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Photo Credit: Masonite

Many universities in North America and across the world strive to hit a certain design aesthetic on their campuses. Older, New England-based campuses, for example, embrace classic looks dating back to their buildings’ original construction. When it comes time to update or replace an element of the building — like a door, for example — these universities frequently embrace historic preservation doors, maintaining the same uniform aesthetic look while upgrading to modern efficiency standards.

Colleges aren’t the only institutions looking to preserve their original look, however. Historic reproduction doors can be found at locations ranging from public libraries to government buildings, primary and secondary schools, courthouses, hotels and more, according to Jennifer McGill, Masonite’s general manager based in Canada.

In some instances, historic reproduction doors are a requirement based on a building’s designation as a historic landmark. In other cases, however, buildings — especially hotels — voluntarily opt for historic reproductions, according to McGill.

“They’re still going for that look because it’s seen as being a little bit higher-end, a little bit more aesthetically beautiful,” McGill said. “It has more dimension to it than, say, a flush door, which is just one single slab, and so you get a richer aesthetic.”

No matter where a historic reproduction door is installed, it must always hit certain criteria and goals. The door has to “look the same, but perform to today’s standards,” McGill explained. To that end, manufacturers should try to use as similar a construction process as possible to how the original door would have been made, a hundred years ago or more. But at the same time, manufacturers must incorporate all of the new technologies and elements that boost doors’ performance in the modern world.

Photo credit: Kolbe Windows and Doors

One significant challenge for manufacturers is determining the precise dimensions of the replacement door. It is not necessarily easy to get to the building in question, especially if it is located far away from a manufacturer’s plant. Equally, the original door cannot simply be removed and shipped to the manufacturer, as the campus, government building, library or courthouse in question likely will not want a generic replacement door in place for any considerable amount of time.

The key to surpassing that challenge is remaining in constant, clear communication with the building owner or manager. Employees of the building can take measurements and send them to the manufacturer, ensuring that all information is accurate without requiring the manufacturer to make a trip to the site. Careful consideration should be given to the exact dimensions, in case the building has settled or the doorframe is not perfectly square or round.

Another challenge is more geographic. If a historic reproduction door is being constructed for a building in a location frequently hit by natural disasters like hurricanes, the door must still look authentically original without sacrificing on performance and safety standards. This might entail additional testing by the manufacturer to measure the door’s performance against high wind.

A third challenge is related to the hardware that accompany the door. A door that was constructed one hundred or more years ago would have made use of handcrafted door handles, for example, and the hinges on an older door are different from today’s hinges. Architects and remodelers involved in a historic reproduction project are then tasked with ensuring that the hardware on the historic reproduction door matches the hardware that would have been in vogue when the original door was first constructed.

Most historic reproduction doors are made with stile and rail construction. All the elements that are normally hidden in a flush door are visible with stile and rail construction, meaning there can be no shortcuts to ensuring historic aesthetic accuracy.

“You get to see the craftsmanship and the work that goes into the door,” McGill said.

Photo Credit: TruStile Doors

While historic reproduction doors strive to look just like their older counterparts, they function with much more modern expectations. The doors’ interiors can be loaded with new technologies and innovations. These can be innocuous, like adding interior materials to prevent the wood from warping or improve acoustics within the building.

They can also be fairly intense. Certain locations, like government buildings and schools, incorporate anti-attack technology into their historic doors. These could include putting some form of “attack resistance or bullet resistance” in the core of the door, according to McGill, in the hopes that the materials would slow down a potential attacker and prevent people from getting hurt at the entrance to the building in question.

At the end of the day, McGill said, the most important thing is making sure that the door matches the design of its building. Aesthetic appearance is more important than high-efficiency performance when the end goal is making sure a new door looks at home in an old building.

“You’re looking for authenticity when you’re doing a door like this,” McGill said.

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