Archive for December, 2007

Huge Fact

December 14, 2007

Dick Moe, President of the National Trust made a FANTASTIC speech last night on the occasion of receiving the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. The basic point: “Preservation IS Sustainability” This is obvious stuff to those of us who deal with old buildings – they have embodied energy and if we want to slow down climate change, we need to save buildings. Dick had some killer statistics which again are obvious if you think about it. An excerpt from Moe’s speech:

“But according to the EPA, transportation – cars, trucks, trains, airplanes – accounts for just 27% of America‚s greenhouse gas emissions, while 48% – almost twice as much – is produced by the construction and operation of buildings. If you remember nothing else I say tonight, remember this: Nearly half of the greenhouse gases we Americans send into the atmosphere comes from our buildings. In fact, more than 10% of the entire world’s greenhouse gas emissions is produced by America’s buildings – but the current debate on climate change does not come close to reflecting that huge fact. The message is clear: Any solution to climate change must address the need to reduce emissions by being smarter about how we use our buildings and wiser about land use.”

PRESERVATION IS SUSTAINABILITY he said. BRAVO! And then Dick talked about looking at the comparative carbon footprints of old versus new buildings:

“According to a formula produced for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, about 80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000-square-foot commercial building. That‚s the equivalent of 640,000 gallons of gasoline. If you tear the building down, all of that embodied energy is wasted.”

“What’s more, demolishing that same 50,000-square-foot commercial building would create nearly 4,000 tons of waste. That’s enough debris to fill 26 railroad boxcars – that’s a train nearly a quarter of a mile long, headed for a landfill that is already almost full.”

“Once the old building is gone, putting up a new one in its place takes more energy, of course, and it also uses more natural resources and releases new pollutants and greenhouse gases into our environment. Look at all the construction cranes dotting the Washington skyline, and consider this: It is estimated that constructing a new 50,000-square-foot commercial building releases about the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 2.8 million miles.”

“One more point: Since 70% of the energy consumed over a building‚s lifetime is used in the operation of the building, some people argue that all the energy used in demolishing an older building and replacing it is quickly recovered through the increased energy efficiency of the new building – but that’s simply not true. Recent research indicates that even if 40% of the materials are recycled, it takes approximately 65 years for a green, energy-efficient new office building to recover the energy lost in demolishing an existing building. And let’s face it: Most new buildings aren’t designed to last anywhere near 65 years. ”

You build a new house and you do more environmental damage than you can undo by never driving a car again.

Then Dick goes after LEED, the admirable system designed to show how green and efficient a building is. BUT IT DOESN”T COUNT RE-USE! D-OH! Here’s what Dick said:

“This emphasis on new construction is completely wrong-headed. The statistics I cited earlier tell us clearly that buildings are the problem – but incredibly, we propose to solve the problem by constructing more and more new buildings while ignoring the ones we already have.”
“Here’s what we have to keep in mind: No matter how much green technology is employed in its design and construction, any new building represents a new impact on the environment. The bottom line is that the greenest building is one that already exists.”
and then the kicker, because the punters always whine about energy efficiency:

“It’s often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs- but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones, including new green buildings. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than buildings built at any time afterwards – except for those built after 2000. Furthermore, in 1999, the General Services Administration (GSA) examined its buildings inventory and found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings.”

This is a big no-brainer for anyone with a knowledge of history. ENERGY WAS EXPENSIVE for most of history, hence EVERY VICTORIAN BUILDING WAS DOUBLE-GLAZED. They also had operable upper sashes for cooling. Energy was only cheap for one historical period – 1945-1970 – and that was when inefficient, single-glazed buildings were built. Dick notes this because it is a real challenge for preserving the Recent Past.

Dick winds it up with emphasizing the climate devastation of sprawl, a topic he brought to historic preservation:

“For decades, national, state and local policies have facilitated – even encouraged – the development of new suburbs while leaving existing communities behind. As a result, an ongoing epidemic of sprawl ravages the countryside, devouring open space, consuming resources and demanding new infrastructure. Look at nearby Loudoun County, for example, where pro-growth supervisors have already approved thousands of new homes, and are considering the approval of thousands more, in a semi-rural area underserved by roads and public services. Meanwhile, here in Washington – and in scores of other cities – disinvestment has left viable housing stock abandoned and schools slated for closing in areas where infrastructure is already in place, already paid for.”

Bravo, Dick! This is momentous. Here is a link to the whole speech.

The wheel is in spin, folks, and historic preservation is part of the axle.


Preservation Religion

December 12, 2007

10th chr sci

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

The preservation of religious structures has been on my mind because I lectured on the subject in Planning class Monday, and also because I met Thursday with Bob Jaeger and Tuomi Forrest of Partners for Sacred Places, a national organization that helps religious congregations fulfill their mission with their buildings, which is to say that they help save religious buildings. And I was thinking about it because I was in Washington Friday and the
Post reported on the landmark designation of the Brutalist Christian Science Church pictured here.

The church was designated over the objections of its owners, something that can’t be done in Chicago thanks to a last-minute, one-sentence amendment duct-taped to the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance 20 years ago. Twenty years ago is when the “church” preservation issue emerged as a national concern and I developed some expertise by virtue of experience in the issue, being involved in local efforts to save Holy Family and St. Mary of the Angels churches (successfully), doing a citywide survey of historic houses of worship in 1990, and serving on task forces and committees that created a local “church” preservation group, Inspired Partnerships, that operated through the 1990s. We also tried to challenge the “church exception” to the landmarks ordinance and failed, not because our 1st and 14th amendment issues were wrong, but because the case was not ripe.

So, I was glad to see the Washington designation, and I happened to have this picture because when I was in Washington a year ago I was struck by the building’s architectural beauty (don’t tell anyone here at SAIC that I used that word, please). That’s how it is supposed to work: you see a building that you think is a landmark and then the city landmarks it.

Now, many religious vigorously oppose landmark designation because of the separation of church and state. Actually, they vigorously oppose landmark designation because of their desire to maximize real estate value, but the “official” reason is separation of church and state. I debated this issue in the letters section of the Wall Street Journal back in 1990 with the pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, the cause of our little ordinance patch. It was proposed for designation, opposed it, and the alderman created an exception for all active houses of worship.

I seem to recall a News of the Weird article where some Catholic diocese opposed landmark designation because they needed to maximize their real estate values in order to pay legal judgements and damages against pedophile priests. Did you see that?

Anyway, one of the things I like to remind my students about separation of church and state is WHAT THE CONSTITUTION ACTUALLY SAYS, which is actually in the Bill of Rights, so I suppose if you are a big Federalist (strict constructionist) you can whine about how the Bill of Rights was itself tacked on, but I would counter that a lot of us have gotten used to these ideas about free speech and press, peacable assembly, fair trials and even that old chestnut equality. In fact, it is the very first amendment that gives us a free press and free speech and the right to assemble and complain to the government AND… what we call separation of church and state. But that’s not what it says, it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” It says two things: 1. Government can’t create a religion (the establishment clause) and 2. Government can’t prevent you from practicing your religion (free exercise clause).

The funny thing is, our big argument against allowing churches to get out of landmark designation is the establishment clause itself! Because if the government says every kind of building except a house of worship can be landmarked – what is that action but an establishment, a government sanction of religion?

Besides, all these religions are tax-exempt, which I would even construe as an establishment, although to be fair certain religions are more economically sound than others. Which is probably why the Christian Scientists in Washington are complaining – they are a diminishing denomination and need their value more than megabuck churches. Still, I have no crocodile tears for building owners who got a free pass on property taxes for generations and then whine because they can’t all of a sudden become real estate developers.

Anarchists and Zealots

December 6, 2007

Barat Interior 1 003

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

We are sort of getting used to the torching of cars in the banlieu de Paris, those partly impoverished suburbs that have become the barricades of the 21st century now that the center of the city has been fully gentrified. But we are not yet used to such property destruction in the suburbs of Chicago, especially tony North Shore Lake Forest. But take a gander at the picture here – this is the interior of the Barat College Chapel in Lake Forest. Can you distinguish between this and the anarchy of Paris’ outer rings?

The interior of Barat College Chapel was a landmark, according to most preservationists and according to the Lake Forest preservation commission, but the City Council overturned their denial of a demolition permit and so the issue is now in court. While it sits awaiting judgement, the owner, Charles Shaw, apparently, allegedly and purportedly ordered this destruction.

Of course I have seen this before. In 1987 in Boston Jesuits took to their own church interior with chainsaws and sledgehammers to prevent a landmark designation. A couple of years later the same thing happened to St. Martin de Porres in Chicago, and in the late 90’s the same thing happened to St. Vibiana’s in downtown Los Angeles. These were all Catholic churches but there are any number of religious sects whose zealots happily incite mayhem in the name of defending their faith.

And zealotry would seem to be the appropriate word given its emtymology – better to destroy oneself than submit to the enemy, their actions seem to say. But Charlie Shaw is no zealot, no ideologue, simply a developer with little patience for preservation. More than 20 years ago he decided not to pursue tax credits for a major downtown rehab EVEN THOUGH HE QUALIFIED for them. Apparently he mistook the opening negotiation from the SHPO as definitive. But hey, that is old school development – no dealings above the neck here – it is won or lost below the waist. Behind the missing stations of the cross, medallions and altars and wainscot and icons you can hear those steel globes clanking….