Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Washburn Shops before restoration

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Washburn Shops

Location Worcester, MA

Category Education

Building Enclosure Restoration

Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award

Designed by Elbridge Boyden and constructed in 1868, the Washburn Shops originally housed the Department of Practical Mechanism, through which students produced and sold manufactured goods. The oldest structure in the nation used continuously for engineering education, the Washburn Shops now encompasses the Material Science and Engineering Program, the Manufacturing Engineering Program, and the Management Department. The building is listed on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places and on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Worcester Multiple Resource Area, in recognition of its architectural and cultural influence.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) retained Hoffmann Architects + Engineers to investigate structural issues and deterioration conditions at the 140-year-old roof and facade and to design and administer a rehabilitation solution. A classic example of the Second Empire architectural style, the Washburn Shops combines short, steep mansard slate roofs with multi-wythe brick facades. The Institute’s distinctive arm-and-hammer weathervane crowns the central octagonal tower, flanked by rectangular cupolas at the building corners.


In 1938, a hurricane tore off the cupola of the central tower and dropped it through the roof of the building. Although reconstructed shortly thereafter, the cupola was re-attached insecurely. In addition, the configuration of the tower corners did not adequately transfer loads from one plane to the next. Hoffmann’s reconstruction design incorporated tie-ins and concealed anchors to resolve structural problems without compromising aesthetics. By combining material matching with reuse of salvaged brick, the design team blended repair areas with the surrounding facade.

At the roof, ice dam formation and condensation led to pervasive leaks and permanent damage. After nearly a century and a half of use, the slate roof had reached the end of its lifespan. To resolve the moisture problems, Hoffmann integrated modern technology with traditional materials in the design of a new slate roof assembly. As part of the roof rehabilitation, dormer windows, which were not original to the structure, were replaced to improve historical accuracy and performance, and decayed woodwork was reconstructed.

Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award

Washburn Shops, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“The Washburn Shops project has revitalized a landmark educational building on the college’s campus, and has also contributed to preserving a significant piece of both Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s and the city of Worcester’s history as the oldest structure continuously used for engineering education. It is a shining example of sensitive, thoughtful and significant historic preservation of a educational campus resource.” – James W. Igoe, President, Preservation Massachusetts