Archiscape Blog

Designing New in a Historic District

Posted on March 28, 2018 by Karin • Filed under: , , , , , ,

We’re excited to be working on the design of a multi-use building in Fair Haven Heights (right across the river from our office!), to include apartments, retail, and restaurant space. The project, Heights on the River, is located on what used to be a bustling block on the east side of the bridge that spans the Quinnipiac River and leads from Fair Haven to Fair Haven Heights.

In its heyday of the late 1800s, a vibrant mix of shops, apartment houses, and warehouses shared this site which is bound by East Grand Avenue, Quinnipiac Avenue, and the Quinnipiac River. And we share the same goal as the developers of this project—to revitalize this beautiful waterfront location for the residents of Fair Haven Heights and draw new faces to enjoy what the area has to offer.


We began by studying the history of the immediate site, through research of maps and historic photographs. An early set of city maps drawn by the Sanborn Map Company show the various buildings that have been built, altered and demolished over time. Sanborn maps were originally drawn to help insurance companies assess the risk of fire, so they depict the main building materials (yellow for wood frame, pink for masonry), delineate each individual tenant on the ground floor and in text format show how many stories the buildings have.

Shown here are maps drawn in 1886, 1901, 1924 and 1973. We have overlaid our proposed buildings and have calculated the ground floor areas of the various buildings, old and new. Next, we looked at the depth of the buildings on the street and created the new buildings with the same depth and a similar width. We are keeping the only remaining historic building (housing Grand Vin and apartments) and are demolishing other buildings that have been built somewhat randomly since 1973.


Historical photos are fascinating. It was a welcome task to be able to sift through old photos of the area to our heart’s content. The photos below compare a historic image with our proposed buildings. In the first historic photo, there are rows of buildings on each side of the street, south and north. In our rendering, you can see our proposed buildings, designed with similar widths and depths as the originals. We have also taken care to use similar roof lines and architectural detailing.

In the second historic photo, an aerial shot, the buildings to the west of the brick building have been replaced, likely after a fire. Note that the turning bridge, originally built in 1791, has been replaced by a drawless bridge in 1860. A new turning bridge, based on the historic one, was rebuilt in the 1980s. The building on the corner of East Grand Avenue and Quinnipiac Avenue was once a large 3-story building. It is now gone entirely and a small pizza place exists there now. The brick (Grand Vin) building was rebuilt since then. Our new buildings aim to bring back some of the density that was once part of this lively neighborhood in its heyday.

Heights on the River historic photos

Our portfolio houses many adaptive reuse projects, in which we take an old, oftentimes dilapidated structure and transform it into a beautiful new space. But it’s not as often that we design new construction where historic buildings once stood. With Heights on the River, we want to be sure to design a community that accounts for the wants of the developers and the needs of the local residents, but also keep the history of a once-colorful neighborhood alive and well.