Commercial Observer honored New York metro region director of historic preservation Derek Dandurand as one of its 2023 Top Young Professionals, recognizing him for his lifelong commitment to preservation and a deep and sustained passion for the field, his experience in notable roles for New York City, and the tangible impact of his work on the community. Read more about Derek’s accomplishments below and his Commercial Observer award feature here.
Derek Dandurand’s life’s work began humbly. Namely, he was digging a trench in his backyard in Cumberland, R.I., one bored summer in middle school. He pulled something shiny out of the earth that turned out to be the belt buckle of a noncommissioned officer in the Civil War. It took Dandurand several years and a trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to figure out that it belonged to Elijah Fuller, who fought with the 3rd Rhode Island heavy artillery regiment and lived in the same house that Dandurand grew up in. “The home I lived in was a historic 1850s farmhouse with Victorian additions in the 1890s,” Dandurand said. “I fell in love with the originality of my house and understanding how it was built.”
He said he feels lucky because “I’ve known exactly what I wanted to do with my career since I was 14 years old.”
Dandurand set out to study the art and science of historic preservation in college and obtained a master’s from Roger Williams University’s architecture school. People in the field refer to themselves as building scientists, Dandurand said, because “you have to dissect a building and understand how it lives and breathes in order to actually restore it.” Dandurand has been in New York for about a decade. He has worked for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and its Parks Department, where he helped manage a $77 million capital projects budget for 23 nonprofit historic house museums.
When Shawmut Design and Construction was looking to bring a historic preservationist on board to help with its $15 million renovation of the New York Public Library’s Aguilar branch renovation in Harlem, Dandurand’s skills fit the bill. He joined the firm in 2021.
He must walk a fine line between the impulse to preserve and the need to innovate. Interactions with the public keep him going Dandurand said. On a recent work day, he was on the sidewalk outside the Aguilar library overseeing a crane operation. “I was out there with my hard hat on, and a pedestrian walked by and said, ‘Are you rehabilitating that building?’ He said, ‘The last time I was in that building was 1985, and I remember the interior. I cannot wait.’”