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Liberty House, Burlington, VT

St. Joseph Orphan Asylum was constructed ca 1882 in Italianate Style with French Second Empire influences. This significant (and emotionally charged) building had suffered many unfortunate interventions in the ensuing 130 years. These interventions included the demolition of many interior staircases, the destruction of the chapel’s third floor, the added scaffold-like decks, and the removal of the original double curving entrance stairs and canopy.

While the efforts to revive this monument were never considered to be a purely preservation project, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards guided decisions made along the way. Despite the mass and grandeur- structural weaknesses were uncovered inside and out: deteriorating brick, thoughtless mechanical penetrations, a leaky roof and windows, asbestos and lead, and even multiple fires ravaged through several floors. Efforts to stabilize the structure included salvaging and reusing all available bricks, matching mortar used for repointing, respecting openings and headers, restoring the cupola with the fabrication of custom metal shingles, installing new windows in the arched openings, and preserving the dormers on the roof.

The design established two entrances along the main axis. Based upon historic images, we reconstructed a modern interpretation of the original entrance on North Avenue, including the double curving concrete stair and a steel and wood entrance canopy with contemporary brackets mimicking the curve of the originals interpreted from photos and postcards. Revamping the chapel wing (including a west facade previously painted and concealed by a 3-story porch) was complete with the addition of another main entrance (accessible), a striking roof terrace sensitively located within the rafter framing, 12 new windows in rhythm with the rest of the building, and the turning around of each and every painted brick. The roof terrace serves all residents and offers a striking view of a new public park, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks.

On the interior the design maintained the circulation pattern of the hallway and stairs, and the shaft that sliced through each floor for the addition of an outdated elevator was reused for a new energy efficient elevator. The only remaining original straight run stair from floor 3 to 4 with its historic newel and tiled cap was protected and maintained, and a new stair from floor 1 to 2 was added to internally connect the two public entrances where a historic stair once was. The previously unoccupied attic and mezzanine became apartment lofts with exposed heavy timber framing. Extensive measures were taken to patch and refinish the maple floors, preserve the only remaining wood ceiling (floor 2) and tin ceiling (floor 4).

Renamed Liberty House, this project reimagined how to serve the community with 65 new residences while retaining the character and patina of the 136 year old structure.

01 LibertyHouse.Burlington Front