Sustainable Preservation by chenmeixiu


									  Sustainable Preservation
Retrofitting the Past with Innovation of
               the Future

                Paul Hutchison

                March 10, 2010

   Global climate change has revealed, with increasing urgency, the extent to which human

activity can dramatically impact the delicate ecological processes of our planet. International

attention has come to focus on the role that carbon emissions play in transforming Earth‟s

weather patterns. While the carbon emissions of automobiles and power plants are frequently

highlighted in the media, the energy use associated with building construction, operation, and

demolition is often overlooked. Yet, the building sector accounts for approximately 38 percent

of total carbon emissions in the United States, more than either the transportation or industrial

sectors. Consequently, attention has centered on the construction of new green buildings that

incorporate recycled materials into their designs and are outfitted with innovative, energy

efficient technology. Over the last twenty years, a growing number of architects, engineers, and

builders have aligned themselves with this green building movement and have made substantial

advances in reducing building energy consumption. However, despite these technological gains,

as green building advocate Carl Elefante has observed, it remains true that “the greenest building

is the one that is already built” (Elefante, 2007). The prevailing view among state and municipal

leaders remains that we must build our way out of our energy crisis. Yet, when the staggering

environmental cost associated with demolition and new building construction is considered, it

becomes clear that if we are to create a more sustainable world, greater emphasis must be placed

on the adaptive-reuse of our existing building stock.

   Fortunately, awareness of the inextricable connection between historic preservation and

sustainable development is slowly growing around the world. Plans have been released for the

green retrofitting of the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower in New York City (Foster

2008). A formerly derelict warehouse district is being converted into a mixed-use commercial

and residential neighborhood in Dubuque, Iowa (Dubuque 2010). Discreetly hidden solar panels


are being installed on the roof of the 1,000 year old Dunstler Castle in England, and the fortress‟s

old water mill is being converted into an electric generator (Miranda 2008).            Pioneering

achievements in adaptive reuse have occurred in Columbus, Ohio.                  The old Jeffery

Manufacturing Plant is being recreated into a green residential district, and the erstwhile

Columbus Buggy Company plant has been transformed into premium residential lofts and retail

space in the city‟s Nationwide Arena District. Sustainable preservation has the potential to

become a significant component of future community revitalization and climate control

initiatives. However, nationally, sustainable development continues to be equated with new

development. For municipal governments to embrace preservation principals, more needs to be

learned about their environmental, economic, and social benefits.

   In the following report, I first summarize advocacy arguments that building reuse and historic

preservation are vital to achieving sustainable development. I review literature claiming that

reinvestment and preservation of our current building stock creates significant energy savings,

keeps demolition debris out of landfills, creates more jobs than building construction, increases

tourism revenue, and conserves the historic identity and socio-cultural heritage of a municipality.

Issues related to the broader social implications of historic preservation are also raised.

Additionally, I discuss the principal rating systems for evaluating the environmental impact and

historic character of a building. I focus specifically on ways in which the United States Green

Building Council (USGBC) design standards have come to accommodate and complement

federal historic preservation standards administered by the National Park Service. The section

discusses the tax incentives associated with adherence to both sets of standards. Part two of the

report summarizes the goals and implementation of a green historic rehabilitation project in

Portland, Oregon. The section illustrates both the successes and failures of the project. Part


Three presents recommendations for addressing challenges associated with sustainable



Historic Preservation and Sustainability

    In recent years, the word sustainability has been overused in so many different contexts that it

is in danger of being reduced to an empty marketing slogan or a meaningless abstraction. Before

discussing the sustainable aspects of historic building preservation and reuse, I will first briefly

define the term sustainability as it has come to be used by historic preservation and green

building advocates. The most widely accepted definition of sustainability is that offered by the

U.N. Bruntland Commission‟s 1987 report, Our Common Future, which defines sustainable

development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the

ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Frey 2007, 3). Increasingly, three separate

but interrelated tenets of sustainability are recognized, including environmental, economic, and

social sustainability. The following section examines the three tenants of sustainability with

respect to sustainable preservation and demonstrates that substantial data supports the notion that

preserving existing buildings is a critical component of sustainable development.

Environmental Sustainability

    Historic preservationists have long held that the conservation of existing buildings is

inherently sustainable. When the nation experienced its first major energy crisis in the 1970s,

Preservation Press published New Energy from Old Buildings, a collection of articles advocating

old building restoration as a critical energy saving strategy. However, the common perception

that old buildings are energy sink holes has persisted. Substantial data exists that contradicts this

assumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, commercial buildings


constructed prior to 1920 have an average energy consumption of 80,127 BTUs per square foot.

For the more efficient buildings constructed since 2000, that number is 79,703 BTUs. Buildings

erected between these years were far less energy efficient, consuming around 100,000 BTUs per

square foot (Curtis, 2008).     This disparity in energy consumption suggests that many old

buildings are comparable in energy efficiency to those built over the last ten years.

   Prior to the emergence of assembly-line production methods and electrical power, building

features were designed to address regional climate conditions. Houses in the South had high

ceilings and louvered shutters. In the North, they were built with thick walls and smaller

windows. Sleeping porches provided coolness in summer, and woodstove-centered kitchens gave

off warmth in winter. Traditional builders designed structures to take advantage of natural

processes relying on passive methods of temperature control that required no energy inputs.

Depending upon climate, buildings were sited to either maximize or minimize sun exposure.

Natural ventilation systems, usually based on the chimney effect, efficiently circulated air

throughout older homes. Overhangs and awnings were used to keep homes cool. Cisterns

collected rainwater. Large shuttered windows were designed to provide ample, natural sunlight.

Prismatic block windows were installed in larger office and commercial buildings to redirect

sunlight deep inside the structure, sometimes magnifying available light between five and fifty

times. Finally, in the past local building materials were typically used. All of these techniques

fell out of fashion in the age of cheap electricity. All of these techniques adhere to sustainable

standards espoused by environmental advocates today (Curtis, 2008).

  The common assumption that old wooden windows need to be replaced with new weatherized

models is another fallacy often decried by preservation professionals. The modern window

industry aggressively markets the high thermal resistance performance of their products. New


windows do have insulation values that are three times higher than old wooden windows.

However, the difference between these two values is negligible when one considers that the vast

majority of heat loss in homes is through the attic or uninsulated walls. Windows account for

only 10 to 12 percent of the total air infiltration in a house, and typically air penetrates through

openings in and around the sash, not through the glass (Sedovic, 2005). Merely stopping up the

holes in the wood is a better alternative than disposing of the entire window, especially since

wood windows are typically constructed from dense, old growth wood, of a quality that cannot

be found today. Additionally, new replacement windows are constructed from vinyl, which is

not recyclable, non-biodegradable, and potentially toxic, and typically within ten to twenty years

they need to be thrown away.         Newer does not necessarily mean more environmentally


   The waste associated with building demolition and new construction is staggering. According

to Carl Elefante, we demolish 200,000 homes a year, creating approximately 124 million tons of

debris. This is enough material to construct a wall 30 feet high and 30 feet thick around the

entire coastline of the United States (Elefante 2008). Richard Moe, chairman of the National

Trust for Historic Preservation claims that demolishing a 50,000 square-foot building would

create nearly 4,000 tons of waste, enough debris to fill 26 railroad boxcars (Moe, 2007).

Currently, construction debris account for a quarter of all solid waste produced in the United

States (Roberts 2007). A recent study released by the Brookings Institute indicates that by 2030,

a third of the entire building stock in the nation will likely be demolished, while 28 billion square

feet of new construction is projected to take place (Elefante 2008).           It is estimated that

constructing a 50,000-square-foot commercial building releases approximately the same amount

of carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 2.8 million miles (Moe, 2007).


   The energy wasted in demolition and construction does not holistically account for all the

energy used in the creation of a building. In 1976, a collaborative study between researchers at

the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign and at Richard Stein Associates, Architects, of

New York City first developed the concept of embodied energy to describe the total energy

consumed in the extraction, manufacture, transportation, and installation of building materials.

The report, entitled Energy Use for Building Construction, quantified the typical embodied

energy values of different building types based on construction data from 1967. Regardless of its

age, this study remains the most thorough evaluation of embodied energy ever produced in the

United States. Based on this research, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation calculated

that approximately 80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000 square-foot

commercial building, equal to 640,000 gallons of gasoline (Moe, 2007).            The concept of

embodied energy is a valuable tool for illustrating the environmental impact of a building‟s

construction, one that further underscores the need to preserve what already stands.

   However, it is unclear whether or not values derived in the 1976 study can accurately be

applied to historic structures. Preservation architect Mike Jackson suggests that “there is a

strong likelihood that the overall building figures in the report underestimate the equivalent

embodied energy of older buildings” (Jackson 2005, 48).             According to Jackson, this

underestimation is a result of two factors: historic buildings have more volume and contain more

materials than today‟s structures.    He argues that the construction of larger structures with

greater material density required more front-end energy inputs than today‟s buildings.

Additionally, it is difficult to calculate the amount of energy used in the construction of certain

historic building materials without conducting input output studies that follow original historic

production procedures. While uncertainly complicates the accurate application of our current


embodied energy values, if, as Jackson contends, historic buildings have more embodied energy

than today‟s structures, the case for historic preservation is further substantiated.

Economic Sustainability

   Evaluation of the economic arguments for historic preservation and adaptive reuse

underscores the extent to which environmental and economic considerations overlap. Where

environmentalists emphasize the need to preserve ecosystems and reduce the negative impacts of

human activity on the natural world, economists focus on how limited resources with multiple

and competing uses can best be allocated to improve human welfare. The preservation of scarce

resources with multiple possible uses is thus fundamental to both disciplines, and, clearly, the

underlying rationale for preserving and reinvesting in the existing built environment is both

economic and ecological in nature.

   Retrofitting historic buildings with green technologies not only keeps debris out of landfills

and saves energy that would otherwise be wasted in demolition and construction, it also saves

money. Certainly, new energy-efficient buildings eventually offset the cost of their construction

with their low operating costs. Indeed, operational expenses account for approximately 70

percent of a building‟s total energy consumption. Yet, studies have indicated that it takes

approximately 65 years for an energy efficient office building to recover the energy wasted in

demolishing an existing structure, even if that building is composed of 40 percent recycled

content (Jackson 2005, 51).     Regardless of whether or not a new building is green, preserving

what already stands often makes the most economic sense, particularly, if the interrelationship

between neighborhood quality and historic preservation is considered.


   The current zeitgeist in urban revitalization emphasizes the need to halt the spread of

suburban sprawl and redirect development downtown. Economic consultant and preservationist,

Donovan Rypkema, points out that the design elements touted by progressive planners under the

aegis of Smart Growth or New Urbanism are not new at all. Rather they represent a return to

traditional development patterns designed to accommodate the pedestrian. Dense, mixed-use

urban centers that are easily accessed by foot or mass transit describe the typical urban fabric

prior to the ascent of the automobile. Rypkema argues that reinvesting in old neighborhoods

takes advantage of compact design, develops existing communities, preserves open space, mixes

land uses, and creates walkable neighborhoods that possess a sense of place. Thus, historic

preservation is virtually a synonym for progressive planning. Furthermore, relative affordability

of rents in historic neighborhoods attracts small businesses. “It is no accident that the creative,

imaginative, start-up firm isn‟t located in the corporate office „campus‟ the industrial park or the

shopping center – they simply cannot afford those rents. Historic commercial buildings play the

natural business incubator role, usually with no subsidy or assistance of any kind” (Rypkema

2005). The preservation of historic neighborhoods retains the myriad benefits of traditional

urban development, creating unique places that potentially foster creativity and community.

   In addition to fostering small businesses, Rypkema also demonstrates how historic restoration

creates more, higher-paying jobs than new building construction. He compares the economic

impact of highway construction to building rehabilitation.       One million dollars invested in

highway construction creates 36 jobs, $1,223,000 of household income, and $103,000 of state

taxes. The same amount invested in building rehabilitation creates 38 jobs, $1.3 million of

household income, and $110,000 of state taxes. While the difference might seem marginal,

building rehabilitation does present a viable alternative investment for governments hoping to


stimulate their economies. And since most building materials need to be replaced every 20 to 40

years, the demand for building rehabilitation is inherently stable (Rypkema 2005).

   Finally, historic preservation conserves places where people want to be. Heritage tourism can

be a tremendous source of revenue for municipalities. In Florida, a state typically not associated

with historic landmarks, heritage tourism accounts for $3 billion in tourist expenditures and

approximately 100,000 jobs (Rypkema 2005). Additionally, property values in historic districts

appreciate at rates greater than the local market. The aesthetic appeal and cultural meaning

found in historic buildings improves urban quality of life, which in turn attracts a talented work

force, ultimately enriching, diversifying, and stabilizing a city‟s economy.         The economic

benefits of historic preservation and adaptive reuse are cumulative, and conserving the unique

and irreplaceable manifestations of a city‟s past is essential to ensuring that it remains

competitive in the future.

Socio-Cultural Sustainability

   On a fundamental level, historic preservation promotes the fostering of community identity

and cultural enrichment.     History and identity are inextricably linked.     For citizens of a

community to feel a sense of belonging to a place and to each other, a symbolic landscape that

embodies collective memory must exist. Without collective memory, places and communities

have no meaning. The groundbreaking philosophy of Benedict Anderson addresses the question

of what generates and perpetuates a sense of community. Anderson argues that without cultural

symbols, structures, and texts that project an image of an “imagined community,” it would be

impossible for the individual to consider him or herself part of a larger society (Anderson 1983).


If the irreplaceable manifestations of the past are discarded, there would be no signs to signify

who we are.

   In addition to preserving a sense of identity and place, evidence suggests that historic

preservation and adaptive reuse also promote social equity. Studies have shown that historic

properties often provide affordable housing.          According to Patricia Frey, Director of

Sustainability for the National Trust of Historic Preservation, between the late 1970s and the late

1990s, 40,000 units of affordable housing were created with the help of historic tax credits.

Historic tax credits are frequently combined with low income house tax credits to make

affordable housing projects more feasible (Frey 2007). Frey claims that after being rehabilitated,

historic buildings are well suited to be used for affordable housing.

   However, the effects of neighborhood revitalization are not always positive. As Frey points

out, rehabilitation of older, more affordable neighborhoods can lead to gentrification, a process

by which reinvestment and restoration of old communities causes property taxes to rise. This in

turn forces the displacement of long-time, low-income neighborhood residents, eroding

communities. Thoughtful planning and political will are necessary to mitigate these adverse


Institutional Forces

   Two rating systems are primarily responsible for guiding the practice of historic preservation

and green building in the United States: the Secretary of the Interior‟s (SOI) Standards for

Rehabilitation and the Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system,

introduced and administered by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The

following section briefly summarizes the history, mission, and administration of both systems,


discusses incentives for pursuing LEED certification and SOI approval, and addresses current

efforts by both institutions to more effectively collaborate with each other.

Federal Historic Preservation Policy and Tax Incentives

   Perhaps the most substantial development in the nation‟s preservation movement occurred

with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. This act established

the National Register of Historic Places, State Historic Preservation Offices, and the Advisory

Council on Historic Preservation.         Additionally, the act authorized matching Historic

Preservation Fund grants to state and local governments, and Native American tribes for historic

preservation projects.    In 1976, the act was amended to establish the Federal Historic

Preservation Tax Incentives Program (National Park 2010).

   To be eligible for tax credits, a property must be listed on the National Register of Historic

Places. The National Register is the nation‟s official list of historic districts, sites, or buildings

that are considered “certified historic structures” worthy of preservation. It is managed by the

National Park Service (NPS).         State Historic Preservation Offices interface directly with

property owners who wish to list their properties on the National Register. State officials make

preliminary recommendations to NPS, which ultimately approves or disapproves the building

based on the property‟s age, integrity, and cultural significance. If a property owner wishes to

list his or her historic property in the National Register and intends to rehabilitate it, the

restoration project must adhere to SOI standards. Furthermore, any restoration project that alters

a certified historic structure must also follow the standards.

   The SOI Standards apply to historic buildings of all materials, construction types, and sizes,

landscape features, and surroundings.        They are developed and administered by NPS in


partnership with State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs). The standards consist of ten core

principles that guide the planning and implementation of rehabilitation projects. Adherence to

these rules qualifies property owners to apply for federal and state tax credits and thus provides

the primary financial incentive for preserving historic buildings. In addition to the ten standards,

NPS also publishes Interpreting the Standards Briefs that provide guidelines for appropriately

implementing specific rehabilitation projects in order to demonstrate how the standards can be

practically applied.

   The Federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit remains the principal financial incentive for

preserving historic countries in the nation. This program provides a 20 percent tax credit on

qualified rehabilitation expenditures and freezes the property tax for buildings listed in the

National Register to pre-rehabilitation levels. However, the tax credit only applies to income-

producing historic properties. It has created more than $50 billion in historic preservation

activity across the nation. Furthermore, the program leverages five dollars of private investment

to every dollar of tax credit. “With over 35,600 approved projects, the tax incentives program has

attracted private investment to historic cores of cities and Main Street towns across America and

generates jobs, enhances property values, creates affordable housing and augments revenues for

Federal, State and local governments” (National Park 2010). The National Park Service‟s 2008

Annual Report provided the following statistics for historic rehabilitation projects conducted

during federal fiscal year 2008:

      More than $5.64 billion in private investment leveraged, a record

      67,705 jobs created

      1,231 approved projects

      5,220 low and moderate income housing units


      17,051 housing units created or renovated overall (National Park 2010).

Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Incentives

   In addition to the federal historic rehabilitation tax incentive, the State of Ohio has an Ohio

Historic Preservation Tax Credit (OHPTC), which can be applied for and reviewed by the Ohio

Historic Preservation Office on a parallel track with the federal credit. The OHPTC program is

administered by the Ohio Department of Development. Through this program, applicants can

earn a 25 percent tax credit subsidy of hard construction costs that meet the SOI standards. The

program has been enormously popular and legislation has renewed program funding for fiscal

year 2010 and 2011 (Ohio Historic 2010).

Leader in Energy and Environmental Design Certification

   The Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards developed and

administered by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is the preeminent rating

system used to measure the sustainable building practice in the nation. The program appraises a

building project on the basis of its environmental impact and energy consumption. Incentives for

following LEED standards include reducing a building‟s operational costs, enhancing its

marketability, and, in the case of commercial buildings, increasing worker productivity.

Additionally, many states other than Ohio offer LEED certification tax abatements. In 1998, the

USGBC became the first organization in the United States to develop a set of comprehensive

guidelines for green building, and its influence on the growth and direction of the green building

movement has since then been substantial. That the federal government has started instituting


USGBC standards for future projects underscores the national recognition and prestige attached

to the LEED brand name.

   The United States Green Building Council is a non-profit organization consisting of building

industry professionals who advocate environmentally conscious and socially responsible

building practices. There are currently 15,000 member organizations of the USGBC including

building owners, real estate developers, architects, designers, engineers, contractors, product and

building system manufacturers, government agencies, and non-profit organizations (Morgan and

Matts 2009). Since 1993, URGBC has conducted research in consultation with its member

organizations to develop a comprehensive set, of critical indicators that define and prioritize

what constitutes green building design. From these indicators, USGBC created several LEED

certification rating systems intended to create the nation‟s leading standards for sustainable

building.   Over time, LEED standards have undergone multiple revisions and have been

converted into several distinct rating systems that pertain to specific aspects of sustainable

design. For example, rating systems include New Construction, Existing Buildings, Homes and

Neighborhood Development.         Buildings can obtain different levels of LEED certification.

Certified is the lowest and least demanding rank, followed by Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Scores

are tallied for level of design quality and efficiency in six categories:

   1. Sustainable Sites

   2. Water Efficiency

   3. Energy & Atmosphere

   4. Materials & Resources

   5. Indoor Environmental Quality

   6. Innovation & Design Process


During the last twelve years, over 2,700 buildings have obtained LEED certification at these

various levels (Morgan and Matts 2009).

      Property owners interested in building or retrofitting an existing structure to be LEED

certified, register their building project with their respective state office of the USGBC, and

develop an application that establishes the goals and benchmarks of the project based on LEED

standards, available time, and resources. The application is then reviewed by USGBC. Once the

application is approved, LEED requires professionals involved in the building project to submit

confirmation that the project meets certain goals or credits. The degree to which a project meets

these goals determines its level of certification. Projects undertaken in collaboration with one or

more LEED certified professional have a much better chance of succeeding.

      While both the historic preservation movement and the green building movement are

fundamentally interrelated and interdependent, the USGBC and the federal government have

been slow in recognizing this common ground. Historic preservationists have long decried the

failure of the USGBC to reflect the importance of building conservation, reuse, and

neighborhood reinvestment in LEED standards. Critics have pointed out that former LEED

credits are awarded too often on design elements, overlooking critical external factors relevant to

environmental impact. The LEED system has been attacked for drastically undervaluing “the

true ecological benefit of building reuse” (Jackson 2005, 50). According to Barbara Campagna,

past systems, “do not effectively consider the performance, longer service lives, and embodied

energy of historic materials and assemblies; and …are overly focused on current or future

technologies, neglecting the advantages of many traditional building practices” (Campagna 2008,

6).    In the past, a new office building constructed in a fringe exurb could earn platinum

certification, regardless of the fact that workers would need to drive miles to get there


(Lawniczak 2008, 4). Green building advocates, likewise, have attacked SOI standards as being

too rigid, contending that sclerotic government rules place undue restraints on historic projects

seeking LEED certification.

   Reconciliation is, thankfully, on the horizon. A new LEED v3 system, launched in April of

2009, has been revised to take existing building reuse in account. The new system addresses the

widespread criticism that, in previous systems, credit scores are not weighted to reflect priority

or environmental impact. LEED v3 has adopted a new weighted rating system. The new system

allocates more credits toward buildings that adopt passive regional temperature control systems.

Additionally, LEED v3 has adopted an alternative compliance path called “Lifecycle Assessment

of Building Assembles” that can be used to replace credits earned for the Materials and

Resources category. This pathway awards credits for the structural durability and embodied

energy in existing buildings. Furthermore, plans are already underway to incorporate socio-

cultural sustainability indicators into the next LEED system. The system will begin to recognize

buildings for their architectural and historical significance as well as for health, comfort, and

well-being (Campagna 2008). These revisions are due to be adopted later this year.

   Green building preservationists have successfully promoted their causes as well. The historic

preservation community has been vigorously promoting sustainable preservation for the last two

years. Their efforts have been spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a

nonprofit organization federally mandated to advocate and educate on critical preservation

issues. In March of 2009, the Trust launched its Preservation Green Lab (PGL) operation in

Seattle, Washington. The stated mission of the Green Lab is to develop “strategic policies for

integrating the reuse and retrofitting of older and historic buildings into city and state efforts to

reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Preservation Green Lab is partnering with selected cities


and states around the nation to create innovative sustainable development policy, showcase

energy-efficient rehabilitation projects that test and inform policy development” (Preservation

Green 2010). Specifically, the Green lab will collaborate with municipalities that support the

reuse of buildings into zoning ordinances and city plans, and provide technical support in making

historic structures more energy efficient. Significantly, the lab is research driven. Buildings

retrofitted with new green technology will be tested for energy performance, and lessons learned

will be disseminated to government agencies, historic preservation professionals, and the general

public. Green Lab initiatives are already up and running in places like Dubuque, Iowa, where

city officials are planning to convert an old warehouse district into the Dubuque Warehouse

District Energy Efficient Zone (Preservation Green 2010). As the name implies, the zone will

become a mixed-use urban neighborhood that incorporates cutting-edge green technology into its

historic building stock.   Tellingly, the project is intended to “attract and retain a quality

workforce for Dubuque‟s growing economy” (Dubuque 2010). Cities are beginning to subscribe

to the central economic tenants of sustainable preservation.      The federal government also

recognizes the new zeitgeist in sustainable design. Two Interpreting the Standards briefs issued

by NS deal explicitly with green retrofits on historic buildings: solar panel installation and

installing green roofs (National Park 2010)


     Having discussed the case for sustainable preservation and described the key institutional

forces that define green building and historic preservation in the United States, I will now


describe the rehabilitation of the Balfour-Guthrie Building in Portland, Oregon. The fact that the

Balfour-Guthrie building is on the National Register of Historic Places and has achieved silver

LEED certification makes it an excellent example of green design reconciled with historic

preservation. In the following discussion of the project, I summarize its design features, and

briefly reflect on the key successes and concerns that emerged after its completion.

  The Balfour-Guthrie Building was built in 1913 and originally served as a grain trading office.

The building was the first reinforced concrete structure built in Portland (Balfour-Guthrie 2010).

Designed by Morris Whitehouse, the structure evokes a stolid, stoic, character largely conveyed

by its minimalist American Renaissance style and its mighty Doric columns. It was constructed

at a time when Portland was expanding rapidly, and is considered representative of the city‟s

early development. Adding to the building‟s significance is the fact that it was designed by

Whitehouse, an architect responsible for many of Portland‟s famous public buildings, country

clubs, and private residences. In 2001, Thomas Hacker Architects, Inc. (THA) purchased the

property from the City Stamp and Rubber Company with the intent of converting the building

into their studio (Balfour-Guthrie 2010).   According to Hacker, the rehabilitation was to be

emblematic of the architectural ethos of the company, a way to “practice what we preach”

(Johnson, 38). Jonah Cohan, principal of THA said, "We were very attracted to the Balfour-

Guthrie Building. Even though it was designed in 1913, it embodies many of our firm's core

design values – well proportioned, light-filled spaces, honest expression of structural elements,

durable and timeless materials” (Coalson 2003, 1). The choice to make the Balfour-Guthrie the

company headquarters was intended to send a clear message to Hacker clients and the general

public of the importance of historic preservation and sustainable design. This vision motivated


THA to seek LEED Silver certification and to have their property listed on the National Register

of Historic Places.

   The principal objective of the rehabilitation was to make slight modifications to the building‟s

core and exterior, and to renovate the third floor of the building so that it could be rented. THA

planned to occupy the ground and second floors. Thus, the company wanted to make the

basement a desirable work space that maximized available lighting. They removed a large

section of the floor to make room for a staircase that leads to the basement offices and exposes a

cross-section of historically poured concrete, an edifying exhibit for any architect. The removal

of this floor section allows for sunlight to enter the basement. Glass partitions were installed in

the basement to reflect natural lighting throughout the office, and a wall of windows around the

basement allows additional light to flood the space. Additionally, an automatically dimming

lighting system was installed that takes advantage of the façade‟s large windows. On sunny

days, very little energy is expended lighting the building. Furthermore, a decentralized HVAC

system was installed that can individually heat, cool, light, or ventilate eleven different zones in

the office, eliminating the need to waste energy servicing the entire building. Due to these

innovations, the office is currently operating at a 40 percent better than code energy

performance. It is estimated that the building‟s utility costs are a third less than a typical office

building in downtown Portland (Johnson 2009, 40).

   As a means of revealing the historic character of the building, the project team had layers of

graffiti removed from its façade, exposing its original sandstone veneer. With the approval of

the SHPO, THA applied a protective coating to the sandstone to protect the old surface from the

elements. To further restore the building‟s historic character, the entry doors of office are

constructed from new, responsibly harvested, white oak to match the old growth, white oak that


panels the building‟s original stairway. Additional old growth wood that was recycled from

Portland‟s old dry dock graces the building‟s lobby.

   Perhaps the best example of compromise and compatibility between LEED and SOI

requirements is the project team‟s strategy for installing energy saving windows.         Storm

windows were placed on the inside of the structure in order to preserve the historic character of

the building while satisfying the standard of thermal insulation required by LEED. The storm

windows magnetically adhere to the historic windows and can be easily removed in summer


   The total rehabilitation cost of the Balfour-Guthrie building was $3 million, approximately

half of which allocated to design and project administration as well as consultants and fees for

both the LEED and National Register programs. The other half paid for material and labor.

According to Johnson, approximately seven percent ($200,000) of the adjusted construction

costs were attributed to LEED (Johnson 2009, 39). Listing the property on the National Register

was a boon for the projects finances, allowing the owners to freeze their property tax at pre-

development levels for fifteen years and qualify for the Federal Historic Tax Credit program.

Yet this was not enough to offset the additional LEED costs. Determined to create one of the

premier green historic buildings in Portland, THA partners each took on additional debt,

applying for a Department of Energy loan from the State of Oregon.

   The Balfour Guthrie rehabilitation is an excellent example of how sustainable design and

historic preservation can successfully come together to produce culturally significant and

environmentally responsible buildings. The project dramatically reduced its construction waste,

recycling 75 percent of the building‟s original materials (Johnson 2009, 46). Additionally, the

building is located in a vital section of downtown in close proximity to public transit.


Daylighting, insulated magnetic storm windows, a heat reflecting Energy Star roof, and low-flow

water conserving features maximize the energy and water efficiency of the building, and none of

these innovations diminish its historic character. Aesthetically, the Balfour-Guthrie continues to

provide Portland residence with a tangible link to the city‟s past.

      However, the project was very expensive. THA would never have been able to earn LEED

certification had its partners not been willing to take out the Energy Department loan. While the

building‟s energy efficiency will offset these high up-front expenses, the reality is that, without

additional sources of funding, the costs associated with LEED rehabilitation will likely dissuade

future property owners from undertaking such projects. Another challenge concerns the post

occupancy operation of the building‟s manual light and flushing system. In order for this system

to function, occupants must be responsible in remembering to open windows and vents at

specified times of the day to enable light and air to enter the office. Over time, employee

operation of these systems has decreased, resulting in poor ventilation of the building‟s third

floor. Apparently, in order to inhabit an historic building successfully, the occupants must learn

to renounce habits cultivated by our living in an increasingly automated age. Taken altogether,

however, the Balfour-Guthrie project represents a critical experiment in sustainable preservation

from which many lessons can be learned.


      Clearly, historic preservationists and green building advocates share common goals that are

fundamentally interrelated.     Indeed, for sustainable development to take place successfully,

aggressive reinvestment and rehabilitation must be channeled to our nation‟s irreplaceable


historic landmarks and neighborhoods.        Substantial challenges exist.     Below, I provide

recommendations for further advancing the sustainable preservation movement, most of which

are inspired by Smart Growth methodologies.

Preserve more buildings

   For preservation to have a truly profound social, economic, and environmental impact,

preservationists and the general public must expand their definition of what constitutes historic.

Carl Elefante notes that a mere six percent of our existing building stock was constructed prior to

1920. Furthermore, another eleven percent of non-residential building stock consists of buildings

constructed up to the end World War Two and fifty-five percent of non-residential buildings

were constructed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s (Elefante 2008).           Preservationists or building

rehabilitators must broaden their scope of potential projects to include all theexisting building

stock if we are to create a more sustainable world.

Expand Publicity Campaign

   Sustainable preservation lacks the requisite publicity to command the attention of lawmakers

and leaders in the public and private sectors. Organizations like the National Trust for Historic

Preservation‟s Green Lab, the United States Green Building Council are heavily involved in

public outreach either through hosting seminars, delivering lectures, or publishing substantial

information on the World Wide Web. Digital channels must be expanded and online forums

should be developed and promoted aggressively on social networking websites like Facebook or

Myspace. In concert with this digital advocacy campaign, organizations like the USGBC and

National Trust must work more aggressively to promote their annual Green Building Seminars.

Education is critical to growing the sustainable preservation movement.


Base Municipal Development Strategies on Sustainable Preservation

   Ohio cities must make redevelopment of existing mixed-use neighborhoods their highest

development priority. These old neighborhoods represent irreplaceable and potentially valuable

assets for depressed cities struggling with disinvestment and depopulation. A possible way to

direct reinvestment in these neighborhoods is to designate them as urban revitalization districts

in which public financing in the form of enterprise zone abatements are provided for

entrepreneurs interested in locating in mixed-use urban areas. As incubators for small business

these older neighborhoods have the potential to provide fertile ground for creative enterprise, job

creation, and municipal tax generation.

Expedite and Facilitate Permitting and Review of Sustainable Preservation Projects

   Cities might also revise their building permits and codes to prioritize sustainable preservation.

Approval of projects that rehabilitate existing buildings and retrofit them with green technology

would be expedited. Furthermore, cities could reduce or waive permitting fees for such projects,

and building codes could be modified to include innovative green building techniques.

Prohibit or Limit Building Demolition

   Cities in Ohio must stop unnecessary demolition of historic properties. Incentives should be

provided for recycling a high percentage of demolition and waste. The case for reusing Ohio‟s

existing building stock to the extent possible is substantial.        The number of foreclosed,

abandoned properties in the state as increased markedly since the financial meltdown. As these

houses stand vacant, weather, neglect, and vandalism cause them to become blighted, and, sadly,

some buildings are beyond repair or even material salvage. Even with Governor Strickland‟s

recent increase in Ohio‟s landfill tipping fee to $4.40 per ton, it is still substantially lower than

elsewhere in the nation (Ohio EPA 2010). In Deschutes County Oregon, the tipping fee is $45


per ton (Deschutes 2007). Little barriers exist preventing Ohio from becoming the nation‟s

dumping ground. If meaningful progress is the be achieved in building preservation, tipping fees

must at least reflect those of more progressive states.

Expand Existing Federal and State Historic Tax Incentive Program

   Clearly, for the goals of sustainable preservation advocates to be achieved, additional sources

of funding need to be developed and existing financial incentives must be expanded. Currently,

federal and state historic tax abatement programs only apply to commercial or revenue-

generating structures. The Federal Government and State of Ohio should expand their programs

to include historic condominiums and residential properties. Additionally, a number of states

have passed legislation providing for tax abatements for LEED certified buildings. Ohio is not

among them. Ohio must provide incentives for undertaking green building projects to promote

responsible development practices. Finally, the State of Ohio could create a Green-Historic Tax

Credit program. Doing so would make Ohio a national leader in sustainable preservation.

Develop Project Planning and Policy Solutions that Mitigate the Effects of Gentrification

   Freeze property taxes of existing residents for a decade to pre-neighborhood transition levels.

This would ease the financial burden on low-income residents and enable them to stay in their

homes. Additionally, city governments and nonprofit organizations could sponsor community

events in neighborhoods known to be undergoing transitions associated with gentrification.

Events could include cultural festivals, concerts, or any public gathering that would encourage

neighborhood residents, old and new, to mingle and establish new community ties.

   The environmental, economic, and social challenges we face are daunting but certainly not

hopeless. With creativity, sound research, and responsible decision making, it is feasible that we


will develop the innovative strategies that can mitigate the negative and profound impact we are

having on the planet. Certainly, sustainable preservation is one of these strategies. Elected

officials, corporate leaders, and the general public must come to recognize and value the

tremendous assets we have in our built environment. Such recognition is the first step in

addressing the destructive and wasteful building practices so common to our modern way of life.

Sustainable preservation saves energy, it saves money, and it saves land. Rehabilitating what is

already built keeps waste out of landfills, and generates green, local jobs. Preserving the

architectural legacy of our cultural heritage, restores effervescent urban environments that

stimulate municipal economies, and improves life quality. Safeguarding the critical landmarks

of our nation‟s past perpetuates the collective memory that invests our society and culture with

meaning. Government and nonprofit organizations like the United States Department of the

Interior, State Historic Preservation Offices, and the United States Green Building must continue

their leadership role in partnership and close collaboration if the sustainable preservation

movement is to achieve success. Rehabilitation exercises like the Balfour-Guthrie project have

demonstrated that both the preservation and green building agendas can be compatibly integrated

in a design plan and executed to make historic buildings even more energy efficient. For

sustainable development initiatives to successfully incorporate green adaptive reuse, policies

must be established that make old downtown and historic neighborhood reinvestment the

development priority, and existing financial resources that provide incentives for sustainable

preservation must be expanded. With the right leadership and unwavering commitment, we will

be able to leave a world full of promise and bounty for future generations.



Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. London: 1983.

Balfour-Guthrie Building. In Buildings [Online]. 2010. [cited 10 March 2010]. Available from:

Campagna, Barbara. How Changes to LEED Will Benefit Existing and Historic Buildings. In
Preservation Nation
[Online]. 2008 [cited March, 10 2010]. Available from:

Coalson, Jay. “Portland Project Achieves National First on Green Front.” Press Release, Green
Building Services, June 24 2003

Curtis, Wayne “A Cautionary Tale: Amid Our Green-Building Boom, Why Neglecting the Old
in Favor of the New Just Might Cost Us Dearly.” Preservation, January/February 2008, 35-41.

Elefante, Carl. “The Greenest Building Is… The One that is Already Built.” Forum Journal: the
Journal of the National Trust For Historic Preservation, 21(2008): 25-38

Foster, Margaret. Greening the Empire State Building in The National Trust for Historic
Preservation. [Online]. April 14 2009. [cited 10 March 2010]. Available from:

Frey, Patricia. “Making the Case: Historic Preservation as Sustainable Development.” White
Paper presented in advance of the Sustainable Preservation Research Retreat. October 2007.

Frey, Patricia “Building Reuse: Finding a Place on American Climate Change Policy Agendas”
National Trust for Historic Preservation. September 2008.

Historic Millwork District Revitalization. In City of Dubuque. [Online]. 2010 [cited 10 March
2010] Available from:

Jackson, Mike. “Embodied Energy and Historic Preservation: A Needed Reassessment.” APT
Bulletin, 36(2005): 47-52.

Jackson, Mike. “Building Culture That Sustains Design.” APT Bulletin, Vol. 36(2005): 45-47.

Johnson, Bethany. “Respect and Reuse: Sustainable Preservation in Portland, Oregon.” A
Thesis Presented to the Interdisciplinary Studies Program: Historic Preservation University of
Oregon: June 2009.


Lawniczak, Joe “Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development: What Does it Mean for
Main Street? Wisconsin Main Street News 2(2008): 1-5.

Maddox, Deborah, ed. New Energy from Old Buildings. Preservation Press, 1981.

Miranda, Charles “Castle Turning Green – Age-old fortress wages war on climate change.” The
Courier Mail: Australia. 9 February 2008, sec. World News, p. 51

Moe, Richard. Speech Delivered at the Green Building and Historic Preservation Symposium.
Washington D.C. April 2008.

Morgan, Michael and Matts, Michael. Over the Rhine Green Historic Study: Exploring the
Intersection Between Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation. Cincinnati: Over
the Rhine Foundation, 2009.

NPS Historic Buildings Tax Credit. The National Park Service. [Online]. 2010. [cited 10 March
2010]. Available from:

Ohio EPA and ODNR Propose Major Fee Increases in Upcoming State Budget. In Ohio
Environmental Law Blog [Online]. 4 February 2009]. Available from:

Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit. In Business and Industry [Online]. 2010 [cited March 10
2010]. Available from:

Preservation Green Lab. In The National Trust For Historic Preservation. [Online]. 2009.
[cited 10, March 2010]. Available from:

Roberts, Tristan. “Historic Preservation and Green Building: A Lasting Relationship.”
Environmental Building News, January 2007, 15-19.

Rypkema, Donovan. “Economics, Sustainablity, and Historic Preservation.” A speech delivered
at the National Trust Annual Conference Portland Oregon: October, 1 2005.

Sedovic, Walter and Jill H. Gotthelf. "What Replacement Windows Can't Replace: The Real
Cost of Removing Historic Windows." APT Bulletin, 36(2005): 25-30.

Solid Waste Tipping Fees to Increase October 1. In Deschutes County [Online]. September 2007
[cited 10 March 2010]. Available from:


Stein, R.G, Stein, C, Buckle, M., and Green, M., Handbook of Energy Use for Building
Construction. New York: Unknown, 1980.


To top