Mark Meshulam is an window consultant and glass consultant for window replacement & renovation.
Mike Jackson, FAIA, is the Chief Architect of the Illinois Historic Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). He oversees the evaluation of changes to historic buildings when regulatory and benefit programs are involved. He is also a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For 35 years Mike Jackson has been a leading voice connecting preservation and sustainable design here in Illinois. If you have a property that might be historically significant, his excellent insights and experience will help you along the way to a successful project.
Q: Thank you so very much for providing this interview. I have known of your work for a long time, as I been involved in historic window replacements and renovations over the years. Your consistent presence has undoubtedly given Illinois a higher quality of historic preservation and a greater appreciation for the richness of our architectural past. I thank you for your excellent contributions to the landscapes and cityscapes of our State.
Now down to business. An owner or prospective owner of a historic, or potentially historic property faces a somewhat confusing array of governmental agencies at Federal, State and Municipal levels. What are the major similarities and differences between how the
Federal and State governments conduct their work?
There are a lot more similarities than there are differences. From the standpoint of preservation review we try very hard to give the same interpretations. The biggest difference in the operational procedures is that we are closer to the resources and try to visit properties and work directly with the owners and designers. The federal reviewers don’t get this opportunity very much. The federal program staff do work at putting their guidance online and have been very good at providing technical training to the state reviewers for the federal tax program projects.
Q: How do the activities of the Municipal agencies coincide with State and Federal agencies?
The preservation review of projects is typically triggered by building permits for the local preservation commissions and triggered by funding source (state or federal) for the state/federal review.
Q: Is it possible that a building might be considered historic by one governing agency and not by another?
Yes, it happens all the time. the designation of local landmarks and historic districts is entirely separate from listing on the National Register of Historic places.
Q: If someone buys a building that already is deemed a historic property, who is their governmental point of contact with regard to performing renovations to the facade?
The local government is the point of review for local landmarks. The state preservation office is involved only when state or federal funding, permits or licensing is involved.
Q: What is the procedure for requesting approval for renovation to a historic facade?
The review protocol is more than just the facade. As in the previous question, the initial trigger is different for the local versus state/federal review. The process generally starts at the building permit or pre-permit planning state for local review. The process for state/federal review an start at any time, but the best time is at the beginning of the project. Contacting the IIIinois SHPO as early as possible is always recommended.
Q: For a building that is not certified as historic, is it advantageous for the building owner to seek historic certification?
There are several benefit programs for historic property owners, and they are all linked to some level of official designation.
Q: What benefits are available for owners of Certified Historic Structures?
The primary benefits are tax incentives that are linked to rehabilitation. For income-producing projects, the federal income tax incentive is a tax credit equal to 20% of the qualified rehab expenditures. It’s like a rebate. Spend $ 500,000 on a historic building and get a tax credit equal to $ 100,000. For historic home owners the incentive is a freeze on the property tax assessment. Historic home owners who fix up their houses won’t get an increased tax bill for eight to twelve years.
Q: What power does the local Historic Agencies have over a building owner with regard to the historic property?
It varies with the local preservation ordinance. The typical historic preservation ordinance in Illinois gives the local landmark commission a “binding review” of exterior alterations.
Q: It appears that the historic agencies are much more concerned about the exterior facade of the building than the interior. Is this correct?
Local preservation commissions typically only review the exterior changes to buildings, but they do have the power to designate historic interiors. This is usually reserved for very important interior spaces in public buildings. For projects under state and federal review because of funding, the interior is part of the review.
Q: Windows are a big part of the building’s historic facade. Considering the economic times, are you seeing many historic window renovation projects?
Just about every project involves the treatment of windows. Concerns over functionality, energy and lead-paint safety are all reasons why windows need to be addressed.
Q: When historic windows are renovated in Illinois, are there any typical scenarios? Wood being replaced with wood? Steel being replaced with steel?
We generally look at windows from the standpoint of their visibility to the public right-of-way. Windows on the street front of a building are much more important than those on the back of an urban location. After orientation, the next question is the condition. If the building doesn’t have any historic windows, we can immediately move to the design of new replacement windows. For buildings with their historic windows, we ask for condition assessments to see if their is a viable repair strategy.
Q: Under what circumstances will the introduction of a different material, such as aluminum, be allowed?
These are generally allowed on side and rear facades of smaller buildings and on the upper floor of high rise buildings.
Q: Are aluminum “historic window pannings” generally accepted when replacing wood or steel windows?
Aluminum can be used for steel windows in most cases. The use of aluminum windows as a substitute for wood windows is only something that is common for the upper floors of high-rise buildings.
Q: Have you seen successful examples of historic window replacements or renovations where new aluminum extrusions have been created to replace or clad window elements that were previously wood or steel?
Yes, on the upper floors of high-rise buildings.
Q: Is there any historical data on the amount of historic window replacement or renovation that has occurred over the last few decades in Illinois?
We don’t collect this data in the aggregate, but Illinois has a very good collection of contractors versed in window renovation and retrofit.
Q: Is there any advice you would give to someone who is considering becoming involved with a historic project?
Discuss the project with the preservation review agency as soon as possible in the planning process.
Q: What is your all-time favorite historic window renovation/replacement project?
The restoration of the “art glass” windows in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas house was one of the most exciting.
Q: Parting comments?
It is a cliche, but windows are the “eyes” of a building and they really have a major impact on the personality of a building. We are a society that is too quick to replace things rather than repair them and windows are certainly symptomatic of this tendency.
I also have a important comment about the design of new windows – “maintenance free” means “cannot be maintained.” We are throwing away things that will last for centuries and replacing them with things that will last for decades.
More resources about Mike Jackson and his work
More on historic window renovation:
Preservation Chicago, Window Restoration vs. Replacement Studies
Want to talk about historic renovation?