Preserving Our Past

Waterworks museum

Recently we were asked to participate in a workshop sponsored by NESEA (North East Sustainable Energy Association) which Steveworks is a member.

Visiting the Waterworks Museum is an amazing experience. It’s a spectacular Richardsonian Romanesque structure that still houses the massive pumps that were key components in getting fresh water to Boston at the turn of the last century. The cathedral-like pump room has been turned into a fascinating museum describing the history of Boston’s water distribution system. It’s a beautiful, sometimes eerie space.

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When the pumps were operational, heating the building was never an issue — the place was like an oven. With the pumps now idle, the moisture and thermal dynamics of the building have changed radically. The whole building poses classic preservation challenges everywhere you look: How to treat acres and acres of historic windows? How to cost-effectively heat or cool small areas of a massive volume for occupant comfort?

The Boston area is home to countless nonprofits whose most significant assets are historic masonry buildings: not only museums like Waterworks but also colleges, private schools, and churches. We need to provide these organizations — and the architects, engineers, and contractors who work with them — better tools for being good long-term stewards of these buildings and help them get out of the trap of making an endless series of ad hoc decisions responding to the crisis of the month. This workshop is a big first step towards achieving that goal, and we hope you’ll be able to be a part many more.