by AIA New York
Scott Henson, FAIA, advances the field of historic preservation, elevating traditional building practices to globally conscious, sustainable design. Henson’s crafted approach embodies building stewardship and advocates adaptive reuse to the profession. For over 30 years, Henson has used his design expertise, evolved from years of study in the realm of master craftsmen, to devise intricate restoration techniques, and orchestrate unique strategies to restore previously derelict and abandoned historic structures to meaningful use, demonstrating the traditional, cultural and sustainable stewardship of historic preservation. Having founded Scott Henson Architect in 2003, and as an active member of professional organizations involved in the built environment, Henson cultivates the exchange of knowledge throughout the international community. With the increasing stringency of International Energy Codes, Henson is focused on educating the profession and the public on the realities and challenges of retrofitting existing buildings and the reduction of their overall carbon output. Henson’s buildings include those on the National Historic Register, individual Landmarked Buildings, and those located in Historic Districts.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Henson to its prestigious College of Fellows in the first category of Fellowship, which recognizes architects who have “Promoted the aesthetic, scientific, and practical efficiency of the profession,” according to the organization’s definition. While only three percent of the AIA’s membership is distinguished with Fellowship, Henson’s investiture will be held at a future AIA Conference and AIANY’s next New Fellows Reception.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: More than ever, we are deeply committed to keeping our team and our clients as safe as possible while continuing to productively work amidst the ongoing pandemic.
We are assisting our clients in responding to the Climate Mobilization Act, a set of groundbreaking laws passed in New York City in 2019. The CMA is one of the strongest set of laws of any city in the world attempting to mitigate the climate crisis and will be a compelling force in reshaping the built environment. Under the CMA, buildings over 25,000 square feet will be fined for their operational carbon starting in 2024, and these fines will increase in 2030. These laws aim to reduce building-based carbon emission by 40 percent by 2030 (from a 2005 baseline).
We are combining our passion for old buildings with our commitment to sustainability. Preservation is inherently sustainable, however improving the performance and comfort level of buildings through deep energy retrofits will take them to the next level.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
A: Retrofitting historic and existing buildings to meet the requirements of the CMA. We teach our clients that historic preservation is the dynamic process of building evolution and stewardship, retaining the historic integrity and modernizing that which allows the building to be relevant and sustainable for current times. Today, we are working to retrofit buildings to be compliant with the new laws and be more profoundly sustainable without compromising their historic integrity.
Q: How have recent advancements in technology impacted your work?
A: Well-ventilated, healthy environments e.g. passive house technology, heat pumps and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) are more important than ever right now. Material advancements like vacuum insulated glass (VIG), air and moisture barriers, smart vapor retarders and aerogel insulation have significantly impacted our work.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities?
A: Carbon reduction is a planet-changing goal to strive for. Operational carbon reduction is an easily accomplished task for building owners as the building’s operational heating and cooling costs WILL noticeably go down following retrofits. However, reducing embodied carbon in buildings is seen more as an ethical choice than a financial one. This is actually untrue. Our financial stability is directly tied to how much the world can slow the rise of devastating climate change.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
A: Architects and builders that are coalescing and sharing information to change how we design and build. I’m involved with the AIA, the Association for Preservation Technology (APT), and more recently the Zero Net Carbon Collaboration (ZNCC) to address Climate Change. The ZNCC is a consortium of five organizations whose purpose is to share information related to lowering the carbon use of buildings.
Last September we bridged two AIANY committees—the Historic Buildings Committee and the Committee on the Environment—by organizing and moderating an award-winning panel discussion on sustainable retrofits of historic buildings. This year’s virtual event is focused on mid-century sustainable retrofits with virtual workshops and live tours. We will be carrying the lessons learned from this event to the APT joint virtual conference with the National Trust for Canada in October, with a focus on carbon reduction in cold climates.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
A: The International Tailoring Company Building in Noho, is a large-scale window restoration project that aims to minimize the embodied and operational carbon of the building. Built in 1921, we are retrofitting 685 steel windows, instead of throwing them out or replacing them. A full building sustainability analysis as well as multiple mockups have been performed to assist in determining the best path forward. This project incorporates a groundbreaking new high-performance vacuum insulated glass. Because of its extremely thin profile, it fits within the existing steel sashes without having to alter them.
Historic preservation is my passion, so our preservation work on the 1861 Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory in Greenpoint, and the 1891 Fleming Smith Warehouse in Tribeca are among my favorites.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter who are elevated each year to the AIA College of Fellows, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.