Monday, May 20, 2024

Adaptive reuse – revitalizing an existing, often imperfect, structure for new purposes – exists in many forms, but is often good environmentally. From refurbishing building materials to “cultural recycling” of entire structures, it means avoiding complete demolition.

Cambridge is no stranger to reuse projects.

The highly anticipated Foundry community building at 101 Rogers St., East Cambridge, transforms a Blake & Knowles Steam Pump factory from 1890 that processed up to 50 tons of iron per day.

The facility was once a nationally recognized example of Cambridge’s industrial history, albeit harboring harsh working conditions for mainly women laborers. They fought for, and eventually gained, more humane working conditions, making this historic building a landmark for the women’s rights movement  in Cambridge. When it opens Sept. 10, the reimagined space will serve as a hub for community engagement and creative expression next to Kendall Square.

Blake & Knowles Steam Pump. (Photo: Historical Commission)

A Foundry redesign visualization. (Image: CambridgeSeven)

The original structure had a high, single floor inside, ideal for maneuvering large cranes and machinery. The walls’ metal trusses, reinforced with wood, suit the building’s redesign, allowing enough support for two additional floors that create the potential for a wide variety of new uses. The addition of large metal supports creates a streamlined way to travel its length. The structural steel maintains the fluidity of an open concept, negating the need for numerous dividing walls.

Another successful adaptive reuse project can be seen in The Port, at the Squirrel Brand apartments. Like the Foundry, this building was originally a factory, famous for the production of candies and nuts such as Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Squirrel Brand Apartments in The Port. (Photo: Maloney Properties)

The words “Squirrel Brand Company” are still visible on the exterior, but rehabilitation in 2002 by the nonprofit developer Just A Start turned the building into 18 affordable apartments. Sustainable in design, and next to a public park and community garden, this project serves as a productive revitalization of a historic building that would otherwise be a victim of demolition or disuse.

Information about The Foundry’s construction process is here. Details on its grand opening and other events is here.

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About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name, a new look and a whole new mission.

We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We strive to be the most relevant and responsive historical voice in Cambridge. We do that by recognizing that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We support people in sharing history with each other – and weaving their knowledge together – by offering them the floor, the mic, the platform. We shed light where historical perspectives are needed. We listen to our community. We live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone.

Our theme for 2022 is “How Does Cambridge Work?” Make history with us at historycambridge.org.


Fatimah Ali is an intern this summer with History Cambridge researching the history of Indigenous people in Cambridge. She is a rising senior at Wellesley College studying architecture with a concentration in urban studies.