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 Lynn. 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- ability. If you look around Boston, you will find old buildings with large ver- tical windows that allow sunlight to penetrate their interior spaces.
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