The Treehouse Apartments Renovation

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2023
Size
Total (3 apartment buildings)
60,500 SF

Client
Tree House Partners

Project Team
Oliver Goché
David Gosnell
Tim Hickman
Yasmine Killeen

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture
The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation

The Treehouse Apartments, comprised of three buildings—The Birches, The Oaks, and The Elmwood — built more than a century ago, faced the challenges that come with time. Their once-pristine courtyards and archways showed signs of neglect, and modern amenities like elevators and air conditioning were absent. The buildings, rich with history, needed a sensitive touch to preserve their essence while updating them for contemporary living.

To usher these buildings, listed collectively on the National Register of Historic Places, into the present, the restoration retained most of the original apartment layouts but introduced new two-bedroom spaces. Elevators and fire protection systems were added, ensuring accessibility and resident safety.

The buildings, each with three apartment stories and an amenity-rich lower level, now house a combination of 90-efficiency, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units. Furthermore, the exterior spaces underwent a comprehensive transformation. An expanded surface parking lot, community patio spaces, and a dedicated dog park were introduced. A single-story parking garage was updated to provide electric charging stations while the courtyards bloom anew with refreshed landscaping. This restoration not only breathed new life into the apartments but retained part of the architectural heritage of the city, serving as a harmonious blend of Des Moines' storied past and a vision for the future.

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2023
Size
Total (3 apartment buildings)
60,500 SF

Client
Tree House Partners

Project Team
Oliver Goché
David Gosnell
Tim Hickman
Yasmine Killeen

Cherishing History: Navigating Design Challenges

Renovating historic structures poses unique challenges. It is critical to respect and retain the essence of the original designs while integrating modern elements. With the Treehouse buildings, the introduction of two-bedroom units, never part of the original blueprint, and the inclusion of elevators and a sprinkler system required meticulous planning and delicate execution to ensure the integrity of the structures remained uncompromised. In keeping with the original character, the exterior brick was cleaned and repaired, non-historical elements were removed, the electrical service was buried and non-period lamp posts were replaced with salvaged cast-iron fixtures.

Preservation with Precision: Our Unique Approach

Substance Architecture's design process is rooted in understanding the soul of a structure. For The Birches, The Oaks, and The Elmwood, it was imperative to delve into their history and the spirit of the era they represented. With that foundation, we could then overlay modern requirements, ensuring that the essence of these historic buildings was neither overshadowed nor lost in the restoration. The application and award for the historic tax credit were accomplished seamlessly.

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture

Archway - before

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture

North facade - before

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture

Interior corridor - before

The Treehouse Apartments Renovation – Substance Architecture

Typical kitchen - before

Connection to Community: Integration of Public Art

What was once a dilapidated stairway on the northern edge of the site has now been transformed into a vibrant pedestrian connection through the incorporation of public art. The project was spearheaded by The Avenues of Ingersoll & Grand, a development advocacy group, and Tree House Partners, owners of the historic apartment buildings. The stairs were rebuilt as part of the Treehouse project with representatives from Tree House Partners and Substance involved in the selection of the artwork. Today, the stairs are a visually pleasing cultural destination along The Avenues and a convenient connection for residents to the many retail and restaurant options popping up within the area.

The Treehouse Apartments renovation project successfully merges historical preservation with modernization, creating a safe and comfortable living environment. It adapts heritage properties to meet contemporary living standards and provides much-needed missing middle housing.

Consultants

Structural Engineer
KPFF Engineering
Landscape Architect
Genus Landscape Architects
General Contractor
Neumann Brothers
Preservation Consultant
A. Kay Consulting

Photography by Corey Gaffer and Ben Easter Photography