Diverse Perspectives on the Capitol

The Nebraska State Capitol has required a lot of work over the years in order to maintain and modernize its aging facilities. What is unique about the current restoration initiatives is that the leadership team is composed entirely of women.

Learn more about the talented women leading HVAC restoration at the Nebraska State Capitol in the Lincoln Journal Star.

Photo credit: Lincoln Journal Star

The Gateway Arch Awarded Keeping it Modern Getty Grant

Thanks to efforts by a team of conservationists led by Dan M. Worth, AIA, FAPT and Stephen J. Kelley, FAIA, FAPT, , the Association for Preservation Technology was the recipient of funds from the 2018 Keeping it Modern Grant from the Getty Foundation for use on the Gateway Arch. The National Park Service and Bi-State Development will match these funds to aid in the continued preservation of this well-known national monument.

The Association for Preservation Technology, in association with BVH Architecture and the National Park Service, assembled findings that detailed the need for investigation, testing, and development of a preservation protocol that can be used by the National Park Service to clean and potentially refinish the Gateway Arch. This work is the direct result of studies that began in 2004. “We are very excited about the work that this grant and the additional matching will allow us to do on this project,” Michael Ward, Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. “We hope that the work we do on the Park will help future preservationists and maintain this beloved landmark for years to come.”

The Gateway Arch is significant both for its architectural and engineering design and also for the role it played in the career of world-renowned architect, Eero Saarinen. The park resides within the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the first major national park development after World War II. Per the Getty Foundation, the Keeping it Modern grant is “an international grant initiative that continues our deep commitment to architectural conservation with a focus on important buildings of the twentieth century.”  The Gateway Arch grant is one of 11 awarded in 2018 by the Getty Foundation for projects throughout the world. More information about the program and the Gateway Arch can be found on the Getty Foundation website.


Douglas County Courthouse Murals Featured in Traditional Building Magazine

In 2017, Dan Worth and BVH, Paul Cohen and the Omaha Douglas Public Building Commission, and Evergreene Architectural Arts embarked upon the process of restoring the murals in the Douglas County Courthouse to their original form, as intended when they were first installed in 1912.

Judy Hayward and Traditional Building break down the process, timeline, and effort that went into this historic effort.

Read the whole story here.

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Hospital Named to List of Most Endangered Places

This year, the Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital is included on this list. BVH has been proud to work on the initiative to bring both recognition and funding to restore the 105-year-old building. Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte has the distinction of being the first Native American to receive a medical degree. The 33-room building bears her name, as well as the separate distinction of being the first hospital constructed on Native American land without government funding. Located in Walthill, Nebraska, the hospital opened in 1913. Dr. Picotte worked to raise the funds, and the hospital opened only two years before her death from cancer in 1915.

The Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Hospital was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992. The Picotte Hospital, designed by noted Sioux City, Iowa, architect William Steele, remains the one thing most closely associated with her life and work, is a symbol of her spirit, and is a powerful reminder of a woman the world is only beginning to appreciate.

Dr. Picotte became a physician after witnessing a Native American woman die because a white doctor refused to treat her. Throughout her life, Picotte campaigned for public health, the formal and legal allotment of land to members of the Omaha Tribe.

This recognition from the National Trust will help propel the hospital forward. Susanne Shore, the first lady of Nebraska, was also announced as the honorary chair of the committee.

Learn More About Restoration Efforts and Dr. Picotte


Nebraska hospital founded by Native American among 11 most endangered historic places

New effort launched to save hospital founded by Nebraskan who became nation’s first Native American physician

Trailblazing tribal hospital lands on ‘Most Endangered Historic Places’ list

The Final Piece: The Nebraska State Capitol Courtyard Fountains

Its plan was ingenious in that it was built around the then-current and crumbling Capitol, which was in service until the outer ring of the current building was completed. Then the old Capitol was then demolished and the center tower was built in its place, along with four courtyards, all virtually identical. Construction was completed in 1932, eight years after Goodhue’s death.

As it was in the midst of the Great Depression, some murals inside the building and the fountains planned for the center of all four courtyards were not completed at that time. The murals were added over the years, so the last piece of the original vision to be completed was the fountains.

The office of Goodhue Associates produced a sketch of the fountains in 1933. The original drawing kept to Goodhue’s directive that the design should follow Middle Eastern examples of a shallow bubbling fountain, as he contended the scarcity of water in the Midwest is similar to the Middle East; high shooting fountains that promote evaporation were a waste of this precious resource.

BVH has been involved with the restoration and preservation of the Capitol  In 2014, BVH Architecture was engaged to design the fountains, based on the original sketch. The consultant team included Alvine Engineering, Big Muddy Workshop Inc., Waterline Studios, and R.O. Youker. The general contractor was Kingery Construction. Most of the project is not visible to the naked eye, as it entails mechanical rooms in the basement and large conduits to the vaults under each fountain. Some liberties were taken, such as casting the bowls in bronze, instead of the original lead envisioned by the Goodhue team.

The paving stones in the courtyards were salvaged from the two original Capitol buildings that preceded it, an homage to the history of the site. They were pulled up, new concrete pads were poured underneath, and the stones were re-laid.

Restoration or New Construction?

BVH Architecture specializes in new construction as well as adaptive reuse and restoration. It may be easy to consider this project as preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction, according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the treatment of historic properties. These are all approaches that BVH has mastered in countless projects in the past, including hundreds of projects completed over the last two decades for the National Park Service. There are elements of preservation and restoration, as in the paving stones of the walkways. But the key features are the fountains. As they were never built, this is not a restoration. Some may argue the validity of basing the design on a 74-year old concept, but this is a special case. As noted, Goodhue died many years before the building was completed, and the driving force for the completion after his death was to realize his original cohesive vision. We didn’t add to the site, or introduce a new element, we are now a part of the design team for the Nebraska State Capitol, stretching from Goodhue’s original concept in the early 20s to BVH in the 21st century. After 95 years, the Nebraska State Capitol is now finished!

Olympus Digital Media

Mid Century Modern in the Midwest

This article originally appeared on Docomomo-US.org. 

Search for modernist architect Edward Durell Stone and you will discover his seminal works, such as The Museum of Modern Art, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the American Embassy in New Delhi. Some of his works are praised, others dismissed, as he layered decoration and pattern upon International Style basics. A recurring theme is that he was the arbiter of good, or tacky, taste for the middle class. New Formalism, or maybe pre-Post Modernism. Robert Venturi without a sense of humor? But that’s another story.

What will not show up in your initial search is the beloved Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska. Stone designed this landmark in 1963, the result of a naïve yet ambitious building committee who simply asked the major galleries and museums of the nation who they would hire to design for them if given the chance. The resounding answer was Stone.

Grand Island is a city of 50,000 today, roughly half that in 1963, located on the Platte River and Route 80, about 90 miles west of the state capital of Lincoln. The museum collection is primarily composed of 3D artifacts relating to Nebraska’s pioneering days. Also on the 207-acre site is Railroad Town, a pioneer village set in the late 19th century, a recreation similar to Williamsburg, Virginia.

You see the building from a great distance, centered on a round island within a round lake, approached by a long boulevard that circumnavigates the lake. You drive half way around before reaching the pedestrian causeway that stretches across the moat to the main entrance. When leaving you drive around the other half of the lake, thereby experiencing the perfect symmetry of the square building from all sides. It is monumental and resplendent with Stone’s signature style inside and out. The two story, square building is wrapped in a portico of slender square columns supporting a massive waffle slab, flat roof with a deep overhang, and a pyramidal skylight rising at the center. Windows are narrow vertical ribbons from plinth to roof with spandrels at the second floor. The building was designed to be poured-in-place concrete wrapped in large marble slabs, but budget constraints precipitated the value-engineered solution of CMU structure covered with a textured off-white, plaster-like matrix with marble chips called Granulux – a wonder product of the era.

The monochrome exterior aesthetic was carried throughout the interior with white terrazzo on the main floor, interior structural columns finished with Granulux matching the exterior, and white carpet on several exhibit walls. The entry sequence takes the visitor through a wide hall with a low ceiling to the center of the building, then to the watergarden, where the space opens horizontally into the main floor gallery space, and vertically to the skylight, with streaming natural light upon the grand curving, floating double staircase, interwoven with four square pools of water with fountains and planters overhead. The second floor is dedicated to exhibits, while the periphery spaces on the main floor contain the gift shop, meeting rooms, restrooms, curatorial, and mechanical spaces.

BVH Architecture was engaged in 2007 to evaluate the physical condition, code, and ADA accessibility issues of the building, and to develop a master plan for an evolving mission. To the delight and dismay of the architects, the building was found in virtually original condition. Single pane windows, no insulation anywhere, extension cords everywhere, and a mechanical system that relied on a constant worldwide search for parts on EBay to keep the 40-year old system on life support. Restrooms were not ADA compliant, nor were there enough fixtures, especially for the busloads of school children that visit every year. The expanded mission included a catering kitchen and flexible space that could properly accommodate community gatherings, wedding receptions, and various other public and private events that had become a part of the life of the building. The challenge was to fit larger spaces and an expanded program into a building that could not be physically expanded, as changing the appearance or adding on was not an option if the character of the building was to be maintained.

As the project unfolded, the intent of Edward Durell Stone became more apparent. The scope of work also grew exponentially. For instance, the Granulux completely failed during construction, resulting in a custom invention of an exterior textured plaster and marble matrix to replace it. Walls were furred on the interior to accommodate insulation and climate control, and the deteriorated windows were replaced with double pane, thermally broken units containing frames that match the profile of the originals. A double stair was added on the east side of the plinth to access the island for outdoor events. Restrooms were made larger and accessible, and the cobbled gift shop was redesigned in the spirit of Stone. The mechanical system was also completely replaced with a high efficiency system.

A subtle, evolutionary move was executed in the watergarden. The four square pools originally did not have railings. At a depth of 18 inches, they were not needed according to code. The result was a sophisticated drama of sunken pools in the broad floor plain, with the curved double stair rising and contrasting to the gallery above. Legend has it that soon after the building opened, a nun was gazing up at the stair and the sunlight streaming in and fell backward into a pool. The reasonable but unfortunate solution was to add white steel picket fencing around the pools. While they accomplished their intent, they changed the aesthetic from the great western plains to pens in a barnyard. Everyone agreed the fences had to go, but safety was still a concern, so the solution was to enclose the pools with tempered glass. Upon entering the building, the transparent rails reveal the open plains, again putting the space and intent into perspective, a compromise that restores the feel and drama of the space.

Outside, the long-gone crabapple trees were replanted in the garden plots of the plinth and the long-dead up lights were replaced with LED, again illuminating this temple of history as it was intended.

As the rehabilitation project neared its completion in early 2015, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rehabilitation of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer was also recently recognized by Docomomo at the 2017 Modernism in America Award ceremony with a Citation of Merit. The museum is celebrating 50 years through 2017.


Documenting Old Structures with New Tools

My passion stems not only in the act of preservation itself, but in my belief that historical architecture directly impacts our quality of life. I believe that we, both as a profession and as a nation, finally realize that our built environment and design legacy are vitally important.

In April, I had the pleasure of helping organize, plan and facilitate the Association for Preservation Technology’s (APT) Documentation Technology Workshop held at Joslyn Castle in Omaha. Nearly 30 preservation professionals from around the country participated in the workshop which included a combination of presentations, demonstrations and panel discussions. Several BVH’ers, including Roger Slosson, Kelley Rosburg, Adam Sitzmann and Julie Cawby, attended. They learned about the latest technologies for obtaining the critical information and data necessary for historic preservation project planning, analysis and diagnostics. Everyone also learned how to assemble effective data gathering strategies to fit various project needs.

The historic Joslyn Castle was the perfect setting for our workshop.

Workshop and hands-on sessions included: the history of measuring and documenting buildings; best practices for 3D laser scanning (including a case study on the Washington National Cathedral); non-destructive evaluation with a focus on surface penetrating radar and infrared thermography; portable x-ray fluorescence capabilities, limitation and applications for preservation projects; architectural digital documentation technologies for project design and project management; and commercial drone applications for preservation projects.

Portable X-Ray Fluorescent analyzers allow preservationists to discern what materials and chemicals, such as nickel or Magnesium are present, and how they change layer by layer.


Infrared technology can be used for energy conservation, easily spotting heat losses or gains throughout a building’s envelope.


Commercial drones are becoming more widely used for documentation and analysis.


Accurately gathering this data in the beginning of a project’s process is critical. Here’s why: it allows us to fully understand the building’s current conditions. It’s the platform for analysis and the basis for developing preservation plans, restoration designs and implementing treatment recommendations during construction. Technology including 3D laser scanning and radar and infrared thermography make this effort all the more accurate, and provides an in-depth analysis of the structure.

An example of the type of scans a 3D laser scanner can produce.


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