Rehab Solutions for Aging Moderns

Posted on: October 25th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Today, Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is reporting on one of yesterday’s educational sessions.

Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site.

Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site.

We developed an Education Session at the National Preservation Conference specifically to address the intersection between the National Trust’s Sustainability Initiative and its Modernism + Recent Past Initiative. Held on Wednesday morning in Tulsa, “Rehab Solutions for Aging Moderns”, featured case studies on some of the most iconic modern heritage in America. William Dupont, AIA, San Antonio Conservation Society professor and the former Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust discussed the philosophical approaches developed to guide the interpretation and preservation work at two of the National Trust’s modern sites – Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois and Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. David Fixler, FAIA, LEED AP, design & preservation principal at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architects & Engineers, discussed intriguing approaches to rehabbing the curtain wall for the IUOE headquarters in Washington, DC and some innovative lighting techniques at Hilles Library at Harvard. And Raymond Pepi, president of New York City-based Building Conservation Associates (BCA), discussed the complex details of rehabilitating the Saarinen-designed curtain wall of buildings at GM’s testing center in Warren, Michigan.

Background on the Initiatives – Why They Matter

The goal of the Trust’s Modernism + Recent Past Initiative is to unite emerging popular interest in preserving the recent past with proper preservation practices through the promotion of continued use and sensitive rehabilitation of these structures. And our Sustainability Initiative promotes the reuse of buildings, the reinvestment in older and historic buildings, the greening of the existing building stock and the respect of historic integrity as the means to addressing climate change. The major intersection between these two initiatives is one of the greatest challenges we face – according to a 2003 Department of Energy report, 55% of America’s commercial building stock was built between 1945 and 1990. And the most inefficient buildings are those built during this same period. Given that almost 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the US come from the operations and construction of buildings, the only way we are going to make a demonstrable impact to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through the greening of our modern heritage – most of which are not stellar icons like those discussed in this session.

Some Design Ideas That Might Just Help

Glass Houses of the National Trust

Philip Johnson's Glass House, a National Trust Historic Site.

Philip Johnson's Glass House, a National Trust Historic Site.

Bill Dupont set the stage for the later case studies by discussing the conflicts inherent in developing a conservation philosophy for buildings from the modern era:

Are they different from our traditional buildings and do they deserve a more nuanced approach? A resounding yes -- from both the previous and current Graham Gund Architects!

Are these icons of 20th century International Style architecture treated differently from other types of historic buildings? Yes, they don’t age like other buildings. They don’t look good with patina. Yet patina proves that they were used, meaning people lived in these homes.

Do they have special problems other buildings do not have? Assemblies, details and use of materials tend to be unproven, at least at the time they were built. These structures were created almost in the manner of a prototype; in the automotive world they use the term concept car, and the manufacturer hand builds one to see how it will look and run. Plus, these experimental materials were often hazardous – like plate glass which is a serious life safety hazard.

How flexible are Modernist Buildings for rehabilitation to serve new uses? Many are not so flexible, the designs are quite tight and thus do not do well with even slight visual changes. There is no place to conceal improvements. Change of use is problematic and thus a threat to survival of this architectural type.

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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.

The Tall, the Ornate, and the Sacred: Strolling Through Downtown Tulsa

Posted on: October 24th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Earlier today, Arnold Berke, executive editor of Preservation magazine, joined in a walking tour of downtown Tulsa.

Admiring the details of the Oklahoma Natural Gas Building.

Admiring the details of the Oklahoma Natural Gas Building.

Oil lubricated the way for Tulsa to become the world capital of black gold, and as fresh money sloshed into the city, the urge to show it off became impossible to deny. One happy result: the trophy buildings that sprouted downtown during the 1920s, raised by new tycoons to proclaim their muscle (and that of the city). Skyscrapers and their attendant structures—hotels, stores, civic buildings, churches—make any downtown delightful, and Tulsa built its share, as we learned on today’s downtown walking tour.

Tour leader Marilyn Inhofe-Tucker schlepped a dozen of us through the grid, imparting the richness of its heritage. She was energetic, enthusiastic, and above all, knowledgeable. We began at Holy Family Cathedral, a Gothic structure built in 1914 before the commercial temples to Mammon rose nearby. It’s the oldest standing of a group of churches at downtown’s edge. “One thing that’s helped keep downtown alive is the churches,” said Inhofe-Tucker, “which still have incredibly active congregations.”

Another downtown deco gem.

Another downtown deco gem.

Art deco, of course, decorated most of the tour, starting with the Oklahoma Natural Gas Building, the sort of place folks would trek to to pay their gas bills not so many decades ago. Like most of Tulsa deco palaces, aside from the over-the-top exterior frippery, the star is the lobby, and especially the elevator doorways and doors—confections of zig-zag, as first-period deco is known in this town. This medium-rise building, ripe for rebirth as either condos or flats, is one of three utility company headquarters that added their ornate designs to the skyline. So it wasn’t all financier-financed towers.

Nor was it all deco. To wit, the 1916 high school (Tulsa Central), a sober academic pile (English-y with red brick with sturdy stone embellishments) now filled with offices. And Trinity Episcopal Church, which the famous Bertram Goodhue helped design. Among its stranger doo-dads is Adolf Hitler’s face glowering in one of the stained-glass windows (“representing the personification of evil,” explained Inhofe-Tucker).

Nearby stands a major deco contender in peril, or perhaps death throes—the old Tulsa Club Building, a gem by Bruce Goff that has stood empty and decaying for far too long, its extra-height club space on the top floor, now only viewable in old photos, awaiting the touch of someone clever (two floors of flats? a super loft? a restaurant?). Forget it for the time being, though, since the owner isn’t interested in selling.

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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.

Breaktime in Tulsa: Exhibit Hall Offers Treats, Information

Posted on: October 24th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Earlier today, Alison Hinchman, web technology manager, took a break from working in the Forum booth to go in search of goodies in the exhibit hall. Here is what she found:

The Exhibit Hall at the National Preservation Conference.

The Exhibit Hall at the National Preservation Conference.

Tulsa is the 14th National Preservation Conference for me. No matter what my job, I always seem to end up spending a lot of the conference staffing a booth in the exhibit hall. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that you gotta find out where to cool freebies are. Those of us who staff the booths form an underground network, letting each other know who has the cool pen and who is giving away food.

Food, preferably candy, is key if you want to lure folks over to talk to you and to keep your own energy up. The Center for Preservation Leadership specializes in dark chocolate because it's our favorite. This year, it's dark chocolate Hershey kisses. The Spokane CVB is giving away melt-in-your mouth peanut brittle. The Brown Mansion has peppermints and Aerial Data Service has gum -- both are handy if you had a garlicky lunch and don't want to offend your neighbor on the field tour. I even saw a basket of apples in one booth. If you want to take home a taste of regional food, Bryant Pecan Company and Arkansas Delta-Made are selling their products. I am particularly intrigued by the BBQ gift box -- perfect for tailgating.

This year there are a couple other booths selling cool stuff. Both the Route 66 and Vintage Roadside folks are selling great t-shirts. It's worth stopping just to take a look at the designs. There is also Frankoma Pottery and the preservation bookstore. Goaltrac is raffling off an iPod and the Cherokee Nation has a gift basket of Cherokee handicrafts. I haven't had a chance to peruse the Preservation Action silent auction but that's sure to have an item or two to pique your interest.

The must-have item is the portfolio from National Trust Forum. I might be biased on that. Don't miss the cow shaped flashlight at the National Barn Alliance; it moos. And the Department of Defense booth has temporary tattoos. Of course there are also to requisite pens and post-it pads and pins. Really who needs to airport gift shop when you have the exhibit hall? You might even learn something about historic preservation or a new product. (There are lots of product demonstrations going on.)

Now I'm off in search of the booth giving out fudge samples.

-- Alison Hinchman

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.

Video: Charles Stevens Dilbeck – The Tulsa Homes

Posted on: October 24th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. James H. Schwartz, editor of Preservation magazine and Matt Ringelstetter, web team coordinator, provide this look at a field session.

Ever heard of Charles Stevens Dilbeck? Neither had I, but after a tour of more than 20 Tulsa homes designed by this accomplished residential architect, I know what I've been missing.

Dilbeck, who grew up in Oklahoma, is responsible for some of the warmest, most welcoming, and charming homes and cottages in this city.

After admiring just a few Dilbeck houses, the hallmarks of his style become clear: bold chimneys, textured clinker brick facades, eye-catching leaded windows, and romantic facades that seem part Old Europe and part Hansel and Gretel.

Dilbeck houses from the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and '50s look grand inside as well, with finely carved doorways and ceiling beams -- plus some fabulous fireplaces with carved stone hearths.

It's easy to understand why those fortunate enough to live in Dilbeck residences cherish them so. As one homeowner told me, "I think of my house as a grand old gal... after nearly 100 years she's standing strong, and I feel as if she enhances my life every single time I walk through the door."

-- James Schwartz

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.

Combining Sustainability with Historic Conservation: the English Experience

Posted on: October 24th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Today, Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is reporting on one of yesterday's educational sessions.

John Fidler (Simpson Gumperz Heger), Sarah Staniforth (The National Trust) and Chris Woods (English Heritage) in Tulsa Wednesday morning.

John Fidler (Simpson Gumpertz Heger), Sarah Staniforth (The National Trust) and Chris Woods (English Heritage) in Tulsa Wednesday morning.

Three conservation leaders from the United Kingdom presented the “English Sustainability Experience” to a packed room in Tulsa Wednesday morning. John Fidler, formerly of English Heritage and now a principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger in Los Angles, developed and moderated a session with his former colleague Chris Woods, director of buildings at English Heritage and Sarah Saniforth, historic properties director, at the National Trust. Sarah discussed the impact that climate change is having on their historic properties, while Chris presented their current sustainability research including some much needed research on the energy efficiency of windows.

John started the session by posing the question: In trying to reduce carbon emissions, what if well-meaning changes threaten to endanger our environment? He believes that some of the metrics being used to evaluate sustainable design have not been properly clarified and agreed to, leading to differences in the perception of values. Indeed, efforts to define social sustainability values and economic sustainability could even further negatively impact our heritage. Decades of neglect and little investment leads to slum clearance and wholesale redevelopment, while whole life costing tied to embodied carbon modeling has been using carbon calculations (15-20 years) assigned by bankers and investors that are likely less than the true value of our material culture. In terms of ecological sustainability, models suggest that melting ice caps will cause a breach of the Thames and catastrophic flooding of London.

Sustainability & Climate Change: Impacts, Mitigation & Adaptation

The National Trust (for England, Wales & North Ireland) has a mission statement which begins “Conservation is the careful management of change.” While their motto may be “For ever, for Everyone”, in our current climate, how long can we reasonably expect to be looking after things? The National Trust has been measuring the impact of climate change to their properties (over 50,000 built structures!) for years now and their methodology will indeed help me formulate the approach to measuring the impacts to our own historic sites in the US.

A view over the lake at Stourhead to the Pantheon which is framed in autumn foliage. This bucolic view is often changed by the growth of algal blooms which is managed by dropping barley bales into the water. (Copyright NTPL/Nick Meers)

A view over the lake at Stourhead to the Pantheon which is framed in autumn foliage. This bucolic view is often changed by the growth of algal blooms which is managed by dropping barley bales into the water. (Copyright NTPL/Nick Meers)

In England, they are specifically identifying impacts to their properties from warmer temperatures, drought, coastal erosion, storms, flash floods and heavy rainfall. At Stourhead in Wiltshire, for example, a very wet summer followed by a crisp, frosty winter led to a “soup of green algae” in their bucolic lake. It should be noted though that it wasn’t climate change alone that caused this algal bloom. The nitrogen run-off from synthetic fertilizers used in the region combined with the unusual rainfall have presented the perfect conditions for the algae growth – a sort of one/two whammy from human impact. One of the most arresting images, was the slide of historic cottages dropping off the side of cliffs in Cornwall as coastal erosion overwhelms the coastline. Again and again, Sarah showed devastation at their properties which may have been caused by increased rainfall but was often exacerbated by irresponsible land use.

The National Trust is taking direct action to mitigate these impacts, wherever it is reasonably possible. These efforts include:

  1. Reduce emissions of greenhouse gases: Changing to low energy lightbulbs including the ubiquitous CFLs. But they’ve gone one step further by working directly with light bulb manufacturers to develop new low energy bulbs for their historic fixtures.
  2. Improve energy efficiency of their buildings: Here, because of their massive landholdings, they are actually able to use their own sheep to produce thermafleece for insulation, for example.
  3. Reduce carbon footprint: They are evaluating their fuel sources, changing to more efficient boilers (often developed by German companies) and avoiding the use of electricity from non-renewable resources.
  4. Generate energy on site: They have begun using thermal and photovoltaics at many of their sites including directly on the roofs of some of the Grade 2 listed buildings. And on support buildings of lesser importance at some of their sites, they have begun installing the PV slates.
  5. Reduce embodied energy: In an effort that Sarah calls “slow conservation” (which she compared to the “slow” food movement) they are looking to building new construction in ways more sympathetic to the environment.

In order to adapt to these climate induced changes, the National Trust is looking at short, medium and long term adaptations such as installing larger gutters, going back to traditional practices (these were often done for good reason) and most importantly, managing properties better with cyclical maintenance programs.

Resolving the Conflict Between Energy and Building Conservation

Chris Woods discussed the efforts that English Heritage is undertaking to challenge the assumption that older buildings are inherently energy inefficient. As quoted from their website,

Traditional buildings can often perform extremely well in energy tests. Thick walls and relatively small windows give a high thermal mass, which means they stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer than many modern houses. This is true even of the most unexpected buildings: for example experiments have shown that 16th-century half-timbered houses can sometimes out-perform modern buildings. Older terraces are usually easier to keep warm than detached houses, simply because they have fewer walls through which to lose heat.

Buildings account for 46% of carbon emissions in England, a percentage on par with that in the US. Their basic precept is that we must change human behavior and think holistically when evaluating the energy use of our buildings. Don’t just assume the energy loss is primarily from the windows, look at all the features of a building to determine the actual impact. English Heritage is just completing a comprehensive window study whose results have not yet been released but like many of the smaller studies in the US and our own anecdotal beliefs, it appears that this study will confirm in some respects that the older windows constructed of traditional, maintainable materials and assemblies can be as efficient if not more efficient than newer high performance ones. This is a study that we at the US National Trust are eagerly awaiting and will help us in framing the approach of our own window study which we are undertaking with Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in California.

The UK websites

Both English Heritage and the National Trust have terrific websites detailing the impact of climate change and offering many mitigation tips. English Heritage: www.climatechangeandyourhome.org.uk/live/homepage.aspx

The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) has sections on both climate change and environmental practices. I urge you to peruse these sites to help you in thinking how to change your behavior.

-- Barbara Campagna

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.