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This case study discusses the successful preservation and restoration of The Little Building in Boston through the use of advanced laser scanning technology and collaboration with Elkus Manfredi Architects and Emerson College, as well as the resulting environmental impact through the salvaging of the building materials.


History of The Little Building

The Little Building was completed in 1917 and designed by the renowned architect Clarence Blackall in a neogothic style. It was considered ahead of its time, earning the nickname "The City Under One Roof" due to its numerous offices, shops, and stores, as well as a two-story retail arcade and cafeteria in the basement. It was also connected to the Boylston Street T Stop to the north and the Cutler Majestic Theater to the south via underground pedestrian tunnels. Overall, it was a pioneering example of transit-oriented mixed-use development.

The Little Building from July 1920 (Photograph by Leon Abdalian Collection, Boston Public Library)


Ten-Year Project Begins

The Little Building is located on the southern corner of The Commons and is a heritage building. It has gone through decades of use and needed a facade renovation by Elkus Manfredi. As part of a larger plan to move its campus into Boston's Theater District, Emerson College bought the tower in 1994. Emerson College oversaw renovations at the time to transform the building into a residence hall with a number of other college facilities. The Little Building, however, had a number of flaws that needed to be fixed with a deft hand and careful analysis, just like any century-old structure. Elkus Manfredi started the project back in 2008 and began their study of the facade by authorizing a laser scan survey of the entire building’s surface.

On-site image of the The Little Building's Facade



Partnering with Elkus Manfredi and Emerson College

A land surveyor was brought in by Elkus Manfredi Architects to provide architectural drawings of The Little Building, but they recommended that the Existing Conditions team be brought in instead. As a result, the Existing Conditions team was brought on to the project and created a Building Information Model (BIM) of the building's exterior shell and interior while it was still occupied. This was necessary due to the extensive nature of the renovation, which involved the removal of all four exterior walls and a complete redesign of the building, leaving only the columns and floor slabs in place.


Aerial exterior rendering of laser scan data with building information model overlay


Return On-site

In 2013, the Existing Conditions team returned to the site to gather more information and add to the existing BIM model that had been created when the building was still occupied. The increased access to the dormitory space, made possible by ongoing demolition work and the absence of students on break, allowed the team to gather more detailed information about previously inaccessible areas such as the gymnasium in the basement and certain dorm rooms. This updated information was provided to the architect to help inform the renovation plans and ensure that the project was as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

On-site image of Kurt Yeghian, Founder and CEO, in a dormitory space

In 2014, Existing Conditions worked with partners at Elkus Manfredi and Emerson College to provide detailed scanning and modeling of the exterior facade of The Little Building to preserve, capture, and reverse engineer the details. Furthermore, Existing Conditions created a highly accurate and intricate 3D model of the existing exterior concrete features. In 2016, we scanned the Tremont Street side elevations of The Little Building to create more detailed documents for the architect to use in aligning floors and infilling tight areas, which would have been difficult to do with traditional measurement methods. Our expertise at Existing Conditions and advanced equipment enabled us to complete this work successfully.

Rendering of Concrete-Polymer Facade Details


Scope of Work Evolution

The scope of the project changed significantly as the team worked to address underlying issues with the building, particularly the failing facade. The building had a limited amount of time to come up with a solution, as it had been experiencing water infiltration and rusting of structural steel members for decades, causing misalignment and cracking in the cast stone elements. One proposed solution was to completely demolish the building and build a new one, but this was ultimately not pursued.


Instead, the project team focused on increasing the number of beds in the building in order to improve financing for the project. This was achieved by creating double-height glass cubes on the Tremont Street side of the building and adding a 13th-floor behind the parapet on the roof. These efforts helped increase the bed count from 750 to over 1,000. The added sleeping rooms were created by displacing existing common spaces and making use of the building's unusually tall parapet. Careful consideration was given to the design and placement of windows and other fenestration to ensure that the added floor was not noticeable from the outside.

Level 13
Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects


The Challenge

One of the main challenges of The Little Building was its size and complexity. By being built in the early 1900s, it had undergone many modifications over the years, changing from an office space to a mixed-use building, then to a dormitory, and finally to an academic space. This resulted in many layers of the building's structure and history that needed to be uncovered in order to properly understand and address its needs. In order to gather more information, the team at Existing Conditions conducted multiple surveys of the site, returning many times as the building became less occupied and more demolition was done.

The information gathered was then provided to the architects, Elkus Manfredi, and the building owner, Emerson College. Throughout the process, the Existing Conditions team worked closely with the entire project team to ensure that they had the necessary information to complete the project successfully. Nearly everyone in the company was involved in working on this large, complex building at some point, as it required a lot of coordination and access to difficult areas. It was a team effort and everyone worked well together to provide high-quality, accurate documentation in partnership with Elkus Manfredi and Emerson College.

"Horror Show" Image of Facade Damage (Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects)


The Solution

Elkus Manfredi worked with Existing Conditions to complete two waves of laser scanning on a building, with the first wave achieving a resolution of two to three millimeters and the second wave achieving an accuracy of 0.025 millimeters. This allowed Elkus Manfredi to capture all of the intricate and ornate details of the building's facade, which they needed to replicate as part of their architectural solution. The data gathered by Existing Conditions and the 3D modeling completed by both Existing Conditions and Elkus Manfredi enabled them to digitally model the entire building with a high level of accuracy. As a result of the scan's accuracy, all damage and stability repairs were detected. All of this had to be corrected digitally, in the 3D model.


The next step for Elkus Manfredi was to work with their neighbors at the Autodesk Technology Center in their build space to experiment with using the 3D models created from the data collected by Existing Conditions and the modeling done for Elkus Manfredi to drive CNC machinery. CNC machinery is able to create molds, carve stones, and perform a variety of tasks. It was Autodesk's experimental R&D arm's first project in 2012, and it was designed to test the equipment's capabilities. Elkus Manfredi began with 3D printing and gradually worked their way up to creating full-scale foam blocks of the lion heads and other neogothic details. Once Elkus Manfredi was confident in their process, they were able to communicate directly with their fabricator in Canada, Béton Préfabriqué, to produce the replicated facade with accurate and true detail to the 1917 building.

Mesh File of the Lion Head Detail



After completing construction on The Little Building, Elkus Manfredi partnered with Lambert Sustainability, a Boston-based sustainability firm, to conduct an embodied carbon study. The study analyzed the amount of carbon saved and the material salvaged of various building materials, including the structure and facades on the lower levels. The results showed that the salvage material contained over 4,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, which is equivalent to the amount of carbon that a forest the size of Boston Common would take 100 years to sequester. This demonstrates the significant environmental impact that can be made through the preservation and reuse of building materials. Ross Cameron found these results to be particularly interesting and meaningful given the extent of demolition that took place during the project.

Exterior ground-level facade rendering of building information model


How This Project Was Unique

Existing Conditions has experience working on projects that require accessing sensitive spaces, such as laboratories and dormitories. The Existing Conditions team is skilled at being discreet while still getting the job done efficiently. While Existing Conditions has completed many similar projects, The Little Building was a unique project for us as it was a long-term project. Our team worked on this project several times over six years. This is due to its size and sprawling complex of over half a million square feet. It is rare to find a building of this size and intricacy. The Little Building project was a success due to the effective use of advanced scanning and modeling techniques, the collaboration of various partners, and the implementation of CNC machinery.


About the Client Elkus Manfredi Architects

Ross Cameron is a Vice President at Elkus Manfredi Architects, a full-service design firm based in Boston. Elkus Manfredi offers a range of services including architecture, master planning, urban design, historic preservation, space planning, programming, and experiential graphic design. As one of the largest firms in the city, Elkus Manfredi has a strong presence in the local community.

Ross Cameron, Vice President, Elkus Manfredi Architects (Image courtesy of Autodesk)

“The extensive data that Existing Conditions gathered allowed us to collaboratively create a highly accurate digital model of the Little Building façade circa 1917, which was no easy task given the complexity of the highly ornate neo-gothic architecture. The ability to communicate the model data directly to the UHPC fabricator enabled us to have complete control over the outcome of the replicated façade elements.”- Ross Cameron, Vice President of Elkus Manfredi Architects.

Our team has decades of experience when it comes to delivering accurate building documentation for historic landmarks. Uncover the rich history and cultural significance of historic landmarks by exploring our detailed 3D models and documentation services offered by Existing Conditions. Click here to learn more and discover how we are dedicated to preserving these important sites.



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