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”.
A while back, we contacted the City to express our concerns over a number of proposed developments in the vicinity of Portland State University. It seems that unlike many other large institutions, PSU’s continued expansion is being done without the guidance of a City-approved Master Plan. The latest proposal on the table is the 16-story 283 unit College Station residential hall to be located on the block bordered by SW 5th and 6th, College and Jackson Streets. If this area sounds familiar, that’s because last fall, the owner of one of the remaining vintage houses on the block fought with Tri-Met over their attempted acquisition of his property along with the rest of the block. He prevailed, but most of the properties surrounding his home have since been leveled after Tri-Met acquired what PSU didn’t already own. Tri-Met and PSU are now collaborating on the new project, along with Austin, Texas-based developers American Campus Communities.
One of the now endangered buildings on this same block is a fairly nice early 20th century brick apartment building at the corner of SW 5th and Jackson. This 3-story (plus a basement) building has stood more than a century and is one of the last remaining vestiges of the type of residential Portland that existed in that area prior to urban renewal and the growth of PSU. The demolition of this building would call into question PSU’s highly touted sustainability efforts; not only would that be a tremendous waste of embodied energy and material resources, it would also mean the continued erosion of what little is left in that area of the historic and cultural resources of early Portland. Isn’t there a way that the old can be integrated into the new?
More information on the proposed new development can be found here.
When conducted in the early 1980s, Portland’s Historic Resources Inventory primarily looked at buildings that were at least 50 years old at that time. Parts of the city were also missed or only partially examined. In addition, Portland has annexed new areas into the City since the time the inventory was conducted. The net result is that there are likely thousands of structures in the city that have never been considered as potentially historic or architecturally significant. The Daily Journal of Commerce published a nice article on the need for a new inventory just today.
The recent listing of the Memorial Coliseum in the National Register of Historic Places helped draw attention to the potential historic resources of what we call “the recent past”, but are also often termed Mid-Century Modern” buildings. It is time that the City determine a method to update the aging inventory and this inventory must include and examination of post 1935 buildings, including housing. There was tremendous growth in the Portland area, especially after World War II, but it was predominately in areas that were outside the city at the time. Many of those areas are now part of Portland. It’s time they were given consideration for their potential historic resources.
We’re not naïve enough to believe that a new inventory will offer real protection against the loss of significant buildings. Buildings still need to be designated as historic to gain a level of protection, and that requires owner consent. Nonetheless, an inventory is vital for creating the framework from which neighborhoods can better understand, among other things, their architectural heritage. There would, perhaps, be no better way to engage the 95 neighborhoods across the city, than by working with them to organize and conduct their own inventories. This would connect residents to their neighborhoods in ways many have never thought of, especially residents that are new to the area. And that would help reinvigorate Portland’s Neighborhood system. Let’s hope the City recognizes this potential as well.
Yesterday afternoon, Portland City Council voted 4-1 in favor of demolishing the Kiernan Building, popularly known as the Dirty Duck Tavern building. In an astonishing move, the Council went against the recommendations of both Bureau of Development Services staff and the Portland Landmarks Commission. Since the implementation of new demolition review guidelines in 2004, no building listed as a contributing resource in a National Register Historic District, has met such a fate. Whether the City Council agrees or not, this was a precedent setting vote that could lead to future similar demolitions. Let’s hope that’s not the case, but now only time will tell.