A Green Future for Old Buildings by svn13229


									                                                                                                   The Boston Globe | November 23, 2009

A Green Future for Old Buildings
By: Charles N. Tseckares, FAIA

During the 1950s and ’60s era of urban                                   Before air conditioning, many
                                                                         buildings featured high ceil-
renewal, Boston, like many cities,                                       ings and natural ventilation
                                                                         to help keep workers cool. In
destroyed old and historic buildings                                     fact, according to an article by
replacing them with new, modern structures that embodied the             a director of the Association
spirit of an age of prosperity and limitless growth. The impulse to      for Preservation Technology
tear down and build anew was rooted in the belief that man had           International, buildings con-
transcended the limits of the natural environment. After all, this       structed before 1920 on aver-
was an era of plentiful and cheap energy, especially oil, when we        age consume less energy per
shunned the frugality of our forebears and embraced the throw-           square foot than those built in      Charles N. Tseckares is a
away society. The cultural shift was reflected in the design of mod-     any decade since.                    founding principal of Boston-
                                                                                                              based CBT Architects.
ern buildings, which relied on energy-intensive systems of lighting
                                                                         Like any product, buildings
and climate control.
                                                                         embody energy and materials
Only in hindsight did we see how reckless we had been. Books like        that were spent in their production. Demolition of existing build-
Jane Holtz Kay’s “Lost Boston’’ chronicled the destruction of our        ings produces waste while new construction requires that we ex-
cultural and architectural heritage. The architectural and histori-      pend new energy and resources. Reuse of existing buildings will
cal landscape of Boston and other historic cities was spared the         often produce the least environmental impact.
full brunt of urban renewal by a powerful countermovement of
                                                                         Many existing buildings, especially those of pre-World War II vin-
historic preservation that emerged in the 1970s and helped lessen
                                                                         tage, are ripe for improvements that enhance their energy effi-
the destruction.
                                                                         ciency and reduce their environmental impact. Replacing old me-
Ironically, there is now a risk that this same impulse to tear down      chanical systems for heating, air conditioning, and ventilation with
and build anew could reemerge from quite the opposite source:            new state-of-the art systems can deliver enormous energy savings.
sustainability. Although premised on an awareness of ecological          Adding insulation alone can produce energy savings on the order
limits and the finiteness of natural resources, sustainability, as it    of 10 times the cost of installation.
applies to urban environments, is focused to a large extent on
                                                                         There are encouraging signs. Cambridge City Hall Annex, built
new design and construction. Green buildings are overwhelmingly
                                                                         in 1871, achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental
considered new buildings. Old buildings are thought of as inef-
                                                                         Design) Gold in 2006, the oldest building in the world to attain
ficient and wasteful. There is a danger that urban planners, com-
                                                                         that standard. The current version of LEED applies a life-cycle as-
munity groups, and elected officials might come to see tearing
                                                                         sessment that assigns points for retention of existing buildings.
down the old and replacing it with the new as the path to a more
sustainable future.                                                      There are real challenges to greening existing buildings, espe-
                                                                         cially those structures built in the three decades after World War
It would be tragic, not to mention terribly wasteful, if this is the
                                                                         II, which are the real “gas guzzlers.’’ More can be done at a policy
road we follow. Many existing buildings, especially those built be-
                                                                         level to encourage reuse, including establishment of tax credits of
fore World War II, embody environmental and energy-conscious
                                                                         the kinds that were instrumental in the adaptive reuse of buildings
design. Of course these buildings were not designed with the fate
                                                                         such as the old mill buildings in cities like Lawrence, Lowell, and
of the planet in mind. But they were built in an age predating
modern lighting and HVAC systems, before cheap oil created the
illusion of a world without limits. They were frugal in design and       But Boston, as a city deeply rooted in the past but a leader in en-
use of resources - the very antecedent of our modern concept of          ergy-efficient technology, is ideally suited to lead a new revolution
sustainability.                                                          in design: the reconciliation of preservation, reuse, and sustain-
If you look around Boston, you will find old buildings with large ver-
tical windows that allow sunlight to penetrate their interior spaces.

To top