How do you completely renovate a century-old townhouse in just eight months? With careful planning says Karl Büttner ’87. Büttner is part of a group of MIT Sigma Chi alumni including Doug Bailey ’72, Josh Littlefield ’81, Mike DeLaus ’82, Mark Curtiss ’87, Dan Craig ’03, Tom Altmann ’15, and many others, who helped to facilitate the renovation of the fraternity’s house at 532 Beacon Street. The renovation of the over 10,000 square foot house was completed in record time for a good reason. “We wanted to make sure we displaced students for as short a time as possible,” Büttner says.
Though the renovation of the Sigma Chi house was completed in less than a year, fundraising for the project started many years before with assistance from the Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF), which helps MIT’s many Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Livings Groups (FSILGs) maintain and support their communities through grants and loans. “These loans were critical because it allowed our alumni donors to make their contributions over a several year period, but allowed us to pay the contractors now. Without that, projects like ours wouldn’t be possible,” says Büttner.
The Sigma Chi house, which was built in 1900, first became home to Sigma Chi—the Institute’s oldest continuously operating fraternity—in 1919. Aside from smaller renovations over the years, few major updates had been made to the house over its long history. “The house still had its original curved windows,” explains Büttner. The extensive renovation of the townhouse returned it to its original 1900 glory, while adding a fifth floor and making it a modern building with state of the art energy efficiency, accessibility, and life safety systems.
This meticulous renovation of the townhouse caught the eye of the Boston Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and improve the quality of Boston’s “distinct architectural history.” The society named the Sigma Chi house one of its Preservation Achievement Award Winners for 2015. But the awards didn’t stop there—of the 10 winners for 2015, Sigma Chi was named the fan favorite, thanks to the daily voting of many MIT and Sigma Chi alumni. “The big award was the preservation award, but it was a fun icing on the cake to win the fan favorite,” Büttner says.
For Büttner and members of the FSILG community, the renovation of the Sigma Chi house isn’t just a triumph in preservation of a building, but of a way of life for many MIT students. “This project was only possible because alumni felt so strongly about the importance about continuing to provide environments such as our fraternity,” Büttner says. “It was about alumni believing that it’s critically important to continue to offer these outside-of-the-classroom learning environments for future generations of MIT students.”
Learn more about the extensive renovation and see a full tour of the house at 532 Beacon St.