Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2012 Preservation Award Winners
Washburn Shops at Worcester Polytechnic Institute • Worcester

Washburn Shops at Worcester Polytechnic Institute • Worcester

Rehabilitation & Restoration

Ichabod Washburn, a founder of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), funded construction of the Washburn Shops in 1868 to house a "Department of Practical Mechanism" that would educate student mechanics in the applications of design and manufacturing. Prominent local architect Elbridge Boyden designed the building in the Second Empire style, and additions in 1880 and 1892 substantially expanded its footprint. The devastating hurricane of 1938 tore the central cupola from the Washburn Shops, dropping it through the roof of the building. Although it was reconstructed shortly thereafter, the cupola was reattached insecurely, such that by 2011 it was loose enough to be easily pushed out of place. In addition, in 1984, when the attic was converted to conditioned space, roof leaks were caused by winter ice dam formation, leading to warping of the roof deck, which in turn displaced slate shingles. The resultant gaps admitted still more water, causing further damage.

Because the roof had sustained irreversible damage, repair was not a viable option. Instead, the slate was replaced, and ice/water shields were incorporated into the roof's assembly. To maintain stability while restoring the cupola, tower corners were taken apart and reconstructed in sections. Concealed anchors improve structural stability without compromising the building's aesthetic or historic integrity. Salvaged brick from the original structure was interspersed with replacement brick at the tower's corners. Additionally, rotting woodwork was replaced, and dormers and surrounds were returned to their historic appearance. Historically appropriate divided lights replaced late 20th-century aluminum windows. And the arm-and-hammer weather vane, a 1977 replica of the original and a symbol of the school, was also restored. Continuously in use for engineering education since its construction and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Washburn Shops now houses the Material Science and Engineering Program, the Manufacturing Engineering Program, and the Management Department, as well as the Milton P. Higgins Lecture Hall.

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