“New buildings are more fun for architects to design and are just plain cheaper for developers to build.”

The title for this post is a quote from this NPR news story and displays the ongoing challenge of connecting historic preservation with green building.

A few points I took away from this article:

  • It is fairly absurd that the preservation of an existing building currently nets very few LEED points. The fact that a building has stood for X number of  decades should be given far more credit than it receives and from an environmental perspective should always be the preferred alternative.
  • It was noted in this story that some wood from the demolition of the original home was used in the flooring of the new one.  The re-use of building materials in other projects is admirable and encouraged, but this  should in no way ever be considered historic preservation. If a building was important enough that it’s components are viewed as historically valuable and its materials are perfectly usable, then we should question why it was torn down in the first place.
  • Preservationists need to get better at discussing building energy. Not only do the materials and labor used to construct a building leave that building with embodied energy, the demolition (or deconstruction) of  buildings wasted that energy and consumes a significant amount of new energy. The construction of something new, no matter how “green” also uses significant amounts of energy. Older building materials like brick and wood took small amounts of energy to create. New materials like aluminum and vinyl take large amounts of energy to produce. This is exactly why it takes so long for new construction (where something older has been torn down) to offset its carbon footprint.
  • The attitude that “historic preservation can be difficult and costly” predetermines an outcome and needs to be repudiated. Preservation can certainly be difficult, but that should not be used as an excuse to demolish. It is often difficult to get quality work and that’s what we should always strive for anyway – quality construction. Costly, yes in some instances it may cost nearly as much to upgrade a building as it would to demolish and build something new. But this only considers financial costs. Environmental, social, and cultural costs need to also be examined in order to get a true picture of real “costs”.
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3 Comments

Filed under Historic Preservation, Sustainability

3 responses to ““New buildings are more fun for architects to design and are just plain cheaper for developers to build.”

  1. Absolutely. I have been especially keen on focusing in on your last point you make. First off, research seems to indicate that for every one new construction job, around nine restoration jobs could be created instead (I can dig up where I read this if anyone is curious). Also, as someone who has worked on historic homes that have been torn apart by storms and centuries, it is way more rewarding to work on them, know them, live in them, etc. And god, the materials are just amazing to work with and have way better stories. Love the blog! Carla, http://www.greenpreservationist.org.

  2. Here, here. The word ‘sustain’, the root of sustainability, by definition means to keep something on-going, presumably something from the past into the future. Add in the concepts of ‘re-use and recycle” and it should really be a no-brainer for environmentalists. Plus, I think even ‘starchitects’ these days like Rem Koolhaus are recognizing the interesting creativity that comes from elaborating upon existing structures rather than inventing tabula rosa.

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