Well, I suppose the answer to that one is “it depends,” or, my favorite thing to say whenever someone asks me how much some modification/upgrade to their home will cost (especially if I don’t have a clue what the answer is): “um, well, it is really case-specific.” And you know, it’s absolutely true in both cases.
Honestly, most of the new “green” architecture is really just some brightly painted boxy thing that still focuses on maximizing interior space and has little regard for its neighbors, which are sometimes smaller homes that used to actually have some of their own natural lighting before the angular red and blue monstrosity erected itself right up to their lot line. Then there are the “green” homes that are supposedly more green because they are in a previously untouched field of green. Yeah, you lose. Crazy amounts of energy has to be used in order to build new infrastructures because you need to have your house built in the middle of nowhere, and it takes you 5 hours to drive to the nearest Walmart for pancake batter. And then, of course, there are the 30,000 square foot mansions that are “environmentally friendly” even though they only have 2 old rich people living in them and are 30,000 SQUARE FEET. Naturally I find HGTV programs that focus on these to be both ridiculous and insulting and immediately begin writing a letter to the producer that I never finish or send. Yes, that angry.
BUT, its incredibly annoying and short sighted to hate anything that is new just because it is new, and honestly, some of these buildings are actually attractive and really pretty thoughtful. Several months ago I grabbed a few friends and drove out for a tour at Tryon Farm and was impressed by the density, community, and architectural creativity of the settlements. The homes range in price from $170,000-$470,000, but none of them are huge (our unapologetic tour guide seemed slightly annoyed when another person on our tour asked whether they had any larger homes available, much to my glee), and the materials and design are thoughtful and just fun to be in and around. There is also community gardening and concerts and all that jazz, and you aren’t that far from the rest of civilization, so you don’t have insane treks to buy additional supplies.
There are also building materials being designed by architects and chemists that are meant to eventually biodegrade. Imagine a building that, once it’s useful life is up, basically eats itself and the waste created will act as fertilizer and actually HELP the environment. Crazy and Sci-fi, right? But if you have a pulse, you will be intrigued (geek or not). Many of the new, successful green building leaps are made by teams of people–engineers, architects, scientists, etc. as the technology and systems are often completely different than what architects and builders have been dealing with until now.
How does vintage architecture fit in you ask? Well it’s all part of the sustainability equation. We replace such a small percentage of buildings annually that it is madness to not focus on energy efficient retrofits of existing buildings. We also need to maintain a sense of history and place and culture in our cities, and if we replace everything with brand-spankin-new architecture, not to mention architecture that really has not yet stood the test of time in terms of its materials and systems, well, we lose not only our sense of place, but a whole lot more of our resources. I like the argument that all of the great cities in this world have a harmonious mixture of old and new architecture. The infrastructure is already built in, and historic buildings are often clumped together because walkability was obviously key when you didn’t have cars. We need to celebrate both our history and our modern innovations, so why not make the best of them both?