Lighting the Path Ahead

Carefully planned interventions that prolong the materials and design integrity of historic buildings is referred to as “architectural conservation.” A form of this process is what OSUIT did with the Grand Old Post Office (GOPO).

Q: Please describe the architectural process used in the recent transformation of your building in downtown Okmulgee. 

A: This technical inquiry may best be answered by first describing what the GOPO project was not. Here is some architectural terminology commonly used to describe work on historic buildings and my assessment of how well they relate to the GOPO project.

Reconstruction is when you take a lost or severely damaged structure and faithfully rebuild it to look like it once was by introducing new materials. This often requires the use of original blueprints or old photos for reference. The GOPO was not a destroyed property reconstructed from historical imagery. The 100-year-old structure was quite intact.

Renovation (also called remodeling) is the process of improving a broken, damaged, or outdated structure. This is when you make something new or functional again without giving any consideration to its historic appearance. Technically, the GOPO was not a renovation because great care was given to preserving the original façade and many other historic elements of the building. 

Preservation is a conservation effort to preserve the condition of a historic building by preventing further decay. It respects alterations made to the building through successive occupancies and uses over time. The GOPO project was not considered a historic preservation because we intentionally replaced much of what we found with new materials. 

Restoration is a form of repair that focuses on the retention of surviving materials or accurate reconstruction of missing features from the most significant time in a building's history while removing materials from other periods. It’s true, we did restore certain elements of the GOPO property, but our primary focus on this project was not in performing a period restoration. 

Rehabilitation is repair work done to a deteriorated building that focuses on saving or accurately replacing materials and features that give a property its historic character. While not an entirely accurate description, our work on the GOPO could be considered an extreme form of building rehabilitation. Yes, we maintained much of the building’s historic character, but we also concentrated on modern upgrades.

Adaptive reuse is the process of repurposing an old building for a new use other than for which it was built or originally designed. It employs elements of other conservation practices, e.g. rehabilitation, restoration, and renovation. Often regarded as a compromise between historic preservation and demolition, adaptive reuse allows cities to take a second look at old spaces, especially those that are abandoned or in declining neighborhoods. This is exactly what we did with the GOPO. We took two abandoned buildings that were designed primarily for retail purposes and repurposed them into one modern residential complex for college students. Several experts have told us the GOPO is one of the best examples of adaptive reuse they have ever seen.  

I’m delighted with all the positive things happening in Okmulgee. Inquiries, such as this one, are always welcome at osuit-president@okstate.edu

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Dr. Bill R. Path is president of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and board member of Okmulgee Main Street Inc. 

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