Protecting NIH's Architectural Legacy
Many of the original research buildings located on the NIH campus are eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a result of the pioneering biomedical research that has been conducted on campus since 1938. The register is the nation's official list of buildings, structures, districts and sites that best represent United States history and architecture. The properties listed in the register are acknowledged by the federal government as worthy of preservation for their significance in American history and culture, and are so considered during the planning of construction and renovation projects.
The original research buildings, which form the NIH historic core district and officer's quarters historic district, were built in the 1930's and 1940's. They meet register criteria for significance in American history, architecture, and culture, and possess integrity of location, design, setting, workmanship, and other distinctive characteristics. These buildings include, listed by historic names: Bldg. 1 - Administration Building and Power Plant; Bldg. 2 - Industrial Hygiene Laboratory; Bldg. 3 - Public Health Methods Bldg.; Bldg. 6 - National Cancer Institute; Bldg. 4 - Institute for Experimental Biology; and Bldg. 5 - Microbiological Institute. Bldgs. 15B, C, D, E, F, G are known as the officers' quarters, Bldg. 15I is the NIH director's house and Bldg. 15H is the surgeon general's house.
The Memorial Laboratory Bldg. 7 is eligible for the register because it was one of the first bio-containment laboratories in the nation. All of the existing buildings that pre-date NIH on the Bethesda campus such as the Wilson Estate (Tree Tops), the Convent of the Sisters of the Visitation (the Cloisters) and the George Freeland Peter Estate (the Stone House) are also eligible for the national register. The Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, Mont., is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The crown jewel of NIH's architectural legacy, according to the Division of Engineering Services, is the National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library. The library collects materials in all areas of biomedicine and healthcare, as well as works on biomedical aspects of technology, the humanities, and the physical, life and social sciences.
Contrary to what one might think, a building that is listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places can be altered or even demolished. When a federal agency must alter a historic structure to meet program needs, it is required to consult with the state historic preservation officer, who gets an opportunity to comment on the alteration. First the agency's federal preservation officer must make a determination of effect. If the alteration, for example, is to demolish the interior of a historic building, the officer will make a determination of adverse effect on historic property. The federal and state preservation officers will execute a binding memorandum of agreement that usually stipulates how the agency will mitigate the loss of historic property. In many cases, photographic documentation is used for this purpose.
When NIH converted Bldg. 2 into an administrative office building, it was required to prepare an historic American building survey document for the National Park Service to be included in the National Archives.
If the federal preservation officer makes a determination of adverse effect, it will not necessarily delay the project. In most cases a project must be designed before any demolition can take place. The officer should be able to weigh in at the preliminary design stage; however, the determination of effect can also occur later.
For more information about the NIH historic preservation program, contact Ricardo Herring, 402-2048.
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