In a recent posting on BuildingGreen.com, “Does Saving Historic Buildings Really Save Energy?” Tristan Roberts pointed out a number of benefits that may be realized by the adaptive reuse of older buildings; however, he dismissed the notion that there is value in the energy embodied in these structures. While he is correct in his assertions about the cultural and urban value of historic buildings, he misses the point, or at least part of the point of the value of the energy embodied in those buildings. Despite the fact that there is no way to “recover” the embodied energy in old buildings, if their reuse offsets the need to build replacements, the energy that would have been embodied in those new buildings is saved – avoided cost.
Of course, there will almost certainly be some construction, and therefore some energy commitment, required to extend the useful life of older buildings including implementation of measures to significantly improve performance. The net avoided energy cost will be less than the total energy cost on the new building. Nonetheless, the new energy that must be “embodied” into the existing building will typically be 1/3 to 2/3 that of starting from scratch. Additionally, there is that much less debris sent to landfill and that much more “embodied” culture carried forward.
This is not to say that saving older buildings will always be the best choice for the environment, nor is it saying that one should only consider saving important historical buildings if their continued existence can be justified through energy savings or other environmental benefits. The considerations will be based on a sliding scale. At one end, there are the truly significant historical and cultural artifacts that must be preserved at all costs. At the other end, there are the purely utilitarian structures whose continuance will be determined by quantifiable, pragmatic concerns. In the middle is that vast majority of buildings that make some contribution to the understanding of history and sense of place, and whose reuse will offset some portion of the embodied energy that would otherwise by required for new construction. These are buildings that are neither historically and culturally indispensable, nor clearly justified by environmental imperatives. In some cases, the positive attributes embedded in these structures will be outweighed by benefits that can only be achieved through new construction.
Decisions regarding adapting and reusing instead of demolishing and replacing should be informed by multiple factors; some environmental, and some, as Roberts noted, cultural. What is critical, however, is that all significant considerations be included. This is particularly true for those middle ground buildings for which no single criterion is likely to prove decisive. While it’s true that embodied energy itself is not a recoverable resource, it is a valuable asset that can offset the need to expend new energy resources. And, while it’s unlikely that the energy offsets inherent in building reuse will be the sole determining factor in deciding whether or not to save a building, it is a real consideration that may push the eventual decision in one way rather than another. To exclude this asset from the equation is to neglect a readily exploitable and relatively benign resource. To knowingly neglect such a resource at this point in history would be irresponsible.
We highly recommend visiting friend and colleague, James Lewis' Datum International . While relevant in regards to current events, the site also offers valuable insight and is closely connected to Elemental Architecture's goals.
Residential Architect Magazine editor, S. Claire Conroy, writes in the November/December 2010 issue on architects and social media. We offer a response:
Your observations in your piece “Publish or Perish” are well taken and I believe true, however, I would offer that rather than cast online forums such as Facebook and LinkedIn as tools for self-promotion, architects should be using them to assert thought leadership.
Our responsibility, as architects, extends not only to the places we create but also to communicating & educating on issues that we observe and are engaged in. Social media, be it through Facebook, Twitter, blogging or other forms, allows architects to do so for both the general public, as well as internally to the industry, in ways never before seen. Whereas previously in order to have an audience for publishing original content or critique one was forced to survive editorial review, now anyone is given the opportunity to express thought. Within the formats of each online medium, the profession is offered opportunities to share content and by doing so, has the ability to educate and promote change.
Take sustainability as an example; while the general public is becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of resource depletion and the need for energy conservation, there seems to be a lack of holistic understanding of the role architectural, planning and construction decisions play. Architects and their clients are increasingly considering how decisions affect the allocation of resources and contribute to the creation of infrastructure. Many architects are researching sustainability concepts and technologies through their projects and documenting their revelations. With all of the content that is being generated within the profession and externally on this issue, social media provides forums to disseminate knowledge and collective experience; work can be shared to promote progress, not just itself.
Beyond attempting to merely ascend Google rankings for greater online presence, our disciplines must use its collective knowledge to promote ideas that move society forward; by doing so, the use of social media will be perceived as less self-serving and more as elevating discussion. By not doing so, however, our non-building contributions may be drowned out by the ever increasing online noise.
Tom Abraham, AIA
New York (02.09.2011) – Elemental Architecture, a firm recognized for its pioneering work in sustainable architecture, design and advocacy, is pleased to announce that Tom Abraham, Principal & Co-founder has been named to ENR New York | McGraw-Hill Construction’s inaugural “Top 20 Under 40.” The list showcases exceptional A/E/C industry leaders within the region. Abraham’s selection highlights a belief in social entrepreneurship, a commitment to sustainability and progressive uses of social media for education and awareness.
“Everyone has an inherent responsibility toward society,’ Abraham says. ‘We, as architects, have a profound impact on society. It’s not something to be taken lightly.’” He elaborates, “the global economic collapse has forced a reevaluation of models based on pure consumption and requires a rapid shift to those that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable…I personally believe in a ‘Social Contract.’ Our responsibility, as architects, extends not only to the places we create but also to communicating & educating on issues that we observe and are engaged in…The immediacy and effectiveness of social media allows our discipline, in ways never before seen, to educate and assert leadership with respect to these issues in order to accelerate positive change.” Tom is currently acting as Administrative Principal for the Historic Reconstruction of Shepard Hall at the City College of New York as well as Design Principal for several commercial and residential projects in New York City.
A graduate of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Mr. Abraham is licensed to practice architecture in New York State, holds NCARB Certification and is a LEED Accredited Professional by the US Green Building Council. Prior to his education in architecture Mr. Abraham was a first-responder and certified Emergency Medical Technician in Bergen County.
See the full list of ENR honorees here.
elemental is an award-winning New York City based collaborative consisting of Elemental Architecture LLC & Sine Elemental LLC joined by an inherent commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Founded on over 40-years of research and experience in energy-conscious design, current elemental projects include the $150 million Historic Reconstruction of Shepard Hall for the City College of New York; Interior design and identity & media for Greenhouse 26, projected to be New York City’s first ‘green’ boutique hotel as well as numerous private residential & commercial interiors throughout New York. elemental is located at 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 212.616.4110 www.elementalnyc.com
Jesse Lee deNeeve
Director of Marketing
A Brief Recap of Last Night’s Inaugural AIANY Oculus Book Talk Series with Carl Stein at New York City’s Center for Architecture as reported by Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA: Carl Stein, FAIA’s Greening Modernism: Preservation, Sustainability and the Modern Movement (W.W. Norton & Company, 11.29.10) offers a compelling and insightful argument for a creative and enthusiastic reexamination of the interconnection between modern architecture, sustainability, historic preservation, and green strategies. One of the many things that sets this book apart from others on architecture and sustainability is the way in which Stein unfolds the theoretical, instructional, and pioneering tenets between design and technology from the pre-petroleum to late-petroleum eras, suggesting opportunities for architecture in a post-petroleum world.
“A sustainable future,” writes Stein, “one in which humankind will have a place in the ecosystem of the Earth, depends on a fundamental reconsideration of how we utilize all of the resources that support the qualities of our lives.” The second greatest end-use energy consumer is infrastructure construction, and there is a dire need to upgrade this part of American society. As you read Greening Modernism, you, too, will be reminded that as much as the truth sounds good on paper, the hardest part is to convert these ideas to the politics of choice and economics. While architects have their challenges set out before them, Greening Modernism will be a hearty and generous companion for those who are willing to challenge what they value in themselves and consider to be the nexus of design, quality of life, and a sustainable global future.
Note: This was the first of a monthly series of book talks hosted by the AIANY Oculus Committee.
Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA, is a member of the AIANY Oculus Committee. She is a business development, public relations, and marketing professional in NYC and Washington, D.C. Her expanded project base includes cause-related marketing, and the integration of social media with traditional-based forms of communication for non-profit and cultural institutions.
Carl Stein, FAIA, principal of Elemental Architecture, has been selected to deliver the inaugural lecture for the AIA Oculus Book Talk Series on his recent publication ‘Greening Modernism’ at New York City’s Center for Architecture on Monday, January 10th, 2011 at 6:00pm.
“Greening Modernism explains the relationship between design and technology in the pre-petroleum, early-petroleum, and late-petroleum eras, and goes on to support opportunities for architecture in a post-petroleum world.”
January 10, 6:00 PM
About Oculus Book Talks:
On the 2nd Monday of each month the AIANY Oculus Committee sponsors a book talk at the Center for Architecture. Each Oculus Book Talk highlights a recent publication on architecture, design, or the built environment –presented by the author. Copies of the publications will be available for sale and signing.
Last Thursday, December 9th, Elemental hosted the launch party for principal founder Carl Stein’s new book “Greening Modernism”. Tom Stoelker of the Architect’s Newspaper writes: bodacious bourbon pours complimented savory vittles at the yet-to-be-opened Hudson Clearwater in Greenwich Village last night. The restaurant’s first event launched Carl Stein’s new book, Greening Modernism: preservation, sustainability and the modern movement (W.W. Norton, $60.00).
The affair had a decidedly down to earth flavor, though the elegant crowd resembled intermission at The Met. The venue seemed a natural fit for Stein of Elemental Architecture, since Elemental’s John Barboni designed the space using salvaged material culled from the 180-year-old carriage house.
“From my perspective, it fits into all the themes of the book,” Barboni said from behind a kitchen counter made of the structure’s former floorboards. “Green is not a newfound subject for Carl.”
From atop a small flight of stairs Stein thanked his family and colleagues, then settled in with the band to play banjo.
In Detail> City College’s masterpiece Shepard Hall gets a long-awaited restoration, gargoyles and all. Read Aaron Seward’s full article here.
This week the AIA New York Chapter / Center for Architecture took over the West 4th Street subway station to present Made in New York – an architectural showcase of projects by Chapter members. Elemental Architecture’s new Private Residence in Croton-on-Hudson is among the work featured in the exhibit.
Made in New York features work of all scales & types – small, large, commercial, residential, public, private, interiors, historic preservation, engineering, landscape and urban design – presenting the scope and quality of work being done by AIA New York Chapter members across the globe. This high-visibility exhibition offers a snapshot of current practices and celebrates the diversity of the Chapter’s membership.
Mr. Zeller writes in his NY Times “Green” Blog post “When Green Building Is Not Green Enough” that “the nation’s building stock plays a bigger role in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions than many Americans might realize.” This is only true (a) because many Americans have chosen to ignore information that has been widely available for at least four decades and (b) powerful business and social interests have conducted a massive campaign of misinformation in order to maintain positions of economic and political power.
In 1972, the Club of Rome published the highly regarded Limits to Growth stating that by the first decade of the 21st century, the approaching limits to the availability of finite resources including energy would have profound effects on our lives, most of them being negative. In 1977, Richard Stein’s book Architecture and Energy documented that over 40 percent of all energy use in the US was closely affected by architectural decisions. In 1972, the American Institute of Architects, a very mainstream organization, began a detailed investigation into the relationship between building and architecture and in 1974 issued Energy and the Built Environment: A Gap in Current Strategies.
In 1981, the AIA issued Energy and Architecture, the first in a series of documents directed toward the design professions which eventually included four texts. In 1978 and 1993 respectively, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards published Energy Conservation in Existing Buildings and Energy Conscious Architecture both of which discuss the amount of energy consumed by the built environment. The list goes on; however, the upshot is that detailed, quantitative data regarding the extent to which decisions on building and regional planning affect or national energy use have been readily available for many years.
However, we continue to get conflicting messages. On the one hand, we are being told that thinking and acting “green” is essential to global survival and international economic competitiveness. This position is well supported by overwhelming hard information. Yet even when we consider sustainability, we rarely account for the larger scope of the impact.
When we choose to operate an electrical device, we may consider the utility bill that will have to be paid later in the month. We may, in times of stressed utility capacity, realize that this operation may contribute to a system overload resulting in brownouts or blackouts. It is unusual, however, to visualize the contribution that the decision to operate electrical device makes to the plume of smoke and carbon dioxide leaving the stack of a generator three hundred miles away or to the added demand for coal with its related environmental degradation. We don’t think about the part, however small, that our use of electricity plays in the thirty to forty coal mining deaths each year in the United States.
From Greening Modernism, Carl Stein, W.W. Norton, 2010
On the other hand, there are those who inveigh against standards for electric lamps, appliances, showers and toilets, whether or not these standards have any particular impact on our day-to-day experience. Their main thrust seems to be an appeal to the deep “nobody tells me what to do” strain of frontier independence. While this may be fine when we each have miles of empty space around us, it is not viable in the highly interconnected condition that we currently experience. The net effect of this attitude is, in the short term, to compromise our global position and, in the long term, at a minimum to degrade the quality of life for our children and grandchildren and quite possibly to threaten the survival of the planet as we know it.
Dramatic reductions in our energy use are possible through simple, cost-effective substitutions and very modest adjustments in everyday practices. While zero-net-energy and zero-carbon buildings are admirable goals and serve as important test beds for emerging technologies, there should be no confusion about the fact that smart design and careful application of off-the-shelf technologies offer the best near-term methods for reshaping our energy consumption patterns. Not only will these have an immediate impact, they will also inform the attitudes that underlie future design paradigms.