News Round-Ups

Sustainability Round-Up: The Greenest Building Edition

Posted on: February 10th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Brightleaf square in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo: reallyboring on Flickr)

A couple of weeks ago, the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab released a groundbreaking report, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse. We’re pleased that the report was met with a good bit of media interest. Check it out:

The Green Dividend from Reusing Older BuildingsNRDC Switchboard

"The study shows that, for most building types, adaptive reuse of older buildings produces measureable - and sometimes impressive - green benefits.  The findings with respect to energy impacts for most buildings and adaptations are overwhelmingly positive, and effectively remove one of the arguments that is sometimes made against preservation and adaptation."

Is It Time to Stop Constructing New Green Buildings?Fast Company

"Step into a new building in certain parts of U.S. and chances are pretty good that it has been built with the environment in mind (and that there is a plaque bragging about it). Maybe there’s natural lighting, a smart HVAC system, or incredible insulation. It doesn’t really matter. No matter what LEED-certified credentials the building can offer, retrofitting the teardown that came before would probably have made more environmental sense."

Why the Most Environmental Building is the Building We've Already BuiltThe Atlantic Cities

"We’re not coming out and saying ‘all buildings have to be reused,’ and ‘all new construction is bad,'" Frey says. "What we’re advocating for is a shift in thinking, where at a minimum, we’re considering the environmental impacts associated with demolishing places before we tear them down and build something new."

This Old House: Why Fixing Up Old Homes is Greener Than Building New OnesGrist

"To get your head around the broader implications here, consider this: The Brookings Institution projects that the U.S. will demolish roughly a quarter of its existing building stock - 82 billion square feet - between 2005 and 2030, and replace it with new structures. That’s a mind boggling amount of new construction, and even if the new stuff is significantly more energy efficient than the existing stock, it will take decades to recover the initial environmental costs of building it all."

Proof That the Greenest Building IS the One Already StandingTreehugger

"It is the wonderful thing about this report, that even when it doesn't have all of the answers, it anticipates the questions. As a writer about sustainable design it backs up the arguments I have been making for years, and as a preservation activist, it gives me and everyone in the movement the ammunition we need to demonstrate that old buildings are green."

Historic Buildings May Be Greener Than You ThinkNew York Times Green Blog

"In New York City, a conflict has long been perceived between historic preservation and urban sustainability goals. Older buildings are often seen as outdated energy hogs that can’t pull their weight, efficiency-wise, in a city that is expected to add a million new residents by 2030."

LEED From Behind: Why we should focus on greening existing buildingsTIME blog

"A study by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows building reuse almost always has fewer environmental impacts than new construction—which means we’d be smart to spend at least as much time renovating existing buildings as we do lionizing fancy new green construction."

Why Historic Buildings are Greener Than LEED-Certified New OnesGOOD

"Though the conclusion may seem counterintuitive in an age of ambitious LEED standards in many new buildings, consider that it uses more energy and creates more impact to construct an entirely new building than to fix up one of the same size for the same purpose."

For more, see articles featured in Environmental LeaderJetson GreenBuilding Design and ConstructionGreenbangArchDaily, BuildingGreen, American Public Media, and Daily Journal of Commerce (PDF).

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Round-Up: Going to Graceland Edition

Posted on: February 6th, 2012 by David Garber


Elvis' house, seen from the back yard. (Photo: Flickr user Thomas Hawk)

While Graceland Booms, Other Historic Homes Rot - National Public Radio

"Americans have always sought architectural brushes with greatness. The nation's first president spent the night at so many inns and private houses that signs advertising "George Washington slept here" were regular roadside attractions even during his lifetime. But only a few homes of celebrated figures, such as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and Elvis Presley's Graceland, have become sites that people go out of their way to visit. Most such places have been torn down, or fall into neglect and disrepair."

Is landmarking a shield or a sword in the fight against overdevelopment? - Architectural Record

"Among urbanists in America, the advent of landmark-preservation laws in the 1960s is usually viewed as an inspiring time in urban planning: Concerned communities, academics, and fans of architecture banded together to protect beloved old buildings from the grand plans of rich developers and powerful politicians. And, remarkably enough, the Davids usually defeated the Goliaths. But have they acquired too much power?"

In Detail > The Banner Building - The Architect's Newspaper

"The structure’s cast iron face - both its decorative elements, many of which had fallen off over the years, as well as its structural supports and bracing - was severely corroded. The condition was even worse on the top two floors, an 1898 addition that featured sheet metal decorative elements, which had deteriorated to the point that, in places, a person could press their fingers through them."

Historic Church With Tiffany Stained Glass Transformed into Beautiful Concert Hall - Inhabitat

"An abandoned Romanesque Revival heritage church in Montreal has been transformed into the beautiful Bourgie Concert Hall. When the historic church adjacent to Montreal’s Museum of Fine Art came up for sale, the museum decided to preserve the architectural culture of the area and bought the building as part of an extensive museum expansion. The adaptive reuse project has not only maintained the church’s façade, but also the 18 rare Tiffany glass stained windows that adorn each side of the building."

Communities Learn the Good Life Can Be a Killer -The New York Times

"Developers in the last half-century called it progress when they built homes and shopping malls far from city centers throughout the country, sounding the death knell for many downtowns. But now an alarmed cadre of public health experts say these expanded metropolitan areas have had a far more serious impact on the people who live there by creating vehicle-dependent environments that foster obesity, poor health, social isolation, excessive stress and depression."

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Preservation Round-Up: Opportunities, Not Obstacles Edition

Posted on: January 30th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment


In Seattle, a Ross department store takes space in a 1940 Woolworth's. (Photo: Flickr user lumierefl)

Seattle's old buildings: Opportunities, not obstacles - The Seattle Times

"In the historic-preservation community, we are frequently trying to get the word out that as cities evolve and push for sustainability, they should acknowledge the value of maintaining and upgrading old buildings that too often are seen as obstacles rather than opportunities. Reusing these old buildings is actually one of the best ways to improve the environment. It's much greener than building green from scratch. And, it can make good business sense."

A Guide to 16 of the Most Classic Types of LA Houses - Curbed LA

"In its February issue, Los Angeles magazine runs through 26 "classic" LA things (in alphabetical order), with entries for Cobb Salad, the Figueroa Street tunnels, the Rainbow bar, terrazzo sidewalks, Vin Scully, yoga, and more. "A," of course, is for all the awesome architecture, and the magazine put together this handy guide to 16 classic examples of LA houses."

Imploding the Pruitt-Igoe Myth - Architectural Record

"Accepted wisdom will have us believe St. Louis' infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing development was destined for failure. ... In the popular narrative, bad public policy, bad architecture, and bad people doomed Pruitt-Igoe, and it became an emblem of failed social welfare projects across the country. But director Chad Freidrichs challenges that convenient and oversimplified assessment in his documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth."

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History – Film Trailer from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

Cubs' plan for bleacher patio gets qualified thumbs up from landmarks staff - Chicago Tribune

"The Chicago Cubs' latest plan for tweaking historic Wrigley Field is getting a green light - with some conditions - from the staff of the city's landmarks commission. The plan, which calls for building a patio in the right field bleachers and installing a 75-foot-wide, changing image LED sign on a section of the bleachers, "will not have an adverse effect on the significant historical and architectural features of the landmark," a staff recommendation says."

Historic Admiral’s Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be leveled for supermarket - NY Daily News

Work is set to begin Monday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Admiral’s Row now that the city has finally wrested control of the site from the feds. City officials plan to tear down nine of the historic but crumbling naval residences and keep two - one of the original houses known as Building B and a Timber Shed, which was used to store ships’ masts and is the last of its kind in the country."

Miami Herald building is historic on all counts - The Miami Herald

"When it comes to making the case for the historic preservation of The Miami Herald building, it doesn’t matter whether you like or hate the newspaper, or whether you like or dislike the look of the Miami Modern architecture of the building."

 David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Preservation Green Lab Releases New Report on the Environmental Value of Building Reuse

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


For a long time we’ve known that preservation helps create quality communities that are character-rich, vibrant, and dynamic places in which to live, work and play.  And there’s also been lots of good news over the years about the economic value that preservation brings – especially in tough economic times.  But today, with the Preservation Green Lab’s release of The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, we have the most comprehensive research to date showing preservation is good for the environment too. The findings from this study offer additional compelling evidence that preservation makes sense for communities.

Each year, approximately 1 billion square feet of buildings are demolished. The Greenest Building explores the environmental impacts associated with the decision to demolish and replace existing buildings – and especially the carbon dioxide savings that might be offered by reusing and retrofitting these places instead of demolishing them. With generous funding from The Summit Foundation, this effort brought together a team of leading thinkers with unparalleled expertise in building and life cycle science.  The study team included Cascadia Green Building Council, Green Building Services, Quantis, and Skanska.

Using life cycle assessment, an internationally recognized approach to evaluating the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their respective life cycles, this study compares the reuse of existing buildings to demolition and new construction.  Six different building types are examined: single family; multifamily; commercial office; mixed-use (main street style); elementary school, and warehouses converted to multifamily and commercial buildings.

Notable study findings include:

  • Building reuse typically yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing buildings of similar size, functionality and energy efficiency.  This result was found to be true irrespective of climate – though differences in climate can affect the extent of savings
  • The absolute carbon-related impact reductions can be substantial when these results are scaled across the building stock of a city.  Consider this example: In Portland, Oregon retrofitting just one percent of the city’s office buildings and single family homes that would otherwise be demolished and rebuilt over the next ten years would help to meet 15 percent of the entire county’s total CO2 reduction targets.
  • The study also explores how the reuse of an average performing existing building would stack up against a new, efficient building; it’s often assumed that a new, green building will rapidly compensate for any climate change impacts that occur during the construction process. The Greenest Building analysis finds that it can take 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to compensate, through efficient operations, for the climate change impacts created by its construction.  The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to overcome the initial carbon impacts from construction.
  • The design of buildings matters. Those buildings that tend to use the fewest materials will have the most significant environmental savings – and in fact renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.  It’s important to make sure buildings (whether new or existing) are designed to minimize material inputs -- and to make sure designers have the tools needed to select materials with the best environmental profile.

The bottom line:  As preservationists, the work we do to save buildings makes sense for our communities, our pocket books and our environment!  For more information on The Greenest Building, download the full report or see our report webpage.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Round-Up: Building Disneyland Edition

Posted on: January 23rd, 2012 by David Garber


Sleeping Beauty's castle, c. 1955. (Photo: Flickr user Tom Simpson)

Construction of Disneyland - Retronaut

This great photo set from Flickr user Tom Simpson shows what Disneyland looked like in 1955 while still under construction. Less costumed characters, more scaffolding.

Bridging the Gap Between Historic Preservation and Sustainability - Eco-Structure

"In the not-too-distant past, the impetus for historic preservation was simple: Prevent old buildings from being torn down so that future generations could experience them. Preservationists were accused of keeping buildings frozen in time, and their mission was often misconstrued as being at odds with that of the budding green-building movement, which championed new and energy-saving technologies. This isn’t the case today."

Purple? Pink? Yellow? Painting your old house. - Old House Web

"You’ve polished those old hardwood floors, painstakingly restored the original windows and scoured antique shops for the perfect furnishings. Your old house might be as historically accurate as you can make it on the inside, but what about the outside?"

[Editor's note: Can't say we agree with the statement that "in many cases even historic commissions are giving the enthusiastic go-ahead for vinyl siding use," the rest of the article is a good resource.]

Uncanny Valley: The Real Reason There Are No Skyscrapers in the Middle of Manhattan - The New York Observer

"It has long been believed that New Yorkers could thank God for their unusual agglomeration of buildings (or, for those on the Upper West Side not believing in His good work, eons of geological development). It turns out that Manhattan has a bedrock unusually suited to the construction of very tall buildings, in many cases just a few meters below the surface. But that solid land drops away in the gooey middle of the island, long limiting the heights of buildings in the city."

Historic churches near Cleveland Clinic campus at center of debate over preservation, land-banking -

"The Euclid Avenue Church of God and the Church of the Transfiguration sit empty on Cleveland's former Millionaires' Row, remnants of a heyday when mansions marched east from downtown. Their congregations have fled. And historic preservationists fear that both churches will disappear, swallowed up by the Cleveland Clinic's appetite for land."

Group wants to survey Pittsylvania's old tobacco barns - Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Tobacco barns are probably the most prominent symbol of the process of growing, curing and harvesting tobacco. Information on the barns will be compiled and used to eventually seek their inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register."

5 Questions with  Joe Siry on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Religious Architecture - Wesleyan University

"We ask 5 Questions of Joseph Siry, chair and professor of art and art history. Professor Siry teaches classes about modern and American architectural and urban history. His book, Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture, was published by the University of Chicago Press in December 2011."

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He wonders when Disneyland will itself become a historic landmark.

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.

Preservation Round-Up: Beverly Hills Gets Preservationy Edition

Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by David Garber


After a few recent demolitions and threats, Beverly Hills is now upping preservation requirements for old homes. Super fancy cars not yet included. (Photo: Flickr user VOD Cars)

Beverly Hills takes steps to preserve architectural treasures - Los Angeles Times

"Responding to the demolition of such local icons as the Friars Club, Pickfair and John Lautner's Shusett House, the city of Beverly Hills has adopted a historic preservation ordinance that seeks to protect noteworthy structures. Prompted in part by an aborted plan to raze Richard Neutra's Kronish House, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve new rules for demolishing or altering structures at least 45 years old and designed by a city-recognized architect."

Conserving Donald Judd at the Philip Johnson Glass House - Core77

"The installation is a concrete ring, and in approaching the Glass House from the entrance road, it is the first element in Johnson's "asymmetric sliding planes" and circles that one encounters. ... In early 2011, Glass House curator Irene Shum Allen began working with a team at Integrated Conservation Resources, based in New York, to conserve the Donald Judd work, which had been ravaged by moisture, dirt, cracks and even was serving as home to chipmunks in a large crack."

No Closure for Denver’s Beltway Loop - The New York Times

"For decades, this has been the community that said no, arguing through courts and politics and whatever other means available that a multilane ring road circling Denver — the kind built around cities all across America starting in the 1950s and ’60s — would spell disaster. Most of Denver’s belt-loop would cruise through open prairie land; here it would cleave the narrow Golden Valley and shatter the community, residents and their leaders said in what became a mantra."

Those '50s ranch homes are finallly getting some architectural respect - American Planning Association

"The ranch houses where baby boomers grew up, and the 1950s and '60s fast-food joints that the boomers frequented, are finally getting some respect. More and more, the buildings of the era are being perceived as historical structures worthy of national attention and preservation."

Preserving the Past: 10 Great Historic Preservation Projects - Urban Land

"All completed in the past five years, the following ten projects—which are listed alphabetically, not in any rank order—bring back valuable community resources from decline and neglect. Some crumbled slowly over the course of long vacancies as cities sought ways to pay for necessary seismic strengthening and repairs. Some endured early remodeling attempts that hid or destroyed ornamental details, and some were devastated by earthquake or fire, or both. Some simply suffered from dwindling use as tenant needs changed."

Preservationists defend endangered Belleview Biltmore - Tampa Bay Times

"Five days after the owners of the Belleview Biltmore filed a request to raze most of the 115-year-old hotel, a national nonprofit is urging town leaders to deny that request. "I understand the frustration when it takes longer than anticipated to find a preservation solution for a building, but the answer is not demolishing the building for the promise of something 'better' that in many cases is never built," wrote John Hildreth, a vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation."

SC Supreme Court to hear Charleston cruise case - CBS Money Watch

"The South Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to hear complaints brought by local residents, preservationists and an environmental group over Charleston's expanded cruise industry. A lawsuit filed last year against Carnival Cruise Lines alleges, among other things, that the company's vessels are a public nuisance in this historic city, that they amount to illegal hotel operations and that the liner's signature red, white and blue smokestacks violate city sign ordinances."

Save Ellis Island - National Park Service

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Although happily carless, he wouldn't hate driving the above vehicle.

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.