Sustainability and Historic Preservation Come Together

Event: Save History, Save the Earth: Commonalities and Conflicts between Preservation and Sustainability
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.15.09
Speakers: Chris Benedict — Professor, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning & the Environment; Fiona Cousins, LEED AP — Principal, ARUP; Scott Demel, LEED AP — Associate, Rogers Marvel Architects; Ned Kaufman — Co-founder & Co-director, Place Matters
Moderator: Erica Amravi — Preservation Consultant
Organizers: AIA Historic Buildings Committee, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

McCarren Park Pool, in its current state.

Courtesy Google Earth.

Historic preservation advocates and sustainability practitioners are natural collaborators, and the conservation of our natural resources as well as the conservation of our historic structures are mutually inclusive. Two architects, a researcher, and an engineer discussed the common ground and differing perspectives.

The reuse and renovation of an existing building is inherently more sustainable than new construction because of the building’s embodied energy. It takes 65 years for even a new “green” building to recover the energy wasted in the demolition of an existing structure. Sustainability expert Fiona Cousins, LEED AP, principal at Arup, encouraged designers to carefully weigh a building’s lifespan before making the decision to either demolish or renovate it.

Author, heritage conservation specialist, and co-founder of Place Matters, Ned Kaufman argued that buildings play a large role in a community’s historic and cultural identity, and that we must consider the protection of both this and our natural environments equally. The McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn was provided as one such example — built in 1936 and closed to the public in 1984, it was sized to provide summer recreation for up to 6,000 bathers. Scott Demel, LEED AP, of Rogers Marvel Architects is leading the pool’s renovation into a year-round community center. He expects the project will receive LEED Silver certification.

Architect Chris Benedict provided several examples of tenement buildings in the East Village that had been rehabilitated to decrease energy expenditure. By installing tight air barriers and appropriate insulation, as well as calibrating water management systems, she proved that a century-old structure can be as efficient as a new building and will often yield the lowest energy bills.

“There’s a need for development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the past,” Kaufman asserts. Benedict agrees: “There are lessons to be learned from these pre-fossil-fuel buildings — lessons that can inform our decisions in today’s changing world.”