The past couple of years have encompassed a whole lot of change and a largely absent blogger (sorry about that!), but everything still comes back to “sneaky preservation” on this blog. By “sneaky preservation,” I just mean converting the masses without beating them over the head with preservation ethics, the word “cornice,” and a sermon involving the f-bomb when describing the abomination that is vinyl window replacement. I prefer to be sneaky. Yet passionate. It works better.

Through a few random turns and a repair clinic I started with a friend, I’ve been nudged further into hands-on initiatives and just launched a blog called ToolMade.org that basically embraces the Ruskinian belief that to have quality of life is to have a toiling life. Ohhhhh, how true it is! How sweet the hammer be! To be regularly inconvenienced and to grow callouses is to be invigorated, better educated, and proud, damnit. Convenience takes away so many opportunities to be creative and find out who you are and how the world works.

I know a lot of this was already said by that guy who wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft (the subject of a 2009 New York Times article that honestly smashed open my mind to a whole lot of possibilities and even quoted one of my favorite Marge Piercy poems–bam!), but I feel I offer a different perspective as a proud preservationist and as someone who is not a misogynist. I’m just saying.


During a barn deconstruction last week. Decon can be a touchy topic, but this will prevent the barn from being knocked over and burned. Some of the beams were at least 16″ across. It was a delightful workout–really, a pretty accurate reenactment of Rocky IV, sans the ox harness scene. And sadly, sans Brigitte Nielsen.

While ToolMade isn’t a preservation blog in the conventional sense, it’s something I want to share on this blog and it’s honestly got me really wanting to write on GreenPreservationist again. Done lit a fire under me, truly. To not become part of this growing movement of hundreds of thousands of people wanting to get their hands dirty and learn trades (yes, hundreds of thousands—this is huge), is to miss an obvious and important opportunity to forge a new kind of preservationist. These are the people who will fix our buildings in ten years. Or now, even. Or decide whether they want to build something new or proudly declare their love of the dark traces of spalting in wood grain.

This is part of the Austin Tinkering School--the first group I interviewed for ToolMade. I gave them a 10" Craftsman bandsaw to use with 6-10 year olds. Yes. And they were amazing on it. And they will be the next generation of craftsmen.

This is part of the Austin Tinkering School–the first group interviewed for ToolMade. I gave them a 10″ bandsaw to use with 6-10 year olds. Yes. And they were amazing on it. And they will be the next generation of craftsmen.

So, please read this blog if :

  • you believe that people benefit from learning the trades.
  • you believe that the preservation movement would benefit in countless ways from having more skilled craftsmen.
  • you want to hear more about the movement of makers, fixers, hackers, etc. erupting as a response to a general dissatisfaction with our virtual lives (ignore the hypocrisy of this being a blog, please).
  • you want to hear about the resurrection of some dying trades (or about what trades are dying and need help).
  • you like hilarious 90s references. (I’ll deliver.)

With that, I leave you with the opening blog entry, which I hope you’ll read and comment on. I’ve missed all y’all. Thanks for reading and for working hard to save all the things.


A year and a half ago, I wrote a post that asked the question, “what the heck is a green preservationist?”…more recently, I’ve been asking myself the considerably more fundamental question of “what is a preservationist?” We’ve adapted our mission in a lot of ways over the past few years, but it seems we are constantly faced with more challenges and unanswered questions. We’ve finally learned how to talk to the cool kids in the green building movement (well, many of them, anyway), but now we’re trying to more literally learn other languages. As our country becomes increasingly diverse and the number of preservationists seems to be dwindling (I was recently told that the average age of a National Trust member is 65. Gulp.), we now have to figure out how to make an ever-increasing population of people care about a history that isn’t theirs.

This Place Matters.

Of course, the National Trust’s new Preservation 10x restructuring plan deserves its own post, but for now, I just want to focus on one part of the four initial themes that were just discussed in the 10x white paper: Diversity. The Trust, by virtue of the fact that it is the largest national preservation nonprofit, is faced with the puzzling task of advocating for both the tangible built history of the country and now the intangible history of populations who have immigrated to the U.S. over time. Yeah, no small task. When I was at the Austin Conference last year, some of the most engaging and exciting presentations had to do with efforts in places like Los Angeles and San Antonio that focused on Latino populations who had lived and worked in buildings for the past several decades. Murals, a focus on traditions held within buildings vs. the buildings themselves, and oral histories were often highlighted, and people were literally CRYING in the audience at times. I must say, I got a wee bit misty myself. It’s powerful stuff, and a hell of a lot more compelling than a new fake roof shingle product (sorry, shinglers, we need you, too, but we’re in trouble here).

Nuevo Leon on 18th Street in Pilsen. I love masonry and would sell my (non-existent) first born for a decent tuckpointer in this city, but tell me that's not the coolest thing you've ever seen?

The Trust has obviously picked up on this importance over the years, and created the Office of Diversity Initiatives, which covers everything from LGBT issues to Asian Pacific American heritage—a tall order, but an important one.

Chicago Conversación on October 1st. Lead by Tanya Bowers, Director for Diversity at the National Trust. She seems to have it together and really be listening, which is heartening.

But let’s narrow things down even more and just focus on Latino initiatives, as there have now been “Conversación” exercises in five cities around the U.S., as part of the Latino Heritage Initiative. The most recent Conversación was in Chicago this past weekend. These exercises/symposiums bring various groups of preservationists, community leaders, architects, teachers, etc. together to discuss how preservation fits (or does NOT fit) into current Latino-American culture. We were all sat at tables and mixed up after brainstorming together and recording our thoughts—individually and collectively—on various questions that are posed over a two-hour period. A representative from each table would summarize what was discussed, and the Trust collected all of the worksheets after the event to try and make sense of what was discussed. I should add that many of these thoughts were actually doodles. Tricky stuff.

Perhaps what was most interesting to me was the fact that throughout these exercises, I was afraid or embarrassed to bring up anything that smacked of building science or the physical preservation of a building—painting on brick, reconfiguring storefront–any of it. It turned most of what I had been taught about preservation on its head, which was both interesting and troubling because I was at a loss in terms of how to reconcile the tangible and intangible. I can guarantee you that there weren’t any HPRES grad school classes available that focused on “how to preserve that feeling of community one gets when they smell the cooking after church on Sunday.” I know this because I would have most certainly taken that class.

Another Pilsen mural. I mean, even if I was unfeeling enough to recommend the removal of this mural, my Catholic roots would convince me that I'd go to hell for it. Perhaps this is the best way to protect a building! Photo by Horation2007 on flickr.com.

So how do we tell the stories of people who have more recently immigrated to the U.S. and are living in older buildings that now tell more recent stories? Maybe “we”—the existing majority in this field—don’t. Preservation organizations, at least those with their eyes open, are trying to bring in a more diverse population of preservationists, not just have a bunch of white, American-born ladies like me talking about how meaningful current, diverse cultural practices are. This is not to say that white, American-born ladies like me don’t need to be educated and become better advocates, just that we might be better suited helping populations get the resources to empower their own communities so that they can take the charge in a way that makes more sense.

Some thoughts captured during the Chicago Conversación.

The Conversación was a great collaborative effort, but perhaps I what I found most heartening was a group called Architectos, an organization made up of Latino architects. The organization began in Chicago and has been around for over 25 years. The Arquitectos who came to the Conversación were enthusiastic, had interesting and varied perspectives, and already have buy-in in terms of architecture and community. The fact that this group and others are being pulled into this dialogue will likely go a long way in terms of outreach and education. We need leaders who understand architecture and planning, but who can also speak the language, both literally and culturally, of those we are trying to hear from and bring into the field. Trust is an issue in most communities, and having people who can effectively communicate, share experiences and, presumably, some of the same values, can go a long way.

Another thing to consider is who are we targeting? By that I mean, what the hell is a Latino? We had Cubans, Hondurans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, etc. at the Conversación and it is obviously stretching it a bit to lump them all into the same category. Beyond that, we have populations in the Southwest, for example, who are preserving their Mexican-American history, which can go back hundreds of year, vs. new immigrant populations—this is a totally different issue.

Some people who have immigrated recently might not feel like this is their home at all, just a temporary space that there is no tie to. But even if I just look at a Chicago population, we also had Latinos immigrating here since the turn of the last century, so obviously these people have created their own history here that is just as “historic” as the Germans and Lithuanians who built up half this city in the 1910s and 20s.

My favorite taquaria in Rogers Park, before it was repainted because patrons were concerned that Guadalupe looked grumpy. A theme that came up often this weekend was the importance of groceries, restaurants, and churches as meeting spaces. The question is how do we expand the love of a meeting space to include the original fabric of a building? Should we? Will something be lost in that?

So here a few of the questions we need to answer:

• Most importantly: What is the mission of the National Trust for Historic Preservation? What are we trying to preserve? We can’t truly move forward if we can’t answer that.

• How do we make existing preservationists care about more recent Latino history?

• How do we help those creating a new culture and history in the U.S. care about work and lives of previous generations?

• How do we preserve intangibles like oral histories?

• Do we need to revisit the idea of Period of Significance in terms of murals on buildings and other recent cultural additions to physical spaces?

• How do we convince Latinos that the buildings themselves are important and not just the activities that happen within them? It’s almost like we have a new version of the “form follows function” debate to contend with.

• Do we compromise our existing missions? Ex: Encourage murals that show current cultural solidarity and expression, but suggest that they are fastened to buildings vs. painted directly onto historic materials? Or is it that the murals are more significant than the buildings? Indeed, some are being landmarked now…

Some potential solutions/starting points:

• Continue to bring groups together to discuss these issues

• Target community leaders and educated them on economic incentives and local history—priests, teachers, etc. They will be the best teachers. Why would people listen to outsiders vs. their trusted leaders?

• Ask community leaders to educate preservationists. This is a confusing but fascinating issue and many of us could certainly stand to learn more. It is a crucial step to help us better communicate with people who are not already a part of the preservation community.

The handsome devils who attended the Chicago Conversacion. The event was lead by the National Trust and co-sponsored by Landmarks Illinois, Arquitectos, Chicago Landmarks, Preservation Chicago, Neighborhood Housing Services and the lllinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Just as the population of preservation is becoming more diverse, preservation itself is becoming more diverse. The mission is splintering and we are struggling to find a way to unify all of these goals. One could say that we’ve always had these challenges—heck, historic preservation is under the National Parks Service branch of the government and parks is hardly our primary focus. It’s surprising that we are only concerning ourselves with the issue of diversity now, when we are historically a diverse country. I could argue that this is precisely why preservation/cultural heritage is a much easier sell in European countries, where the populations are way more homogenous. People care about buildings because their grandparents built them, and they reflect their own heritage. Easy sell.

If we are successful at creating a more diverse population of preservation professionals, many of these questions will hopefully be answered from within our organizations. After waves of layoffs within many of our preservation organizations, including the National Trust, there is perhaps room for new kinds of leadership and different structures. Instead of regional Directors, it’s looking like local priests and school teachers may become our best form of outreach, helping to grow our membership and partnerships.


Yeah, this one’s ranty. I waited too long to write. So much has happened. Agendas have changed, a zillion people in architectural fields have been laid off due to downsizing and restructuring—an unbelievable number of architectural firms have closed their doors in Chicago and the Chicago Department of Environment is going away entirely. For real. Yeah, it’s feeling a little apocalyptic these days.

I’ve considered everything from starting a brewery to going to law school, but the truth is, I’m a damned writer with a lot of debt and opinions. And I like to write about architecture and history and the environment at this point in my life. So here I am, feeling a little lonelier in Chicago these days as I watch almost all of my preservationist friends from grad school and beyond leaving this city for jobs in Los Angeles and D.C. The melancholic autumnal vibe is making me want to write poems about my favorite buildings decomposing into tortured faces.

Alas, let me sip my scalding herbal tea and calm myself down while looking at the trees swaying and the hoods flipping up outside this here café window. Things are changing like the season and, I hope, evolving to be more intelligent and livable. It remains to be seen where all of this restructuring will go. Perhaps a strange, unintended result will be the scattering of environmentalists and preservationists into seemingly unrelated fields where we can make changes to those disciplines based on our former lives in green/historic fields?

The truth of the matter is that we can’t go back at this point. I think (and rather hope) that we know too much now and have too much information to go back to the status quo in terms of energy and the impacts of demolition. And nobody would hire us anyway. Codes are forcing our fields to span multiple disciplines now and I think that’s a positive. Preservationists are finally catching up and even innovating out of necessity with technology like 3D laser documentation, phone apps, more comprehensive energy efficiency case studies, (hopefully smart) multi-cultural and multi-age outreach…there’s a general and sweeping restructuring of goals and huge changes in the green building world as well. These are good things. I’m not entirely sure how many of them translate to jobs for the non-tech savvy, but that just means that unless we’re able to retire (ha!), we all have to work harder to be more informed and less isolated which will only make our arguments and successes stronger in the end. Right?

I’ll be honest. I don’t even know where I fit into any of this. It’s a tough thing to be brimming with ideas and have no idea what to do with them, or how to make them happen. But I’m trying to just hang onto the idea that if I (we) just keep working and learning it will all be okay in the end.

Or, if you have some start up capital, call me and we can start a brewery with punny names and cute little historic buildings on the label.

Actually, what I really want are comments. Suggestions. Encouragement throughout this field that is genuine and not just lip service or Tony Robbins speak. Talk to me, people. Where are you working? What are you doing? Where are you finding opportunities? This blog has been viewed tens of thousands of times after three years of posting and I’d like nothing more than to hear from any and all of you about what is happening in your cities and with your jobs–the good, bad, and hideous. I’ll keep posting updates on policy and strategy and energy and all of it, but I want to hear more from the bottom on up. It’s important stuff.

While it may seem like I’m a terrible person for not blogging for so long (yes, I am currently writing this in a hair shirt), I can assure you that I have been putting my green preservationy energies into other green preservationy things. One such thing I am particularly proud of: the birth of www.buildingrevival.com, a useful, quirky, accessible collection of resources, articles, projects and ideas for vintage home lovers. We are continually pumping more information and articles into the site, but alas, it is time to let this baby go off into the big, scary cyber world to claw its way into your hearts and minds. It’s pretty, informative, and we think hilarious.

Everybody loves them some Barn Porn.

The website is a collaborative effort between myself and Elisabeth Logman, a smartypants, preservationist, writer, masonry expert, webmistress, and craft maven who has worked tirelessly on this project. Basically, we were both sick of the tired old jargon and general approaches that have historically been employed in an effort to preserve buildings. We also simultaneously found ourselves wrapped up in a number of environmental/gardening/repurposing/rethinking initiatives. So we wanted to create something for everyone. Something accessible to people who think “preservation” is a dirty word, even though that’s pretty much what they want to do (think: “feminism”). We want more people to care about their older homes and, god forbid, actually have fun with them instead of treating them like relics or cursing them every time something needed to be repaired. Homes are meant to be lived in, not pumped full of formaldehyde and surrounded by lilies.

She would LOVE this website. Check out our latest post--it is her birthday, so don't be rude.

As the authors and creators, we also wanted an opportunity to learn and to write about what might initially seem a wee bit off topic while getting these points across. For example, I just learned about witch cakes, delightful pastries made from rye meal and the urine of the afflicted girls/witches, and how they were fed to a dog in an effort to prove guilt during the Salem Witch trials. How does this affect you, you might ask? Well, it might, and that sure seems like an important reason to check out the site. Crucial things like this can be found throughout www.buildingrevival.com, and will no doubt enrich your home life.

There are an obnoxious number of resources on the site in the Underpinnings section, each with its own little description. Yes, this has been a long time in the works, foks.

So, alas, check out the site. Let us know what you think. We have all the serious resources you could ever want available for perusal, but we also want to reach out to people who are not necessarily Daughters of the American Revolution or members of obscure crafting guilds (not that we don’t totally love you, too!), because well, most vintage homeowners are not of that ilk. We just want people to love their homes, stay put, and prevent them from being bedazzled with tacky ornamentation or replaced by unholy cardboard boxes. Suggestions and photo contributions to features like “Barn Porn” and “Houses Gone Wilde” are always welcome and encouraged.

Resident Granny will give you some upbeat tips on the good old days in our Depression Living section of the site.

Thanks to you all for your patience and feedback! Hopefully this will be your new favorite way to avoid writing the narrative portion of your National Register nominations.

From a recent trip to Cairo, IL, where countless people have gone to photograph ruins. This begs the question: are dying cities just more interesting than living ones? And what does this mean for preservation?

I was reared on Stallone and Schwarzenegger films. From the time I left the womb, these movies provided respite for my mother, and bonding time for me and my father, who would invariably be blown away by the inventiveness of the latest blood altering pandemic or sexy alien-human hybrid and express himself using expletives as gleefully as churchgoers exclaiming, “hallelujah!” Whenever possible, I still run to the movies to crunch on a bucket of coconut-oil infused popcorn and feel my pulse race while taking in the newest installment of Resident Evil, or pretty much any interpretation of our post-apocalyptic world.

Some yummy post-apocalyptic carnage from I Am Legend.

So, what the hell? I am aware of my own obsession with mortality, but certainly grotesque images of exorcisms, death, and decay are universal American indulgences. I read an incredibly interesting article called “Detroitism: What does ‘ruin porn’ tell us about the motor city?” and it brought to mind something that scratches at the back of every preservationist’s mind: why do we love watching things decay so much when our passion is supposed to be saving and preserving such buildings?

United Artists Theater in Detroit (1928), photographed by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre and featured in their book, titled The Ruins of Detroit. Insert zombie here.

I’ve posted about Braddock, Cairo, New Orleans, Detroit, and decaying barns, generally with great enthusiasm and with spittle collecting at the corners of my rabid mouth. I live in Chicago, where building codes and regulations strangle the life out of everything. Let’s be honest: architecture in Chicago has been boring for years. New architecture that fits within code regulations is usually boring. Gut rehabs are boring. Restrictions on greywater reuse, renewable energy sources, and a misguided idea that every person wants the same granite counter tops and 42” maple cabinets in their home has made many of our buildings ubiquitous and sleepy. While there are certainly pockets on the south side of the city full of vacant 1920s buildings, most buildings in this city are torn down as soon as possible—rather like when a shelter will put a kitten down for having the sniffles.

But still, is it okay to romanticize decaying buildings in decaying cities? A whole lot of photography has been recently published, often times developed in such a way that there are blue threads of color running through scenes like veins and a creepy 3-dimensional appearance that makes the images corporeal, like bruised walls padding bloated ball rooms. These are post-mortem crime scene photos. The pallet is rather like that of Egon Schiele paintings actually, many of which are essentially disturbingly gorgeous snuff.

An Egon Schiele painting with a similar pallet to that of many of recent collections of ruin porn. Sex, death, and vibrancy all at once. Hard to not look a little too long, eh?

Perhaps in the wake of boring architecture and neighborhood clubs enforcing exterior paint choices and lawn manicures, the crumbling of materials and the vibrancy of graffiti—of unabashedly and unapologetically screaming your beliefs onto public walls in bright, angry color—is in actuality closer to life than to death? Perhaps it’s the wildness of nature and the wonder of uncontrolled processes that reminds us that we cannot control everything on the ground. These seedy, unregulated pockets of the world make our pupils dilate and our jaws gnash with a greedy, carnal need to see more.

An image Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, former workplace of Typhoid Mary, in New York. I found this on a blog called The Kingston Lounge: Guerrilla preservation and urban archaeology. Brooklyn and beyond. For more, see here http://kingstonlounge.blogspot.com/

Of course, we generally want these places to be accessible but not to near to us. Rather like a strip club district that is a good, safe four miles from where we actually live. And this is where I start to feel truly sleazy, because I haven’t moved to any of these places—places that I’ve photographed, written about, and romanticized myself. I’ve gone for short periods of time to work, then returned to Chicago to detox from the trip and find my healthy, safe routine again. And this, I imagine, is what pisses locals off the most in the end. Tourist bus tours through blighted areas that make residents seem like zoo animals, and a greedy need to snap up books on how f’ed up the city is, with no plan to actually ever inhabit this city that they supposedly love so much.

I’m rambling, I know, but hell, this is why I have a blog. How do you all feel about this recent upsurge of “ruin porn”? Is it okay if it brings in tourism dollars to depressed areas? Is it just a way for visitors to slum it and break routine, thereby lessening the worth of a city? Will uncovering these massive ruins shed light on the need to help restore and respect such places, or only serve to underscore how impossible these efforts are because we are highlighting a post-mortem world? Tell me. Seriously, I want to know.

So the LEED rating system is pretty much constantly being rethought and revamped, but the latest and greatest version is currently up for public comment, and as of January 14th, the first comment period will be closed.

As someone who spends a crazy amount of time trying to keep up with all of the green progress and initiatives—often more than I’d like because I never get to just look at a pretty historic building anymore and like it for being pretty—I get that it’s a lot to ask preservationists to care about all of these green building initiatives. On the other hand, if you don’t, you’re pretty much signing the death warrant for a whole lot of historic buildings and neighborhoods because these green initiatives directly impact whether older buildings will be valued and saved. Federal, state and local jurisdictions across the country are now using LEED as a requirement or model for zoning laws and building codes, so to influence it is to influence standard building practice in a very meaningful way.

The preservation community is the primary voice in the struggle to have existing buildings and materials valued (in-situ, or at least to value them as being more than chipped down and recycled into something unrecognizable and of lesser value) as an important part of the environmental puzzle. Seriously, all of this stuff is new and everyone is fumbling through it and constantly changing things. We can actually have a major impact if we don’t sit back and twiddle our thumbs.

Here are some links to learn more about what’s up, compiled by Barbara Campagna, FAIA:

Top Ten List of LEED Credits related to Preservation

Technical summary of the proposed LEED credits

Format changes to the LEED scoring system

1865 building in New York that achieved LEED Platinum. Of course, it took a zillion dollars and a lot of green bling to get there, but it's something. If you comment on the changes in the system and LEED begins to recognize existing and restored materials as being environmentally-friendly, this kind of designation can be a hell of a lot more attainable for historic buildings. And it should be.

Also interesting are some comments from Mike Jackson, FAIA, Chief Architect of the Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency regarding changes to be made:

Material Credit 1 (Pilot Credit # 19) – Whole Building Re-use
Discussion: The proposed credit is the first time the LEED building rating system will recognize historic buildings and cultural landscapes. (LEED for Neighborhood Development was the first LEED product to include historic resource identification.) This is a much needed recognition for the LEED system. Let the USGBC know you approve. Comments don’t have to be limited to items that you feel need to be changed. This credit also has language about the retention of historic windows, which is another item worthy of positive reinforcement. This credit has not been specifically targeted towards residential buildings, and it should be applied to the LEED for Homes rating system as well as all others.

This credit also includes language about blighted buildings. The intent of providing special incentives for historic and blighted properties is good, but it would be better if these were separate items. Historic buildings have a working definition that includes listed and eligible properties and a strong constituency that can apply these definitions. The social benefits of investing in blighted areas as well as buildings is a good value system, but is not really that related to historic buildings.

Proposed Comment: The recognition of historic buildings is a welcome addition to the LEED criteria.

Proposed Recommendation: The category of “blighted buildings” should be given a separate category from “historic building.”

Material Reuse Credits # 2 and 3

Discussion: These two credits have been used to provide a material value to building re-use. The preservation community has long concluded that green building rating systems have undervalued building re-use. Keep in mind that this comment period is NOT about the allocation of points, which will be handled at a later stage. For now, it is important to comment on the need for a more equitable method of allocating the value of “in-situ” materials re-use other than the simplified two-part formula. For example, the BREEAM Ecohome rating system from England divides a house into seven major components and allows all materials credits to be claimed when 80% of the existing materials are retained in each category. As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.” The expanded use of Life Cycle Assessment tools would also provide a more equitable comparison of in-situ, recycled content, re-used or new materials.

Proposed Comment: The two-part credit allocation for materials reuse is too narrow and should have a stronger Life Cycle Assessment protocol to provide a better measure of building reuse.

Proposed Recommendation: The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system should be investigated as a better model of building re-use scoring. It divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. . As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.”

LEED for Homes

Discussion: The LEED for Homes system is primarily designed for new construction but it can also apply to renovation. The system does not include the category of building re-use or any materials credits for in-site materials use. There is some credit available for using reclaimed materials. This system is so biased towards new construction, that one gets the feeling that it should only be allowed for new construction. Having said that, it would be worth commenting on the building re-use and materials credits.

LEED for Homes: Location and Transportation Credit: Preferred Locations

Proposed Comment: The site location criteria should include the identification of historic area and those with the longest pattern of development. The use of historic and age criteria would provide a positive reinforcement of traditional patterns of development.

Proposed Recommendation: The retention and re-use of historic buildings should be encouraged just as brownfield development is encouraged. The retention of historic buildings should be a pre-requisite unless their demolition has been approved by the preservation authority having jurisdiction, as is stated in LEED for Neighborhood Development.

The redevelopment of existing locations could have an expanded value based upon the age of the settlement, with the most credit provided to the oldest settlement areas.

LEED for Homes: MR Credit: Environmental Preferable Products
Discussion: (See proposed comment)

Proposed Comment: This credit has been written from the perspective of a new building and is devoid of any environmental benefit from the in-site use of materials when buildings are renovated. The in-situ use of materials in renovated buildings needs to be added to this LEED for Homes rating system.

Proposed Recommendation: The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system should be investigated as a better model of building re-use scoring. It divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. . As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.”

LEED for Neighborhood Development
GIB Credit: Existing Building Reuse

Proposed Comment: The retention and re-use of existing buildings is a very important strategy for the long-term environmental benefit. The overall percentage of building retention in this category is extremely low. Retaining just 20% of the buildings except for 50% of the structure means that only 10% of the existing building stock needs to be retained for this credit. These means that 90% of the materials could be demolished as a green approved project.

Proposed Recommendation: The retention of existing building stock should be at least 80% and the retention of materials within buildings should be based upon an LCA approach such as the English BREEAM Ecohomes. The BREEAM Ecohomes rating system divides a building into a larger number of major components/systems and allocates the full material credit for each component when 80% of that component is retained “in situ.” This system is much fairer in providing a positive benefit to in-situ material re-use. As stated in BREEAM, “the environmental impact of replacing an element is far greater than reusing the element already in place.” The building retention test should also be subject to mitigation for when much higher density of re-use is proposed, except for the case of historic buildings.

GIB Credit: Historic Resource Preservation and Adaptive Reuse

Discussion: This is a credit that is allocated for the preservation of historic buildings and landscapes.

Proposed Comment: The recognition and credit for the retention and historic rehabilitation of historic buildings is an important addition to the LEED system. Retain and strengthen this credit.

Proposed Recommendation: This credit should be a prerequisite. The demolition of historic buildings should not be a permitted action approved through the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating except for the currently approved exceptions.

How to make comments: (This will require you to have a USGBC log-in.)

1. Click on the following link: http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEEDDrafts/RatingSystemVersions.aspx?CMSPageID=1458

2. Click on the Expand button next to “LEED Rating System Draft: BD&C, ID&C, and EB:O&M”

3. Open the “BD&C Document” and look for the following sections

4. Once you have read the documents, click on the “Comment” button (Note: You must sign in to the USGBC to submit a comment. You do not have to be a member, but you do have to submit information about who you are to get full access to make the comments.)
a. Select the category “Materials and Resources”
b. Select the Whole Building Reuse section
c. Make comments
d. Repeat these steps for Materials Reuse

5. Repeat the process for LEED for Homes

6. Repeat the process for LEED for Neighborhood Development

So, alas, I’ve been neglectful. Full disclosure: I’ve been having an affair with another website that I’m helping to put together called BuildingRevival.com. And it’s gonna be brilliant. But we could use your help. And don’t check out the site yet because it’s not ready to blow your mind for just a little while longer.

Since the beginning of Greenpreservationist.org, I’ve been whining about the stigma that preservationists endure, and worse, how we often encourage it. So, instead of only whining (which, rest assured, I still plan to do on occasion), I thought it would be a good idea to help launch another site that encourages that lost demographic of 20- to 40-somethings to love their vintage homes—big or small, historic or just kinda older—and celebrate their awesomeness in a variety of ways. You know, make it about enjoying the space vs. fighting for or against it in some Kramer vs. Kramer dance-off.

So, in the spirit of community and fun, I’m looking for submissions and pictures we can put up on the site. Specifically, we’re looking for:

• Really amazingly beautiful pictures of barns

• Really bad additions/bad attempts at restoring homes (think: Preservation Fail)

GRRRRRR, I WANT TO EAT THIS BARN. Send things like this.

We’d like to be able to credit the pictures that are going up, so if you have any of these to contribute, please email me at carlabruni@greenpreservationist.org and let me know who took the pic and where it is.

Preservation Fail example. I know, it's an obvious one, so go ahead and be more creative. That is why I need and love you.

In terms of environmental and preservation issues, I’m still cranking away and working on some new initiatives with the U.S. EPA (beyond just region 5 now, woot!) as well as some great local educational programming for homeowners, and even spinning some ideas with Sears. I’ll keep y’all posted and really, really want input and ideas on how to improve on a variety of projects that are spinning, so any and all comments are so, so welcome. Carla2011: More listeny, less talky.

Mwah! Happy new year!

Okay, so I returned from the National Trust conference in Austin last night, and I’m reeling. In a really good way. Here’s the thing about this field: it’s SO DIFFERENT from city to city and culture to culture. I probably shouldn’t travel as much as I do on my budget, but hell, there’s no other way to understand the scope of preservation work. And I mean yeah, it’s fun. I was only able to see a handful of seminars at the conference, but they couldn’t have been more varied and inspiring in their contrasts and similarities. I really, really love my field and the fact that it’s so impossible to sum up. I also really, really (really) love Torchy’s Tacos.

The Torchy's Fried Avocado taco. Sorry, this is more for me than you...I just really miss it.

The sessions I attended included: There’s no place like Houston, Creative Solutions and Self-Determination for Historic Preservation; The Urban Density Debate: Good Density, Bad Density, and the Role of Preservation; Preservation Strategies in Low-income Urban Neighborhoods; Austin Modern; Rethinking How We Nominate Large Cultural Landscapes to the National Register of Historic Places; and What Happens When Dates Don’t Matter (debating the 50-year rule)”

Yeah, really all over the place. I was, as always, incredibly impressed with Preservation Green Lab, its Urban Density Debate and really all of their efforts to come up with and conduct meaningful studies and analysis of how we use places and spaces. These kinds of studies are essential to justifying the existence of older buildings, as they helped to measure the public response to them, basically arguing that the public at large knows a thing or two that developers may not. This is also crucial in the wake of green building trends, which aim to quantify everything as a way to elevate and distinguish these buildings from others.

The bar area of Austin's historic Driskill Hotel, where the National Trust LGBT celebration was held this year. Yeah, rad.

Another lecture that I found interesting touched upon Aspen, Colorado’s preservation of 1960s (and beyond) structures that really define that area of the state. The system used to measure the buildings’ historic integrity and the impact of changes over time via a point-based rating system—a system similar to a green building rating system. This is called the Aspen Modern scoring system and also allows for perks like expedited permits. While there are thresholds that must be met to qualify for landmark designation, the system doesn’t document any social history or other less visible aspects of the architecture. It was interesting to see preservation groups taking cues from the green building movement, however, and I’m really curious to see where this kind of system goes, as it is still in the experimental phases.

Some examples of Aspen's Modern Chalets, which often don't meet the 50 year criteria set by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. A scoring system has been put into place to rate the integrity of these structures. Picture from http://www.aspenhistoricpreservation.com

And then, things got romantic. People were LITERALLY CRYING at the Preservation Strategies in Low-income Urban Neighborhoods session as videos rolled out of the demolition of the beloved La Gloria building in San Antonio. Several community activists involved in the battle took the stage and one described how the bulldozers couldn’t get through all of the concrete that made the structure–in fact, 2 or 3 wrecking balls had to be replaced from all the hard work
(talk about sustainability). Ultimately, the speaker simply said, “the building was fighting back.” And oh my god, it totally was, and while the video about the battle to save this building was playing, some members of the audience literally shook with every swing of the bulldozer. This was a site where every Conjunto musician (yeah, I didn’t know what it was either, but after this lecture, I was outraged—outraged!—that anyone would ever do anything to hinder it) worth his/her weight in salt had played and a huge part of the local community. For the latest battle for a similar venue in South Texas called the Lermas Night Club, see here.

Lideres de la Comunidad (Leaders in the Community) was painted in 2006 by Valerie Aranda. La Gloria refers to a gas station/dance hall that was demolished in 2002 in San Antonio, and that acted as a catalyst for the Esperanza Peace and Justice coalition. Image found at http://urbanspotlight.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/westside-murals/

Another heart wrenching session focused on public murals and their importance to their communities—how they are crucial as a form of positive expression, historic documentation, and local engagement. Murals are a tricky preservation issue as they are kind of their own thing, and often done on private, potentially historic buildings, but hell, you just had to care and want them to stay once the images and stories started rolling out. One mural featured was The Great Wall of Los Angeles, where one of the slogans on the website proclaims “we are architects of social justice.” Also, I just have to say, the Los Angeles Conservancy is amazing. I had no idea I even liked Los Angeles until I saw the kinds of work their Community Outreach Coordinator was doing.

Farewell to Rosie the Riveter, a detail from the 1950s section of The Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, 1983. Mural: Judith F. Baca and The Social and Public Art Resource Center.

Bottom line: preservationists got into preservation because they got emotional about architecture, even if most preservation jobs end up being rather repetitious and political. I get emotional about the stuff that gets torn down for soulless crap on a daily basis, but understand the need for both concrete facts that can affect policy, and the rallying of the troops in an outcry of cultural decimation and gentrification. We need them both if this field is to continue because stats aren’t enough to fire people up for an extended period of time, and emotions don’t always stop the bulldozers, even when the building fights back. Beyond this, what a fortunate thing to be able to engage poets, scientists and artists in a single passion to protect the built environment. My god, why isn’t this movement millions strong?

So yes, I love my field. That is to say, I love all of my fields.

Anyone who has worked in preservation eventually gets a little bit tired of seeing the insides of old, restored Victorians (admit it), and good lord, once you’ve seen a dozen green buildings, you’re pretty much over the typically installed measures and upgrades. But occasionally, I still get to be surprised–the tour I went on today was astonishing, and showed how preservation and efficiency are important because they simply make way more sense than the alternative. I’m sure I’m leaving so much out from the tour, so by all means, add or correct me after this has posted.

The Plant, located at 1400 W. 46th Street in Chicago at the Stockyards.

The 93,000 sf warehouse, now called The Plant, is so unbelievably innovative that I won’t pretend to fully understand everything that I’m going to mention. The Plant describes itself as “a project combining adaptive industrial reuse and aquaponics to create Chicago’s first vertical farm.” While “aquaponics” and “vertical farm” seem innovative enough, there is so much more to this place. The ultimate goal of The Plant is, according to it’s developer, “to create sustainable food and energy systems in urban areas that can be reproduced at a grass roots level by others with few resources,” and that is accomplished through the cooperation of many entities and ideas.

This is how I was greeted at 11 a.m., as if I wasn't already happy to be there. They don't do this on SOM tours.

The building was sold for the scrap value by the time it was purchased this summer by John Edel, the owner and developer of this project. Edel also recently converted a burned-out 24,000 sf warehouse in Bridgeport into the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, proving his point that “no building is too derelict to be sustainably renovated and made productive again. It doesn’t necessarily require large amounts of money, just creativity.” BOOYAH. His new project could likely be an excellent and unprescedented model for other cities and depressed areas around the country like Detroit, and could finally help keep big box stores out with the work space and food it creates. And yes, it’s a former meat plant, and yes, it still smells meaty (they are cleaning it) and has cage rails on the ceilings that pigs would swing from. And yes, meat plants apparently make for damned good garden spaces, but I’ll explain that later.

Mushroom columns hold the weight for organic farming--fitting, no? Note if you can the floor drainage here from the meat packing plant. The floor pavers are durable and dip down to drains in the center of the floor. This drainage would have been astronomically expensive to put in for urban farming. Fortunately, it was already here and in tact!

How the space will be used:

-Energy-efficient brewery (the idea is to be even more efficient than Fat Tire)


-Community (“shared use”) kitchen, which apparently there is a dire need for. For more on issues with this in the city, please see a Chicago Reader article and extremely sad Chicago Tribune article and video.

-Conference rooms and offices

-Nonprofit farm

-Research offices to test effectiveness of hydroponics, vertical farming, condensers, etc. so that The Plant can be an effective and tested model and help other communities to do this work

-Rentable office space (that can sometimes be bartered for when times are tough)

-Some retail space

Visionary and developer John Edel explaining the meat cage rails that still exist--and will be preserved--in a future conference room and office space.

So all of this is really great, of course, but it gets so much better, folks. These are all noble ideas, but the expense of heating and cooling a 93,000 sf facility with all of these plants and processes would be insane…well, it would if you weren’t terrifically smart like Edel and friends.

Because this was still used for meat production up until four years ago, lots of coolers and stainless steel remains for these new projects, cutting costs considerably.

How The Plant closes the energy loop:

-Everything in the building is being salvaged, with the exception of some plastic walls that were put in and are unrecyclable. Everything.

-Windows are being replaced with triple-pane windows that are produced locally. I know, I hate window replacement, too, but these are mostly just glass block at this point and painted or boarded over. This is bringing in local business and actually will be a huge improvement in this case.

-Floor drainage for vertical gardening would normally be insanely expensive to put in, but existing drainage from the meat plant (don’t think about it too much) will take care of all that and is in great condition

-The building is already extremely well insulated because 70% of it was used as a cooler for the meat. I know, right?

-Tens of thousands of dollars in plumbing equipment was left inside the building when John bought it. And this is a building that has some pretty intense plumbing needs.

-Before the last company moved out, they updated all of the electrical wiring, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades

-There will be an anaerobic digester, which will make biogas, which will feed the turbines, which will provide waste heat that will help heat the building. I hope I got that right, and it obviously deserves more attention than this bullet point.

-All electricity will be generated on site, so there will be no transmission loses. Vertical garden plans are often thwarted by electricity needs, so that problem is solved.

Fish breading and aquaponics will create fish waste, which is primarily comprised of ammonia, and use it to feed the plants. The plants then filter that same water so that it can return to the fish tanks.

-An 8,000 sf greenhouse and small orchard will be installed on the rooftop

Donated containers--I believe from a bakery--will become tanks for thousands of fish.

I’m sure I’ve missed a million other ways of closing the energy loop within the building, but the bottom line is that if we want successful, green adaptive reuse projects, we need to find buildings that already have systems built into them that help serve the purposes of the new use(s). Buying a giant warehouse and completely gutting it to the brick shell just isn’t that impressive, green, historic, or cost-effective. Seriously. We all know this intuitively, but as preservationists, we are accustomed to taking what we can get. Being creative with what already exists is so much more effective and rewarding. And involving the community and providing organic produce, work spaces, educational opportunities and more is essential to the success of reuse projects, especially those in areas that have very few places to eat, shop, and work. That’s why we keep seeing the Big Box of Despair going up in depressed areas, knocking out all independent thinking, lowering wages, and destroying the remaining ma and pa businesses that give neighborhoods character. I hate you, Walmart. But I kind of like to think that if humans join forces with plants and fish, we may create a large enough army to beat you, not unlike a Tolkien novel where the good always prevail in the end.

The rooftop, which will eventually house 8,000 sf of greenhouse space.

When I was in grad school, I got in the habit of riding my bike to and from class from the far north side of the city to downtown. This was partially due to the fact that I was sick of sitting in front of my computer and torturous microfiche viewers all the time, and partially because I realized that I LOVE RIDING MY BICYCLE. Studying architecture has changed everything for me because everywhere I go in the city, I am surrounded by buildings that are constantly entertaining (or horrifying) me, and I gotta tell you, the view is much sweeter from a bicycle than a car or the same old train route. You’re more in touch with your surroundings and don’t have to worry about killing anyone when your car veers into oncoming traffic as you crane your neck to see some carved sandstone. Granted, I did slam into a parked car on my bike once, but really, only my pride was hurt. And I avoided that street for a few weeks just in case someone hiding behind a bush might have noticed. I’m practical like that.

Fall architectural bike tour schedule for Big Shoulders Realty.

Anyway, I know a guy who does amazing things with bicycles and architecture—not in a Dr. Frankenstein way, but in a marriage kind of way. Lee Diamond of Big Shoulders Realty has managed to marry these two passions in a million different and meaningful ways, and I just had to blog about it after going on one of his tours last weekend in Logan Square.

Seeing architecture by bike is a completely different experience and quite frankly targets a new audience that likely isn’t your typical incestuous group of green building or preservation folks. I only happened to know one person on the tour, and it was bliss being on an architectural tour with a totally new group of enthusiasts. For more on Big Shoulder’s tours, which run year-round (yes, winter, rain or shine, etc.), go here. For a long time the tours were free, but finally Lee had to charge people as he was hemorrhaging money creating these extensive tours and the materials for them. Alas, our labors of love can get pricey. The tours are still reasonably priced, and also tend to end up at a local bar, which is the perfect way to cap off a long day of riding.

Meet up point at the Logan Square Centennial Monument at the intersection of Milwaukee, Kedzie and Logan.

Also super incredibly awesome: Lee just started Chicago Velo which he describes as being “a guide to the communities in and around Chicago. It is a guide to Chicago’s hidden gems of architectural splendor, its forgotten history and its secret riches. Most of the time, these spots are not really hidden from us at all, just obscured by time and neglect, and sometimes it takes someone in-the-know to help you find it.” I’ve been on these 5-hour-long tours, and we cover a lot of area and a lot of buildings you normally wouldn’t notice. This is a lot of information to store on a website and an incredible resource. I mean, I’ve done architectural surveys by car, and biking is a way, way better (and more fun) way to survey an area…and it’s all online!

A stop on the tour with Lee giving some history.

Following the same logic that one can have a more intimate experience with their surroundings by bike than by car, Big Shoulders Realty also shows homes by bike. If you don’t have your own, you can use one that hangs in the office’s conference room. Each bike is named after a historic Chicago figure–Lee was riding the “H.H. Holmes” bike on the tour, which I was naturally envious of. Going by bike can give a person a feel for how close public trans, the grocery store, etc. really are. And obviously it’s a lot more environmentally friendly and healthier to encourage this.

Conference room at the Big Shoulders Realty office. I mean look at it. It's the best conference room ever. Image from http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/rent-or-buy/

And yet another initiative is Big Shoulders Realty’s “Restoration Not Renovation” project, which encourages homeowners to think before they gut the hell out of everything. Basically, this came about completely organically, as Lee began noticing that if he showed homes for sale that had been preserved vs. gutted, potential homeowners invariable were more interested in the preserved homes.

So, in short, this post is really just a big love fest for bicycles and creative realtors like Lee Diamond and Big Shoulders. I could honestly go on forever about this, but I’ve already gone way over the ideal number of blog words and fear I would lose you all. Suffice it to say, these kinds of initiatives totally give me hope for better models and a renewed enthusiasm among younger crowds in historic cities. And also make my jeans fit better. Huzzah!