Archive for the ‘Green Building’ Category

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.


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I’m still working out the mission statement, so here are my rambling, uncensored thoughts on the purpose of this site.

I created this site because I wanted a forum for people to discuss the following issues and keep each other updated on new technologies, policies, and ideas. After studying and working in both historic preservation and environmental work places and on various projects around the country, I’ve learned that these fields are absolutely essential to one another. Different cities have different approaches and policies, but essentially they are the ying and yang needed to bring about a more sustainable built world. Unfortunately, there is still a whole lot of tension between these two worlds. What I have noticed most often is that preservationists fear green builders are too quick to bulldoze and build new, and green builders feel that preservationists are a roadblock to progress.

It’s all hooey, really. There is absolutely no need for tension here, and hopefully we can find some middle ground and (god forbid) foster creative solutions. This is not to say that these issues are not legitimate, because of course, they are. And, of course, economics play a major role in all of this, but this can be overcome. We won’t be able to come up with creative solutions to make both of these fields interactive and prosperous (there is so much room for job growth here it is staggering) until we all gain a better understanding of the incentives and barriers in related architectural fields. Once we understand how we are alike and different, and what works and what doesn’t, we can more easily work together to affect change.

But first, we need to get over ourselves and break down some of the barriers. So here is what we need to do first in order to stop slamming our heads against a wall:

  1. Preservationists have to stop being on the defense and be more proactive. We are all in love with architecture, materials and the building arts and need to a better job of getting people excited about these things. In the eyes of most designers and architects, we are still the lame, crotchety old ladies that started this movement, ala Ann Pamela Cunningham. We need young, innovative designers and this new architectural energy on our side, so it’s time to rethink how we’ve been doing things and edit those Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines already. Let’s show that we want progress too, and learn to play with the hip kids.

  2. Green building people need to acknowledge the importance of embodied energy and to stretch themselves to focus on how to be creative within existing walls. You don’t always need a blank canvas. And history is cool. Not just cool, it’s fascinating. Not to mention a heck of a lot greener to preserve in most cases as these buildings—even at 100—are more sustainable than most of the new architecture that is going up. Retrofitting is so often the greenest option, but we need new technology to help us constantly improve our energy and water reduction, and to work better within existing structures.

History, artistry, sense of place, dwindling resources, indoor and outdoor air pollution—these things matter and are not incompatible. We are all well intentioned, so lets cut to the chase and get some work done. Educate me, educate yourselves, educate each other. Then let’s combine forces and take over the world.

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