Preservationists Unite! Comment Against Demolition in LEED ND

Posted on: June 5th, 2009 by Barbara Campagna 2 Comments
Historic neighborhoods such as Galena, Illinois represent the types of neighborhoods LEED ND is encouraging.

Historic neighborhoods such as Galena, Illinois represent the types of neighborhoods LEED ND is encouraging.

The final version of LEED ND (Neighborhood Development) is open for its second and final public comment. Comments, which can be made by anyone, not just members, are due by Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at 11:59 PM Pacific Time. My colleague Patrice Frey and I have advised LEED ND staff on many of the changes and in many respects we are very pleased with the way it is looking. But there is one major oversight that I would like everyone to send comments in on: the lack of a prerequisite for demolishing historic buildings. Read my tale below and if you agree I invite you to go to the USGBC website, download LEED ND and send in comments online. If you have any trouble submitting comments, let me know and I’ll be happy to help you.

What is LEED ND?

LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) is in some respects as different from LEED 2009 as it is similar. It has a very different construct (four sections instead of six), was developed by a working group of three organizations – USGBC, Natural Resources Defense Council (representing the Smart Growth community) and Congress for New Urbanism – and focuses on infrastructure and the public realm, with buildings as just one component. For more detail please read two blogs I wrote in November, one on LEED ND specifically and one on both LEED ND and LEED 2009.

LEED ND has three categories:

  1. Smart Locations & Linkages (SLL);
  2. Neighborhood Pattern & Design (NPD) and
  3. Green Infrastructure & Buildings (GIB).

Historic preservation values are particularly addressed in NPD Prerequisite Credit 1 - Walkable Streets and GIB Credits 5 – Existing Building Reuse and 6 – Historic Resource Preservation & Adaptive Reuse.

The No-Demolition Prerequisite

In my November blog I discussed how pleased we were that these new credits, GIB 5 and 6 (4 and 5 in the first iteration), were developed and referenced preservation standards. In order to get either of these credits, there is a prerequisite that no historic building can be demolished. The problem is, someone could still demolish a historic building and just choose NOT to go for these credits. It would be much stronger if there were a prerequisite credit that precludes someone from getting LEED ND at all if they demolish a historic building. This was the major comment I submitted on behalf of the National Trust during the first public comment period. When reviewing the comments with LEED staff following the comment period, we were told that it did not appear that the No Demolition for Historic Buildings prerequisite had enough votes for this first version of LEED ND and that we should work towards it for the next version in two years.

Modern Heritage is Hurting Our Case

Boston City Hall - while not yet officially a landmark, it is this type of brutalist modern building that is hurting the cause of preservation with some people (not me! I love this building!)

Boston City Hall - while not yet officially a landmark, it is this type of brutalist modern building that is hurting the cause of preservation with some people (not me! I love this building!)

So here’s the really interesting conundrum, and one of the main reasons that the “no demolition of historic buildings” prerequisite doesn’t have the legs for this version – several people on the steering committee are concerned that modern-era buildings would fall into this category and therefore could not be demolished. They believe that the impact that the development of modern buildings had on traditional neighborhoods should not be even further encouraged or saved. If a new LEED ND project may demolish a modern building which is landmarked, all the better. I saw a quote recently from Jim Peters, President of Landmarks Illinois, when he was referring to the impending demolition of a Gropius-designed hospital complex in Chicago, "It was a nice neighborhood," Peters says. "If it were still here, we'd probably be fighting to save those buildings from the Gropius ones. That's the irony of preservation."

I am not suggesting that no building can ever be demolished. I am concerned however that a certain group of people can decide arbitrarily and capriciously to ignore the law of the land – if a building is landmarked, it has met certain threshold criteria that says it is important to our story and our history.

But I invite you to read a blog by my blogging friend, Kaid Benfield, at the NRDC who has a slightly different opinion on this than I do. (Oh, and I'm not the preservation friend he references in his blog!)

Preserving Richard Neutra's National Historic Landmark Cyclorama building at Gettysburg has been one of the most contentious preservation legal battles in history, especially for a modern building.

Preserving Richard Neutra's National Historic Landmark Cyclorama building at Gettysburg has been one of the most contentious preservation legal battles in history, especially for a modern building.

I am also not too convinced that we can change this prerequisite in this version. But I would at least like there to be so many comments about this, that the committee must take note of it. It’s not surprising that protecting modern heritage may be one of the most challenging stands we take as preservationists. Because if one division of the National Park Service is declaring the Gettysburg Cyclorama a National Historic Landmark at the same time that another division is planning on demolishing it, then what hope is there for the rest of us?!

Read LEED ND and comment, please!! I do, of course, encourage you to read all of LEED ND and comment on other credits too, but the demolition prerequisite is, I think, the most important. And I am always happy to get comments or try to help you with questions.

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP, is the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She can be reached by email at barbara_campagna@nthp.org.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Green

2 Responses

  1. Kaid Benfield

    June 8, 2009

    Thanks, Barbara. As one of LEED-ND’s founders and committee members, I wish we had the prohibition that you highlight in this version, and I hope we can have it in a future version. I certainly hope your readers will comment on LEED-ND, and not just on that one issue.

    For the record, though, it was not “modern-era buildings” that caused concern within the LEED-ND committee. It was concern that the preservationist community would not be sufficiently discerning about which modern-era buildings should be preserved and which shouldn’t (Walmarts, after all, are modern-era buildings), and concern that pseudo-preservationsts would seek to protect “buildings” when their real interest was in opposing development, not preserving history.

    Environmentalists have had to learn to speak up when NIMBYs cloak themselves in environmental arguments to oppose things that are actually good for the environment, lest our greater cause be devalued. We’re still working on it, to be honest; it’s not easy, for a lot of reasons. But I hope those of us who are preservationists can do the same. It would do a lot to close the unfortunate credibility gap that now sometimes arises when preservation arguments are advanced.

  2. Kim Del Rance, LEED AP

    April 16, 2010

    I find it interesting that a non-profit designed to “transform the marketplace” and has the word “green” in its name does not see the wisdom and the energy savings along with the demolition debris that this prerequisite would have besides the cultural loss of a designated historic building.
    The guidelines for historic preservation have been in place since 1966 in Federal law and those are the basis of nearly every historic preservation act across the country. Why is the rationality of a historic designation being questioned when the hoops one must jump through to GET historic designation are there to prevent arbitrariness and nearly always involve public comment, while a decision by a developer or an owner does not involve public comment.

    I am quite distressed to read about what appears to be a misinformed discussion about preservation and its proponents which appears to be viewed as obstructionists rather than protectors of our heritage.