. Having out-of-work events with your teams helps to boost collaboration because everyone is seen how they are in personal time instead of just being a structural engineer.
  • You must always be willing to learn because between materiality and technology, everything is always changing. If you learn something well, do not be afraid to learn something else well too.

More Details in This Episode…

About the Guest: Geoff Smith, PE, LEED AP

SilmanGeoff Smith joined Silman in 2004. As an Associate co-managing a studio, he oversees renovations, adaptive reuse, and new construction projects for building types including sports facilities, single-and multi-family private residences, K-12 and higher education facilities, museums, and places of worship.

Notable projects that Geoff has been involved with include the multi-phase implementation of the Brooklyn Museum’s master plan, the redevelopment of Kearny Point in Kearny, NJ, the major renovation of the Edward Durell Stone building on Columbus Circle to create a dynamic new home for the Museum of Arts and Design, the renovation of Cheel Arena at Clarkson University, and the renovation of Appleton Arena at St. Lawrence University. His work also includes the award-winning renovation and restoration of the Yale University Art Gallery’s Swartout and Street Halls, completed in 1928 and 1864 respectively.

Since 2010, Geoff has served as Commissioner for the Bayonne Historic Preservation Committee in Bayonne, NJ. He is also an active member of BIMForum.

About the Host: Mathew Picardal, P.E., SE

The Structural Engineering ChannelMathew is a licensed engineer, practicing on structural projects in California, with an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly Pomona and an M.S. in Structural Engineering from UC San Diego. He has designed and managed various types of building structures, including residential wood apartment buildings, commercial steel buildings, and concrete parking structures and towers. He also hosts the new YouTube channel “Structural Engineering Life,” through which he promotes the structural engineering profession to engineering students who are not familiar with the industry perspective.


Connect with Geoff Smith, PE, LEED AP, on LinkedIn

This Episode Is Brought to You by PPI

PPIPPI has helped engineers achieve their licensing goals since 1975. Passing the FE and PE exams can open doors to career advancement and new opportunities. Check out PPI’s wide range of prep options, including Live Online courses, OnDemand courses, and digital study tools, to help prepare you to pass your licensing exam. Check out PPI today at to see all the options available for FE and PE exam prep.

Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on the renovation and restoration of existing buildings and the importance of teamwork.

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To your success,

Mathew Picardal, P.E., SE
Host of The Structural Engineering Podcast

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