‘Next design challenge: Reusing the mundane'

September 13, 2010

Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, is a principal at Goody Clancy, a Boston-based design and planning firm, where her clients include Harvard University and the General Services Administration. She is currently working on the renovation of over 50 historic buildings at St. Elizabeths West Campus in Washington, D.C., for a new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security.  A member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Sustainability Coalition, Carroon helped develop the 2009 Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation. She holds BA and MArch degrees from the University of Oregon. Her new book, Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings (John Wiley & Sons), will be released in November at Greenbuild.

BD+C: Is there an inherent tension between historic preservation and sustainable development?

Jean Carroon: That whole conversation is a distraction. We desperately need to shift our culture from consumption to stewardship. I don't understand why these two communities aren't more aligned to create policies and incentives that make stewardship and long service life the norm. Buildings are our biggest objects: Why do we so blandly throw them away?

The historic preservation community has to be more flexible and the green building community has to get off its hyperfocus on energy use per square foot and consider factors like people per square foot, the volume of material use and replacement, and whether a facility is well managed. I still think it's better to take existing buildings, reduce their energy use by doing the least with the most, and extend service life.

BD+C: How can that be done?

JC: I'd like to see a "maintenance tax credit" for building owners and homeowners to be rewarded for taking care of their properties. That would be a major shift in the way our economy works. Renovation creates more jobs per dollar than new construction and keeps local people employed, but in the current system new is often cheaper because the price of a product doesn't include the environmental cost.

The carbon footprint of new construction is huge, but we're not taking that into consideration. An extraordinary amount of materials-49% of all resources used in the U.S.-goes into new construction. The EPA says that new construction is responsible for more toxic releases to humans than any other sector. Better use of existing buildings reduces this impact.

BD+C: In your book, you say that the terms "sustainable design" and "sustainable development" should not be used interchangeably. What is the difference?

JC: Sustainable development represents the bigger picture. Too often when architects talk about sustainable design we only address environment, and not the triple bottom line-political, social, environmental, which is sometimes rephrased as people, profit, planet. With sustainable development, we're looking at many more things-a sense of place, story making, awareness of history, economic cycles.

BD+C: Where does LEED fit into that discussion?

JC: In my opinion, the most valuable LEED program is LEED-EB [Existing Buildings: O&M]. Greening is a cyclical process. You don't green a project and then walk away from it. LEED-EB also allows you to change as technology changes. However, I think durability and repairability are issues that sustainability has not addressed, and aren't as celebrated within LEED as some, including myself, would like.

BD+C: In your research, did you find examples that stood out in terms of linking preservation and sustainability?

JC: Yes. Dubuque, Iowa. They've really tied their development to the restoration of their historic fabric and brought industry in to reuse their older buildings. They're a poster child for cities with empty older buildings.

At the individual landlord level, the GSA is a good model. They are very good stewards of their heritage buildings and have a strong commitment to environmental stewardship.

BOMA is really key. For large-scale landlords and managers who are getting the idea, it's a no-brainer-the payback can be really amazing. The renovation of the Empire State Building is a great case study of this.

It's the smaller property owners that we have to find the incentives for, perhaps by clustering groups of buildings. In Seattle, where the National Trust has its Preservation Green Lab (http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability/green-lab), they're trying to do that on a neighborhood basis.

BD+C: What's ahead for historic preservation and green building?

JC: I think the next 10 years are going to be really exciting. A whole new wave of products is becoming available-plumbing fixtures that use less water, cooling towers that reuse condensate. We're looking at technology shifts in design and documentation tools.

How we reuse existing buildings is a design challenge that's incredibly exciting. We've got to change our thinking so that we always ask: Why are we taking that building down?

For the next 10 years it's going to be about existing buildings and energy management. Some of the most interesting solutions I've seen are ones where people have taken mundane buildings and made them amazing. The creative reuse of the mundane will be the design opportunity of the next decade.


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