Archive for October, 2009

Window replacement numbers

October 31, 2009

Pharmaceutical use in the United States has increased threefold in the last ten years, not because there has been a threefold increase in disease or diagnoses but simply because in 1999 pharmaceutical advertising was deregulated.

I don’t know the exact numbers, but window replacement has gone up dramatically in the same period, and for the same reason. Advertising.
windiw mailers
When my wife and I bought a single-family home in 1996 I received AT LEAST three mailers and one phone call each week urging me to buy replacement windows and siding. I always responded “I don’t believe in that” which threw the telemarketers right off their script. But just as countless television ads for drugs have convinced people that they need them, today every American gets out of bed in the morning convinced that they must replace their windows.
depsto window clsS
The recent economic stimulus that gave tax breaks for replacement windows along with other, more sustainable things didn’t help. It followed the marketing bandwagon, which promotes waste.
depsto window detS
The irony here is MASSIVE. I am concerned about global warming so I throw out all of my windows and put in plastic ones that will be in a landfill in 15 years. Do you know how PVC is manufactured? Do you know how it burns in case of fire? Do you know how it degrades in landfills? The landfills you already stuffed with your historic windows?
stack of wdws
Let’s look at some numbers. First, a radical thermodynamic principle as it applies to the planet Earth:
HEAT RISES. Sure, it is obvious, but you would think heat goes sideways with all the concern for replacement windows. Once you have insulated your attic, you have saved 80% of all the energy bills you are going to save. Thoroughly caulk your window and door frames and you save the next 10%. Replace your windows with brick walls and you still only have a 10% savings possibility. Besides, many new windows – tight as they are – are not installed properly, so the heating or cooling just squirts around the window FRAME. The homebuilders themselves admit that over 20% of windows and doors in NEW houses are installed in such a way that air infiltration still happens through the FRAME.

Now, let’s look at cost, which is another reason people choose plastic replacement windows. Some joker in Geneva sued the city for his right to put in vinyl-clad replacement windows in the historic district. He spent $70,000 on the lawsuit, but more importantly he spent $18,000 on replacement windows. I can guarantee you those windows will not last long enough to save $18,000 on heating and cooling.

The cost differential between a cheap plastic window and a rehabbed window (with insulated glass installed) can be a factor of 3. So, if you are DITCHING your house soon to another buyer or whatever, it is cheaper. If a retrofitted window costs $1500 and a replacement costs $500, well, replacements SEEM cheaper. But in the long run, it isn’t. Those replacements will be funky in 10 years and likely need to be replaced (why do you think they call them REPLACEMENT windows?) in 15, which is when the warranty for the glass unit (forget the sash) runs out. So they cost $33.34 per year. My retrofitted windows will be good for 50-75 years, which means that they cost $20-$30 per year. Plus no hassle of replacement every 15 years.

Now, the guy in Geneva with the lawsuit hobby is 79, so he will be about 94 when he has to worry about re-replacement. He won his suit, simply because Geneva’s Building Department – like a lot of Building Departments across the country inundated with requests for replacement windows – wasn’t requiring building permits for replacement windows.

It is like the doctors being lobbied by their patients for drugs – it is hard to say NO when a trickle becomes a flood. Geneva – like the doctor who learned to JUST SAY NO – has fixed its problem, but Mr. Nothing-Else-To-Do is trying to get the whole landmarks ordinance thrown out, just like that lawsuit enthusiast in Chicago. Given that landmarks laws like zoning laws have been upheld by conservatives who recognized their importance in maintaining property values, I am confident the enthusiasts will lose and have to find a new hobby, but these things take their time getting through the court system.

Heck, it could drag out for years – years measured by the warping, yellowing and offgassing of plastic windows.



October 28, 2009

Crain’s announced today that instead of the 80-year old one-of-a-kind Kiddieland amusement park at First and North Avenues in the near western suburbs, we will have the region’s 13th Costco. This is a good deal for the people who own the site, and no one else. Costco could have replaced the truck driving school across North Avenue or been part of a county land swap across First Avenue if clever people had been involved.
horse carousel
This is one of the antique carousels that will be auctioned off in late November. I grew up going to this place and so did my kids, although their experience there is now over. The place was quaint, small rides in many cases, many of them still working decades after they were built. The roller coaster was beautifully old and rickety and wooden and I still loved it and it still made my stomach drop.
little dipper2
But the comments section in the Crain’s article included those of several Costco enthusiasts who are presumably happy they won’t have drive 20 miles to the supersaving superstore that offers a super selection of Chinese products and other items all planed trained and trucked in from 7,000 to 10,000 miles away. So, to give the enthusiasts their due, I am trying to see how we can replicate the Kiddieland experience at Costco in the future.

First, there is of course the initial Costco experience, the parking lot:
bymper cars2
Then there will be the joy of turnstile and checkout lines
tilt awhirl5
And the endless train of soul-satisfying consumer products:
and most of all, the opportunity to do it over and over again, because what goes around….
moto carousel

Heritage Conservation, not Historic Preservation

October 17, 2009

The final event at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville was a lunch featuring speaker Donovan Rypkema, a longtime preservation contributor whose specialty is the economics of historic preservation. Don always has numerous inspiring insights, and this presentation was no exception. His focus was preservation in 50 years, and it was a call to action that called for significant change. I agree with 99 percent of it, and here is why.

First, Don talked about the recent and virally successful “This Place Matters” photo contest which the National Trust held on its website (link on the right). The event was standard 21st century user interface: people print out “This Place Matters” signs from the Trust, and photograph them in front of places that mattered to them. Then people voted on their favorites. It was an exercise in the democracy of the built environment, and it was a revelation.

It was a revelation because, as Don pointed out, almost all of the finalists were NOT monumental buildings in the traditional sense of historic preservation. They weren’t outstanding architectural landmarks or the homes of famous people. The winner was a Humble Oil station in San Antonio, second place was a boathouse in Door County, Wisconsin and third place was a graveyard with a sailor holding the sign near a gravestone. But the effort was a huge success, because PEOPLE were deciding what PLACES mattered to them.

Don took this as a call for preservationists to reestablish the relationship between why something is important and how we preserve it. This is so true and so important. For too long, we have used curatorial procedures designed for fine art museums to determine how we treat elements of the built environment. Treating the Humble Oil station or the Door County boathouse like a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt is not necessary or even useful. There are physical elements of those properties that need to be maintained, but so does their relationship to their environment. In fact, their connection to PLACE is what is MOST IMPORTANT. It is similar to the philosophy of the historic district, where individual significance or individual artistry, elegance or craftsmanship are subservient to the whole thing. The whole thing is a PLACE, and it is what is most important.

I think we can do this, even without revising the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, although that needs to be done too. We must remember that preservation is a PROCESS, not a set of rules but a set of procedures. When we IDENTIFY something as significant, that identification should indicate WHAT about it needs to be saved. In our Chicago Landmarks Ordinance, for example, each designation report indicates WHAT the significant architectural and historic features are that need to be preserved in order to preserve the significance of the property. That list is different for every building, site or structure. As I have often said, preservation treats everything as an individual, not a category.

This is something that English Heritage in the UK already does, and indeed the English have always listed their buildings in categories based on significance. I did this 20 years ago when we surveyed historic churches in Chicago, so I understand the possibility, and I also understand the reticence preservationists had 40 years ago in doing such a ranking: because it would consign some buildings to demolition based on their low ranking.

But the point of going beyond the Rembrandt rule (treating every bit of historic fabric as if it were a Rembrandt) is to get beyond RULES and focus on PROCESS. Preserving a great design done in a short-lived material might mean re-creation, because the design is what is important, whereas for the Star-Spangled banner, the material artifact is primary. House museums need to go beyond the Rembrandt rule for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that some artifacts may be Rembrandts but others are not.

Rypkema talked about the need for more land-use tools beyond the historic district, which is true, and conservation districts and buffer districts and heritage areas (which involve no necessary regulation) are examples we can build on. We need these because preservation IS NOT ABOUT FIXING SOMETHING IN A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME. It is, instead, ABOUT MANAGING CHANGE OVER TIME.

The rest of the English-speaking world does not have historic preservation. They have building conservation, or more broadly and appropriately, HERITAGE CONSERVATION. Most of the National Preservation Honor Awards we gave out Thursday night were about heritage conservation, not historic preservation of buildings as museums. This is not a new direction, it is what we are already doing. But we may need to rename it.

To preserve means to fix at a point in time – in effect, to remove something from history. I began my preservation career nearly 27 years ago by helping create the first heritage area, and our goal then, and now, was managing change, not stopping change. Heritage conservation is about managing change – planning – based on the inherited culture and cultural artifacts of a place. It is about the individuality and uniqueness of place. What we do is follow a process that insures that change happens in concert with a place’s values and valuables. I am extremely privileged to be able to be a part of this.

images from nashville:

downtown pres fac
downtown pres int det2
EOA church office9
union stn int1
union stn extb
Frist detail4
plaque parking
christ episcopal0
hermitage hot men's

Chicago October 2009

October 8, 2009

1. Save Gropius Buildings at Michael Reese

Blair Kamin in today’s Tribune makes the case for saving the Gropius buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital. He also takes to task the city’s spokesperson for an indefensible “we are proceeding” position. This is no longer an overnight development for the Olympics and it is no longer a job for the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing sector of the development community. It is not that hard to reuse some or all of these buildings, and now that we needn’t follow the dictates of the Olympic village, we can use variety in height and scale (as Gropius did) to make the south lakefront more urbanistically interesting than it would have been under the previous plan.
MRH kaplan anglS
MRH gropius 31st bS

2. 839 Park Avenue, River Forest. I blogged about this one recently. Hometown architect. Significant student of Frank Lloyd Wright. A design that sits in the landscape in a way that CANNOT be achieved in less than a generation. What new building will look half as good as this?
park drumm709s
This has been covered in the local press, but NO ONE mentions the Illinois Property Tax Freeze as an option, which it clearly is – as noted by Landmarks Illinois and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

My conclusion? The new owners are head over heels in love with property taxes!

They have chosen to put this million-dollar home in a landfill and GIVE us twice as much in property taxes than they would have if they simply built a rear addition to double the size of the house and improve its floorplan. I guess they are saving everyone else in River Forest a lot of money.

Maybe not – depending on how the new building looks, it could depress local values. Could that be the strategy? Build an ugly house and thereby reduce values and thus property taxes? Hmm. We will have to see.

3. Aqua – Sitting (or standing) in the new modern wing at AIC you are surrounded by Piano and confronted by Gehry. But you are also astounded by the female winner of this “contest” – Jeanne Gang and her Aqua, quite easily the most interesting, urbane and aesthetically pleasing highrise in twenty years. Everyone is noticing its insistent elegance between its more brusque and brash neighbors.
mod wing bridgeo909s
mill pk aqua
mill pk aqua cls

4. The Society of Architectural Historians conference is here in Chicago in April. I am Local Chair and you should all come – great tours and the latest and greatest thoughts from those who think about buildings across all places and all times.


NOBEL PEACE PRIZE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA – Only the second Chicagoan to win this award – the first being Jane Addams in 1931. The New York Times headline calls it a political liability at home. Huh? John Bolton, the cantankerous anti-furriner that was made ambassador to the UN (that’s IRONY with ALL of the letters capitalized) said: “It’s high-minded Europeans talking down to hayseed Americans, saying this is the way you ought to be.” That’s probably true, but Mr. Bolton shouldn’t worry. If history is a guide, low-mindedness will certainly make a comeback before too long. Or did they blow it all on town hall drive-by shoutings?