The Greenest Building is the One Already Standing


Lloyd Alter

Many small towns are experiencing a comeback these days; a combination of aging boomers and the green movement, combined with technology that lets people work just about anywhere make them a viable alternative to urban and suburban life. Sami has written extensively in TreeHugger about the Transition Town movement, where people are looking for resilient communities that can survive in a crisis. Smaller cities also have character, walkable main streets, apartments above shops that could be attractive to relocating urbanites.

Then there are towns like Brantford, Ontario, that think old buildings are impediments to progress, and are planning to tear down 41 of them, city blocks worth of them, to make way for....nothing. I was there last night, to march with about 60 citizens in protest.


Mashup by John Williamson

Many communities have not figured out that the world has changed, that blowing away the old is out of fashion. They certainly haven't in Brantford; in case any of them might read TreeHugger, I am rounding up a few of the posts we have written about the subject. (full disclosure: I volunteer at a heritage org in my spare time)

The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall

Mouzon image

One of the best popular writers on the Preservation is Green beat is Steve Mouzon, who does a great job of explaining why old buildings worked so well:

Originally, before the Thermostat Age, the places we built had no choice but to be green, otherwise people would freeze to death in the winter, die of heat strokes by summer, or other really bad things would happen to them.

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Steve Mouzon on Learning from Old Buildings

Mouzon photo

Lloyd Alter

Mouzon stresses the importance of community and quality over green gizmos.

This notion that we can simply invent more efficient mechanisms, and throw in some bamboo to boot, is only a small part of real sustainability. First, we must build sustainable places, because it does not matter what the carbon footprint of a building is if you have to drive everywhere in order to live there.

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Richard Moe Has a Tough Row to Hoe

Richard Moe image

Another person they should invite to Brantford is Richard Moe, the retiring President of the American National Trust For Heritage Preservation. He notes that our future may rest on the reliance on four principles:

Principle #1: Promote a culture of reuse

The retention and reuse of older buildings is an effective tool for the responsible, sustainable stewardship of our environmental resources - including those that have already been expended. I'm talking about "embodied energy."

Principle #2: Reinvest at a Community Scale
Principle #3: Value the Lessons of Heritage Buildings and Communities
Principle #4: Make Use of the Economic Advantages of Reuse, Reinvestment and Retrofits
Here's the basic message: Dollar for dollar, rehabilitation creates more jobs than new construction

Principle #5: Re-imagine Historic Preservation Policies and Practices as
They Relate to Sustainability
Principle #6: Take Immediate and Decisive Action

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Quote of the Day: Richard Moe on "This Old Wasteful House"

richard moe greenbuild image

Moe is full of good advice, and reasons to save old buildings:

Before demolishing an old building to make way for a new one, consider the amount of energy required to manufacture, transport and assemble the pieces of that building. With the destruction of the building, all that energy is utterly wasted. Then think about the additional energy required for the demolition itself, not to mention for new construction. Preserving a building is the ultimate act of recycling.

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Renovation Uses Twice As Much Labor, Half as Much Material as New Construction

lister block prior to renovation

Then there is Donovan Rypkema, who should be talking to the Federal Government that gave $ 1.38 Million to Brantford as "stimulus" funds- to knock down 41 buildings, which takes a couple of guys with a backhoe about a week. Rypkema points out that new construction is about 50-50 labour and materials, whereas restoration and renovation can be as much as 75% labour- for every dollar spent you get twice as much local employment, and use about half the resources.

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Donovan Rypkema: LEED stands for "Lunatic Environmentalists Enthusiastically Demolishing"

donovan rypkema

Rypkema gets particularly worked up about the removal of old buildings to build new with the excuse that they are more energy efficient. His five key points:

1. Sustainable development is crucial for economic competitiveness.
2. Sustainable development has more elements than just environmental responsibility.
3. "Green buildings" and sustainable development are not synonyms.
4. Historic preservation is, in and of itself, sustainable development.
5. Development without a historic preservation component is not sustainable.

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"Passive" Heating and Cooling Is a Misnomer. It's Active.

carl elefante

Carl Elefante, who coined the phrase "The greenest building is the one already standing" points out how well old buildings can work, if we listen to their lessons.

Quite frequently, with the preservation of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century buildings, we endeavor to retain or restore their original function as well as fabric...

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More: Diane Keaton on Old Buildings

The Greenest Building is the One Already Standing
Many small towns are experiencing a comeback these days; a combination of aging boomers and the green movement, combined with technology that lets people work just about anywhere make them a viable alternative to urban and suburban life.

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