This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.

by Kim Daileader and Emily Eig


In 2011, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s (WRAMC) Washington, DC, base moved to Maryland. As part of the BRAC process, the original base was designated an historic district encompassing 110 acres and almost 100 structures. Congress granted Children’s National Medical Center (Children’s National) a small parcel of the district. Since then, Children’s National has begun work to establish their first Research and Innovation Campus, the cornerstone of which will be a state-of-the-art pediatric, medical research laboratory within Building 54, a contributing resource. Balancing often competing code, environmental, preservation, and state-of-the-art lab requirements led to the identification of many innovative approaches to the adaptive reuse of a mid-century building, resulting in the charting of a new path for historic preservation.

Building 54 was constructed between 1951 – 1955 for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at WRAMC. It was placed in the far northwest section of DC, when escalating fear of nuclear war demanded the dispersion of critical government activities beyond the Federal core. The building was required by President Eisenhower to meet the specifications of the National Security Resources Board for bomb-resistant structures. It was the first and only in the US to be designed to survive a hydrogen bomb attack.

The building was designed to be completely operational in the wake of an attack and was intended to be the hub of activity for the president in such circumstances. The large central core of the structure is windowless, save for small protruding wings, which can be sealed by four-inch thick steel, blast doors. The concrete exterior walls are a minimum of twelve inches thick at the top and increase to two feet at the base. The south elevation, which faces the White House and
US Capitol, was built to withstand a blast of 14,520 tons. In the event of an attack, the HVAC and air-intake systems were designed to be completely cut off from outside air. The building even has a double-height TV studio to allow the president to film speeches and communicate with US troops around the globe.

This paper will discuss the challenges in bringing the historic Cold War-Era building into the twenty-first century. The issues are wide-ranging, from the lack of ADA-accessibility to the uniquely windowless construction. As Children’s National is a private non-profit organization all work had to be approved by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board, as well as meet DC Building Codes. Children’s National is also seeking Federal Historic Tax Credits, triggering National Park Service review for compliance with the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Rehabilitation. Design and code challenges relating to a building with no windows, a critical character-defining feature, proved to be an immense negotiation between all stakeholders. Others included various abatement approaches, moving the main entrance, and meeting restrictive new environmental codes. Managing the competing interests and requirements has presented challenges that have only been touched on in preservation to date. This paper will share the challenges and solutions in dealing with historic mid-century buildings.


Kim Daileader joined EHT Traceries in September 2013 after obtaining her MS in Historic Preservation in 2012. Initially after graduation she conducted post-graduate work at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and then executed a year-long fellowship at the General Services Administration. Her background and undergraduate degree in structural engineering allow her to contribute to a wide array of preservation issues. Ms. Daileader works with architects, engineers, developers, property owners, and government agencies. She works on a wide range of preservation projects, including, Building Preservation Plans, Historic Structures Reports, Historic Tax Credits, National Register Nominations, Section 106, and Conditions Assessments.

Emily Eig established EHT Traceries in 1977. Her expertise focuses on preservation strategies, design review, and compliance with local, state, and Federal laws, as well as twentieth century architecture and historic interpretation. She is a recognized expert on the interpretation of the SOI’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and Section 106. She has been an expert witness in numerous judicial and governmental venues over the last thirty-five years. Ms. Eig holds an MAT in Museum Education (Architecture/ Preservation) from The George Washington University and a BA in Fine Arts (History) from Brandeis University.

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