Nicole LaRochelle, who graduated in 2022 with a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Clemson University, is a recipient of the King Medal from the Architectural Research Centers Consortium.
The award, which LaRochelle earned for research she completed for her master’s thesis, is given to one student per ARCC member school, and is awarded based on criteria that acknowledge “innovation, integrity, and scholarship in architectural and/or environmental design research.”
LaRochelle said she was stunned when she learned of the award.
“I was not expecting such a huge honor for my thesis,” she said. “I am quite grateful for the support of my committee and also for the fact that my program believed my work was worth nominating.”
Her research consists of a comparative analysis of the environmental and economic impact of original clapboard siding on historic buildings versus three possible replacements: similar modern wood, fiber cement or vinyl siding.
She developed life cycle cost assessments for the economic impacts of each material and evaluated professionally developed, peer-reviewed environmental lifecycle cost assessments.
“Using the results from both assessments, I determined that ultimately it remains more environmentally and economically sustainable to retain the in-situ wood siding of historic homes,” she said.
Jon Marcoux, director of Clemson’s graduate program in historic preservation, was impressed with LaRochelle’s results, which have significant implications for preservationists.
“Among her findings was the relatively surprising result that fiber-cement siding has a considerably greater negative environmental impact than vinyl siding — the usual recipient of preservationists’ ire,” he said. “We are incredibly proud of Nicole and of her contribution to our field, and we congratulate her on this well-deserved award.”
Clemson’s historic preservation program operates out of the Clemson Design Center, Charleston (CDC.C). Located in the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street — itself a site on the National Register of Historic Places — the CDC.C gives students ample access to Charleston’s myriad historic buildings. As part of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, the program uniquely combines interdisciplinary knowledge of design and history.
In addition to her thesis research, LaRochelle was an active contributor to research into improving the historic plaster ceiling of historic Drayton Hall earlier this year.
LaRochelle said that she evaluates the success of her student experience based on three categories: passionate professors, supportive community and thought-provoking courses.
“The historic preservation program consists of expert professors who provide support as they challenge you to be better than the day before,” LaRochelle said. “Community is always what you make it, but our cohort was a unique group who brought a variety of perspectives and interests, ensuring that we learned from each other both during and outside of class.”
She noted that her courses demonstrated the impact that historic preservation has on many professional fields, and that the program successfully combined all three categories in order for her to flourish.
Following graduation, LaRochelle spent the summer working as an architectural historian in California. This fall, she begins her career at the Bennett Preservation Engineering firm in Charleston.
Established in 1996, the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities celebrates a unique combination of disciplines—Architecture; Art; City Planning; Construction Science and Management; English; History; Languages; Performing Arts; Philosophy; Religion; Real Estate Development and interdisciplinary studies—that enable Clemson University students to imagine, create and connect. CAAH strives to unite the pursuit of knowledge with practical application of that knowledge to build a better and more beautiful world.
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