Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Sustainable Development

August 23, 2014

Sustainability has been a popular buzz word for quite a while now, and the basic meaning is pretty clear: do things in such a manner that you can continue to do them.

Trail 20 huts

When it comes to natural resources, it means using them in a way that does not deny the next generation the opportunity to use them. When it comes to economics, it means a system of effort and reward that can bring prosperity to the next generation, not just the current one. When it comes to society, it means that social structures, human rights and livable communities are likewise structured in a way that they can be passed on to the next generation. You get the basic idea: Do things in a way that allows you to keep doing them.

hutong-tr37

There is a fourth pillar of sustainability, and that is culture. This implies that you need to create systems and structures of exchange and production that work in concert with local cultures. This is why various colonial attempts to civilize other parts of the world throughout history don’t work and aren’t sustainable: they try to replace local culture. Even if you offer people better environment, economics and society, you can’t do that without considering culture or it won’t work.
diagram-four-well-beings

We tend to focus on the environmental side of sustainability – using scarce world resources in a manner that does not deny future generations. Obviously this favors things like renewable energy sources, efficient agricultural practices, mitigating the negative effects of our altered ecosphere, etc. Secondly, we do seem to “get” the economic side of the equation: how do we craft our production consumption and exchange in a way that allows it to continue for our kids?
lissys-ag08s
or not

Now this becomes a problem in economics because many of our financial institutions and systems for the creation and maintenance of corporate capital function on a short-term basis, not the long-term basis implied by the quest for sustainability. Profitability is measured in three month chunks and stock markets careen up and down by the minute with the discipline and patience of a pubescent child.
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I totally get it. I don’t want to grow up either.

So, what are good types of sustainable economic development? This is a question I wrestle with a lot because at Global Heritage Fund (Join us now!) we don’t just conserve heritage sites – we insist on projects that involve the local community and provide them with new economic opportunities.
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Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

These can range from hands-on training as stone conservators or masons, new hospitality jobs as areas open to tourism, and a host of economic spinoffs as a heritage site becomes an attraction not only for visitors but for residents. Significant sites also generate public investment, further bolstering the local economy.
Trail 8 cook
One of the locally owned homestays on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, where local revenues have grown from almost zero to $27m annually in the last decade.

Now in my work in preservation in the United States over the last 32 years, I spent a lot of time talking about the economic benefits of reusing old buildings, the economic impact of historic districts (its all about the externalities! – check out this one.) Historic sites are inherently the most sustainable form of development, and the logic is both straightforward and universal.
Dtheater other side

Think of standard forms of economic development. A factory. An office building, a shopping mall, a farm or a power plant. Even a prison. These are all things that produce jobs for the local economy. They are investments that create profits and usually leverage the public investment that is handmaiden to all forms of economic development.
oil refin 135s
Oil refinery. Let’s not forget oil refineries.

Now these are REAL forms of economic development if you listen to some folks, because they create a lot more jobs and economic impacts than some sappy historic site, right? And for the hormone-addled denizens of stock markets, they are great because that big impact is monetized quickly. Then what?
factory demoS

Well, then the factory closes and you tear it down. And the jobs leave. In fact, the famous 2005 Supreme Court case – Kelo – that upheld the right of governments to condemn private land and turn it over to other private developers for economic development purposes has some very ironic facts at the heart of the case. You can see my 2009 blog about it here. The City of New London condemned a bunch of houses to make way for a multipurpose development around a Pfizer factory. In 2005 their right to do so was upheld and by 2009 the factory and thousands of jobs were gone. That is not sustainable development.

If jobs pick up and move quickly in New England, imagine how much easier it is to do that in the places where Global Heritage Fund works, the parts of the world that REALLY need jobs and economic development?
group w kids

I have a colleague who worked for some big tech firms as they moved their factories from California to various parts of Asia, and they kept moving every few years. There was no factory that lasted even a generation, not to mention two generations.

taj mahal2

So, if the historic site pictured above generates economic activity, will it be torn down and the jobs moved to another town? What do you think?

nice view to N gate

To some extent we have accepted the 21st century economic reality, creative destruction, but the interesting thing to me is that developing heritage sites works against this trend. Heritage sites can not only provide jobs for their conservation and tourism, they can become externalities that continue to contribute to local economies as long as they survive. They enrich a place. If they are well conserved, they will last generations.
torres workers wall

That is sustainable development.

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Preservation Education

October 21, 2010

This fall I handed the Directorship of the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program here at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago over to Anne Sullivan, AIA. Anne has taught in the program since it began in 1994 and is currently president of the Association for Preservation Technology, among other accomplishments. I of course remain the John H Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation.

But I also remain involved in preservation education and next week in Austin, Texas I will be part of a panel discussing the future of preservation education. This is a topic I spoke on in the Ukraine in 2006 and Sweden in 2007, and at that time I was focusing on the need for hands-on opportunities for students, and how important that is to the learning process. Haptic. Muscle memory. Seeing more by DOING.

I also talked about the proliferation of short courses, continuing education courses and “certificates” that bundle together various preservation classes, since we had just approved new standards for these non-degree programs during my tenure as Chair of the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE).

But next week my role at the Conference will be to ask questions about where preservation education is going in the 21st century. A key question involves the NCPE Standards for preservation degree programs, which date back 30 years and are focused largely on history and documentation, a legacy in some ways of the Historic American Buildings Survey, crafted by the AIA and the feds back in the 1930s.

As usual, practice is outpacing theory. Almost all preservation degree programs include the following coursework, none of which is required by the NCPE Standards:

Preservation Law
Building Materials Conservation
Planning

And the following courses are rapidly expanding across our programs:

Real Estate Development
Curatorial Management
Sustainability

The last of course is the trendiest, but preservationists are better equipped than most to sort the wheat from the (extensive) chaff in the sustainability cornucopia. We have embodied energy, zero transport costs for structure, and landfill-light rehabilitation options that NEW construction cannot compete with in less than 30 years.

I will be outlining these issues for a panel and then we will hear about how preservation graduates are being employed: and what they are NOT learning that they NEED to learn. When preservation education began, we assumed we were training students for government jobs. Now, of course, the majority of our graduates are going into the private sector: federal programs never grew to their imagined scale and the introduction of tax credits 35 years ago means that much more preservation happens in the private sector.

What courses do our students need? What skills do they need? How have changes in preservation practice been reflected in preservation education?


The discussion will be next Saturday October 30 at 8:45 AM in the Hilton Austin, Room 406 – Register for the conference here. I will report on the results!

THE RESULTS: NOVEMBER 10 UPDATE

The session went very well and we had a really good discussion. Basically, the information Trent Margraff gathered from analysis of job listings and Ann Thornton’s analysis of skill sets all agreed on several key points:

Most new preservation jobs are in the private sector. This was not a surprise, but a confirmation of a long-term trend.

Students need more business, management, negotiation and innovation skills. These are the golden keys of the private sector and generally not central to programs based in architecture, history and planning. However, many programs do deal with these issues in real estate development and site management. But we need to do more. This is something I am very cognizant of in the realm of historic sites, which are desperate for more business management and operations skills.

Green Preservation

November 4, 2009

Preservation is green. It retains the carbon footprint of structures that are already there, requires less materials, less expense of energy to construct – because it is already constructed. It is true that some older buildings (more likely those built 1940-2000) USE more energy than new “green” buildings, but the greenest new building will still take 30-40 years to pay off its carbon debt.

Two years ago, National Trust President Dick Moe made a speech at the National Building Museum about preservation and sustainability. It was epochal. He had the statistics that proved that “the greenest building is the one already built” but he wasn’t just preaching to the choir. He was making it known that there was a vibrant, multifaceted preservation movement, and that this movement was staking its claim to sustainability and moving even further in that direction.

The results are out there. Two sites you HAVE TO SEE are blogs linked at right: Barbara Campagna’s green preservation blog (Barbara is the Graham Gund architect of the National Trust) and Carla Bruni’s greenpreservationist.org blog. Carla is a graduate of our Master’s program in Historic Preservation and she has already made a mark. We had her speaking on her work in New Orleans and now she is teaching a preservation class at the Center for Green Technology.

You can’t consume your way to sustainability, folks.

Back to Dick Moe. He announced his retirement this week, and it reminded me of that epochal speech two years ago and how excited I was that he was leading the National Trust and the preservation movement into the future. And it wasn’t the first time he had done it. During his 17 years at the helm, the National Trust reinvented itself from top to bottom. The Trust, founded 60 years ago to save historic houses, nearly doubled its collection of historic properties, but much more significantly, it broadened that collection to more nearly represent the American experience and American architecture. From the commercial Gaylord Building to Philip Johnson’s modernist Glass House to the Acoma Sky City Pueblo, the National Trust’s collection of historic sites has been revolutionized. Not only do we own the two most famous modern glass houses, we also have a new Modern and Recent Past Initiative, a new Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, a more vigorous series of regional offices and a robust collection of statewide and local partners. There are three times as many statewide preservation organizations today than there were in 1992. Dick Moe didn’t simply grow the Trust, he expanded its relevance and helped make it the leader of an expanding nationwide movement. His leadership will be missed but his impact is visible everywhere you look.

the greenest building is the one already built

September 2, 2009

Guess who is finally saying what I and others in preservation have been saying for a while – LEED certification is not a great measure of environmental impact? Actually, it is coming from the horse’s mouth – the certifiers themselves, who found – shockingly – that many of the new green designs did not PERFORM as they were designed. From the New York Times a few days ago:

“But in its own study last year of 121 new buildings certified through 2006, the Green Building Council found that more than half — 53 percent — did not qualify for the Energy Star label and 15 percent scored below 30 in that program, meaning they used more energy per square foot than at least 70 percent of comparable buildings in the existing national stock.”

One of the disadvantages of the LEED system compared to the other systems is that it is a voluntary program that – until now – had no certification process. If your architect or engineer said your system would use 50% less electricity, then you wrote that down and got credit for it. You got credit and you advertised it as a LEED certified building whether or not you ever remembered to turn out the lights. Or look at the electric bill.

There are other systems out there. Canada uses Green Globes, which is more focused on energy use, and both Green Globes and LEED are based on the earlier British BREEAM system. Dunno why, but like television, we get all our good ideas from the Brits. At any rate, LEED focused initially on materials and production, not operations. Which is of course where all the action – pollution and waste – is.

But there is a problem in the focus on use, too. I have often written about the irrationality of the replacement window. I first addressed this issue back in 2001 and have presented on it in numerous venues (Chicago, Joliet, Plainfield, Elgin, to name a few). My conclusion for the last eight years has been the same: window replacement is driven by marketing, not energy efficiency.

It is ironic that the “green” and “sustainable” concern of the last decade has been used primarily to sell tons and tons of mostly plastic products. Energy efficiency in individual products and buildings has improved dramatically, but buildings also got bigger and one is tempted to believe we got a whole lot of Jevon’s paradox – increased fuel efficiency at the micro level leads to increased use at the macro level. Like highways – more lanes means more use and congestion, not less. Jevon figured this out over a century and a half ago.

Plus the hegemony of green marketing has created a massive disconnect between data and interpretation. I was struck by the March issue of National Geographic, which featured a thermographic image of “an older house in Connecticut.” The roof and eaves were red and orange, indicating heat loss. The window panes were blue, indicating little heat loss, and the caption announced the installation of new double-paned windows. The walls were green, indicating some thermal loss, and they were yellow-orange just outside of the window panes – on the window frames.
nat geo mar09s
How was this data interpreted? The caption indicates that the new windows were blue and noted that heating could account for half the energy costs for a house. This is wrong on a whole bunch of levels. First, the thermographic image with the glowing red roof shows the obvious: HEAT RISES. It doesn’t travel sideways. 80% of it goes up, regardless of your windows. There is no way window replacement can save more than 20% of heating costs. What the image showed was that the owners of the house didn’t insulate the attic properly.

Second, the image actually illustrates the biggest fault of window replacement: poor installation. The window frames were glowing yellow and even RED in one portion. This meant that the new tight replacement windows were not preventing thermal loss but pushing it away from the pane and into the frame. Exactly what I said in 2001 and every year since – unless you address the window frame, a super tight window may simply push the thermal loss AROUND the window pane and through the frame. Did they caulk???

What would have been useful would have been a thermographic image of the same house BEFORE they changed the windows. Then we could understand the impact – and skill – of the installation. Why didn’t they address the big issue, the roof?? I’m not surprised that a big time mag like NG goofed this up, because the marketing of replacement windows has inoculated us against a lot of common sense facts we learned about thermodynamics back in grade school. But come on – how can you draw conclusions without a baseline?

The government noted that the peformance of its pre-1930 buildings exceeded the energy efficiency of their buildings built 1930-2000. And those older buildings can be made even more efficient with a little insulation and caulk.

I am glad that LEED is improving – it is coming up with a better list of criteria to account for the embodied energy of existing buildings and fabric. It is now starting to look at performance rather than design. But we all have a ways to go.

HISTORICAL NOTE: I am now in the 4th year of this blog. 248 posts. Read them all here.

Awnings

June 28, 2009

elm pk awning bungS
I took this picture as Felicity and I were bicycling through Elmwood Park and Dunning the other day. I was struck by the frequency of awnings on various 1950s bungalows, ranch houses and apartments and then I realized the historically obvious: these were pre-air-conditioning buildings. Awnings helped cool them in the summer – a wonderfully low-tech, low-carbon solution. This was especially poignant on a 90-plus- degree (nearly 40 C) day (always the best for a long bike ride). We are fortunate to have a large brick house shaded by massive trees. We have two AC window units in the bedrooms and Felicity put a fan in the cool basement. Bingo – the first floor was comfortable all week without AC. Technology goes ALL the way back in history, don’tcha know.

The flip side of the equation of course, is that once we get to relatively common air-conditioning in the late 1960s, we start designing buildings more stupidly – this is the unique historical period known for single-glazing, after all. The natural thermal advantages of things like brick walls, overhanging eaves, awnings and trees sort of went by the board. In the 21st century we re-discovered these things, so now – as always – old is new again.
St Franc BorgiS
ALSO we saw this way cool church up by Hiawatha Park. Back to China next post.

Tuesday: Unity and Sustainability

April 29, 2009

Yesterday I brought my class to Unity Temple for the announcement of this iconic landmark’s listing on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List for 2009. As a Trustee, I got to make the announcement. It is a challenging issue, because Unity Temple is threatened not by demolition, but by deterioration. Moreover, it has a congregation that has spent $750,000 on maintenance in the last five years plus the separate Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, which has raised $3 million for restoration during the same period. The problem, however, is even bigger, and the building needs a national and international community to save it. Village President David Pope offered a compelling analogy: the local community of monks that used Angkor Wat did not have the resources to preserve it.
ut-upper-balcs
I stressed the international significance of the building – how the Schroeder House in Utrecht, the Dessau Bauhaus and the Farnsworth House would not be possible without Unity Temple. It really is a stunning place and every time I go I discover something new and wonderful. I quoted Alice Sinkevitch who in the AIA Guide called it “a transcendent work, bound to the earth and open to the heavens.” Gunny Harboe described the architectural challenges: failing plaster and concrete in the roof systems, exacerbated by some bad repairs and the fact that reinforced concrete just was not very well understood here in 1906.
ut-up-fr-entr
The building has made it 100 years. The question now is the next century and whether we can find the resources to save it.

Our class toured the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio after lunch and then it was back downtown for Doug Farr’s lecture on Sustainable Urbanism, which was well worth it. He has written the book on the subject and over the last dozen years has built a practice that stresses not only green designed buildings and historic preservation, but the “integrated design” of the new planning, which stresses a systemic analysis of buildings, landscape, and human conduct. His biggest point is that we are still used to thinking about sustainability and green as a product choice, when in fact technology in all its marvel can only accomplish half of the goal. The other half must come from altered human conduct. And humans are problematic. You produce a more efficient car, and humans drive it more. Produce a more efficient house, we make it bigger. The net gain in terms of emissions, energy use, etc. ends up being nothing. Doug showed a funny slide from The Onion newspaper where the headline said a majority of Americans favored public transit for other people. It is like building highways – the more you build, the more they drive. Farr’s goal is to get us driving like we were in 1970 – maybe 4,000 miles a year. Driving was fun then. Now we drive over 10,000 miles a year and it is a chore. He compared it to drugs and alcohol – you do it a few times and it might be fun. You do it a bunch and it is a debilitating addiction.

And the way we design buildings is code-driven, which is ultimately lawsuit-driven. Our building codes are designed to protect people from fires and structural collapse, issues which affect a few thousand lives a year. Meanwhile, up to half a million people a year die from obesity – Americans add a pound a year after age 30. A simple walk to a train station or up a few flights of stairs could halt that trend. Again, Farr had a funny slide showing an escalator going up to a fitness center.

At any rate, Farr is a national leader at looking at the interrelationship of these issues. LEED began as a checklist for buildings and for the last five years Farr chaired LEED for Neighborhood Development, which is developing a more integrated approach to development that addresses these issues. The LEED ND guidelines have been studied by the Center for Disease Control and found to also promote more healthy living.
rt-25-sprawls
And there is a preservation angle as well. As we began to drive more, we devalued buildings and the landscape. Their details and appearance just didn’t matter the faster you drove, and especially as driving became a chore and addiction rather than a treat and a joy. It isn’t just that we devalued historic buildings – we devalued ALL buildings.
titlup41s
To promote change (and his book) Farr has bumper stickers that say “Your SUV makes you look fat” and buttons reading “Sex is better within 1/4 mile of public transit.” Women prefer the stickers and men like the buttons. Doug gave me a button.

Obama Economic stimulus: getting it right

December 7, 2008

Yesterday President-elect Barack Obama announced a massive jobs stimulus package for the economy, which many have compared to Dwight Eisenhower’s federal highway building program of a half-century ago. While the scale of the comparison may be apt, it is essential that Obama’s team makes this a 21st century stimulus and not a repeat of the 1950s.
Investment in roads and infrastructure seems like a good thing, but there are limitations. Highway building only produces half the economic spinoff of building rehabilitation – preservation – for example. The reasons why are easy to see: it is a machine-and-material based job that kicks a lot of cash to concrete and surfacers. The ratio between labor and materials/machines is not nearly as favorable as building rehabilitation.
prairie-concrete1s
I would hope that some of the stimulus could be aimed at improving the rail corridors that have become so busy the last five years or so – the proposed expansion of CN along the Fox River valley is causing a lot of outrage, much of which could be addressed by that most expensive of infrastructure improvements: elimination of grade crossings.
the-storm
Obama wants a lot of the jobs to be in environmental cleanup and energy efficiency, which is a good thing to want. Let’s make sure the produce-and-waste manufacturers don’t take charge and pervert the thing like they did with “green”. Fix things, upgrade things, improve things. Once you start replacing things and throwing out the old ones, you are repeating the mistakes of the old economy.
Obama also talked about upgrading federal buildings and schools with new heating systems and CF light bulbs. Again, a good idea, but let’s not make the obvious mistakes most homeowners have made: change all your lightbulbs and then buy a flat-screen TV that uses 5-6 times the electricity of your old one. No net gain in many situations.
Plus, we know from the General Services Administration that pre-1920 government buildings are ALREADY more energy-efficient than those built from 1930 to 2000. Historic buildings typically used 27% less energy than “modern” ones (pre-2000). The economics of the 1950s – what Eisenhower famously termed “the military-industrial complex” – favored waste. This was the period of single-glazing and energy inefficiency and it coincided with one of the rare times in history that energy was cheap: 1945-1973.
every-19thA few stats from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
– Building a 50,000 square foot building from scratch uses the same energy needed to drive a car 20,000 miles a year for 730 years.
– The Brookings Institution projects we will demolish and rebuild 82 billion square feet of buildings by 2030. If we saved just 10% of those buildings, we could power the state of New York for over a year. If we demolish them, we will landfill the equivalent of 2600 NFL stadiums.
– It will take up to 65 years for a new energy-efficient building to offset the demolition of an existing building.
The 21st century is the opposite of waste, so let’s hope Obama’s team incorporates preservation – the re-use of the good things we have and the employment of people to fix things that last, not things we throw away.

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.

http://www.nationaltrust.org/news/2007/20071213_scully.html

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

Sustainability

March 13, 2006



Convent Ave south of 145th

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Image: Convent Avenue south of 145th Street, Manhattan, last Saturday. By Felicity Rich.

Sustainability is the hot word in architectural circles, even being added to the architectural curricular guidelines at the behest of the AIA. Is it just six syllables for “green,” or an updating of Vitruvian firmitas? I think it means something about recycling and not polluting, about a building that tries to do more than just suck petroleum and spew carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, like “green,” sustainability has become a buzzword, which means it has become a fashion, which means it has become a huckster’s tool to sell stuff. You can buy “green” and you can buy “organic” and you can buy “shade grown” and “fair trade”, so why not buy “sustainable?”

Because “sustainable” is about not buying. It is about NOT buying.

What makes our modern style of living unsustainable is how much crap we buy and throw away. Landfills, non-renewable energy sources, Styrofoam cups and Ipod batteries that last less than a year are all good examples of non-sustainable. Buildings got into this game in the postwar era, although there were pioneers building fiberglass houses way back in the 1920s. In the 1950s the buzzword was “planned obsolescence” as people realized they were buying impermanent, unfixable, throwaway consumer items. The trend has continued since, turning once “durable” goods into throwaways.

A key concept in sustainability is “embodied energy.” This means that a certain amount of coal, gas, oil, sweat and smarts went into the design and fabrication of a thing. If you throw it out, you trash that coal, gas, oil, sweat and smarts. If you fix it, you take advantage of that embodied energy and thus use less NEW energy.

Preservation is inherently sustainable and new buildings, no matter how green their materials, no matter how organic their design and no matter how responsible they are for their runoff and exhaust, are inherently less sustainable. When done right, with minimal intervention, preservation captures embodied energy.

But often it isn’t. The embodied energy of structure – walls and supports – is preserved, but the place is gutted, contributing its share to the landfills and then all sorts of short term disposable replacements – like vinyl windows – are put in.

These will be taken out in less than a generation. Replacement windows are called that because you have to replace them so often. They are the CDs and Ipods of the building industry – a brilliant business model because the demand is never satisfied – they keep failing and they can’t be fixed. Suck that petroleum. Fill that land.

Real sustainability needs to reverse a trend at least three generations old. Build things that can be fixed? What about those corporations who need us to snap up the latest trend? Ah, but the most elegant answer is obvious: sell sustainability.

How? How can you sell the antithesis of selling?

You can, thanks to the continued alienation of labor and commodities in the internet age. Why buy a physical product when you can buy a concept? Why burden yourself with a thing when you can have what is so much more valuable – a lifestyle? Why be a producer or consumer when you can be a consultant? Produce ideas, consume ideas – turn fashion and fashionability into a non-physical concept. You can still buy it – you just don’t get anything except the knowledge that you are more fashionable than others.

That is a sustainable business model. You can see our version of this at http://www.identityistheft.com.

Green heaven

October 5, 2005

I was at the National Preservation Conference in Portland, Oregon (Motto: It isn’t easy being green) last week and both the city and event impressed, even beyond the obvious Holy Grail of American microbrew. I went on a green preservation tour last Thursday through the Ecotrust building (The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center), a century-old warehouse that was the first preservation project to gain LEED gold certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is very smart among the architectural set of late. Even though the re-use of an existing building would seem to be naturally environmentally efficient, the fact is LEED, like most things, tends to be geared toward new construction, even though the plurality of landfill waste is construction debris. The Ecotrust building managed to re-use 98.6% (!!) of the existing materials by creating a huge boneyard for every removed piece of building and then finding a use for it – doors became walls, beams became chairs, boiler covers became nameplates, etc., etc. The building handles 95% of its stormwater on site through swales and a permeable parking lot, has a green roof (German 2-3 inch design so the old building could handle the loads) and even the requisite seismic reinforcement.

Portland is an environmentalists dream with its streetcars (free downtown), vigorous recycling and cycling and urban growth boundaries (these were voted down a year ago but it is still not clear whether that will stick). New building plans automatically include bike lockers and showers. The Armory (we tore down all of those in Chicago – most recently for the MCA) is being rehabbed as a theater and is on track for LEED Platinum certification. They did passive smoke evacuation so they wouldn’t need extra generators and fans which would suck energy along with smoke.

Can you do that? I can’t. The architects were surprisingly modest about their achievements, aided by a radically sensible Oregon law that allows them to prove how efficient their solution is, rather than dictating the solution. Imagine a world where building code enforcement was guided by the intent and results of the law……