- Associated Press - Thursday, July 31, 2014

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Joe Oppermann and the rest of the team at his architectural firm in Winston-Salem sometime wear several hats when it comes to finding and telling the stories behind buildings.

“A lot of what we do is building archeology, meaning that we go in and we look at the way the building is made,” Oppermann said.

His team looks at saw marks, as well as the type of nails, screws, paints and mortars, among other things, used in the construction of buildings.

“Just like an archeologist digs in a site, takes material and can date what period things are from, we do the same with buildings,” Oppermann said.

His firm, Joseph K. Oppermann - Architect P.A., specializes in the research, documentation, analysis, conservation, restoration and adaptation of historic buildings and sites. It is one of only a few architectural firms in the country that focus exclusively on historical architecture. The firm borrows a lot of investigative tools and technologies from various disciplines, including land surveying and art conservation.

Sometimes, Oppermann finds help in the most unlikely of sources. While providing services for the Miles Brewton House built between 1765-69 in Charleston, S.C., he savaged fragments of wallpaper and plaster wallpaper borders from rats’ nests to help replicate old wallpapers and borders in the home.

His firm does projects for clients throughout the country, but primarily east of the Mississippi.

It’s not unusual for the firm to work for many years and in phases on projects. Oppermann has provided services for a church in Charleston, S.C., for 22 years.

Joseph K. Oppermann - Architect just finished work on a pathway project at The Hermitage, a National Historic Landmark and the home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tenn.

“Joe Oppermann has come into our site and really helped us determine what we needed to do to preserve this National Historic Landmark site,” said Tony Guzzi, the vice president for preservation and site operations at The Hermitage.

The architectural firm has done five phases of work over the years at The Hermitage, including Jackson’s two-story brick mansion; a brick kitchen and smokehouse; two early log houses; Alfred’s Cabin, where former slave Alfred Jackson lived until his death in 1901; and the tomb where Jackson and his wife, Rachel, are buried.

Guzzi said that Oppermann and his associates work well together as a team and with the owners of historical resources.

“They come in and they work very well in doing an assessment and making sure that they consider all options,” Guzzi said. “They bring in other specialists (such as) masons who have experience with historic buildings.”

Another big project for the firm was Market Hall, a National Historic Landmark in Charleston, S.C. The firm’s services included re-enforcing the structural system to survive earthquakes, installing building monitors, providing historic paint and finish analysis, and a comprehensive interior and exterior restoration.

“It’s still owned by the City of Charleston,” Oppermann said. “They hired us after Hurricane Hugo. We did a $2.5 million restoration to that.”

Story Continues →