Over at sister site MNN.com, Josh Lew has a slideshow of 8 wonderful historic buildings that have been renovated and upgraded to LEED standards. He writes:
...while the foundations of most historic buildings were laid long before the green construction boom, many of these structures are not the energy-sucking venues that you might expect. In fact, thanks to well-planned renovations, some century-old skyscrapers are among the greenest buildings on the planet.
Few of these buildings have been shown on TreeHugger; they are all the kind of high-profile buildings that don't keep historic preservationists awake at night. Nor were any of them "energy-sucking venues" compared to younger buildings; as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has noted,
It's often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs — but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones. When the General Services Administration examined its nationwide buildings inventory in 1999, it found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings. In fact, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy- efficient than those put up between 1920 and 2000.
All of these buildings were designed before air conditioning and were heated by coal, which is heavy and awkward to use. So they were designed to be frugal and to stay cool. The trust explains:
Many older buildings have thick, solid walls, resulting in greater thermal mass and reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. Buildings designed before the widespread use of electricity feature transoms, high ceilings, and big, operable windows for natural light and ventilation, as well as shaded porches, overhanging eaves and other features to reduce solar gain. Architects and builders used careful siting and landscaping as tools for maximizing sun exposure during the winter months and minimizing it during warmer months.
It is obviously important that these buildings get so beautifully renovated and upgraded with 21st century green tricks. However it is probably more important for architects to learn the old green tricks from these buildings and apply them to new ones.