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Posts Tagged ‘National Trust for Historic Preservation’

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
a. MR CREDIT: WHOLE BUILDING REUSE p. 112
b. MR CREDIT: MATERIALS REUSE p.116

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

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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.

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This week’s guest blogger is the ever-philosophical Aaron Lubeck, housing consultant and author of Green Restorations: Sustainable Building in Historic Homes. He is currently adjunct faculty at Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment. Aaron is an advocate for preserving whenever possible, but discusses what many in the preservation field now wrestle with–just because an older building may be worth preserving for environmental reasons, is it necessarily landmark-worthy? Do mass-produced buildings actually contradict popular preservation philosophy? This is where historic preservation gets pretty sticky.

The Case Against Levittown’s Inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places
by Aaron Lubeck

When William Levitt completed his first assembly-line house in 1947 no one knew how much the man would forever alter the face of America. At the height of his reign his company completed a house every 16 minutes. The average builder built 3-4 homes every year; he finished 30-40 every day. Some decry him for creating sprawl and the suburb. I don’t mind that charge so much, as a fast-growing country we were somewhat bound to stretch. For me, it’s the inadvertent consequences resulting from his work that continues to disappoint. Leavitt’s long term effect on the country, as it altered our physical face to the world, I find his work overwhelmingly a net negative.

While all his business achievements are impressive and undeniably transformative, there are cases to be made that Levittown(s) should not be on the National Register. Here are three: First, Levittown is the antitheses of early 20th century design, arguably American architecture’s heyday, where individual homeowners’ identities were efficaciously linked to their homes. Levitt’s methods, then, endangered this freshly-minted cornerstone of American individualism. Richard Lacayo of Time described the contrast well: “The home was an ancient possession, a thing too intimate to be mass-produced without offending notions of Yankee individuality that were already under intense pressure from modernity”. Pre-1940, even in working class homes, individuality or local character is ever-present. But the cookie-cutter tract home craze Levitt pioneered represented conformity, central planned. Isn’t it ironic that the Levittowns were built at the height of the Cold War, when you’d expect objection to this method to be more present? Pent-up demand from a lost decade and expansive federal financing from GI bills (the first no down-payment loans) primed the pump for his growth, so arguably Uncle Sam was the more guilty party and Levitt was just following orders. After all, who had the time to build custom with all that cash-soaked demand about?

Levittown, New York. Photo from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov

Second, Levittown represented the first major conflicts of interest disconnect between the housing decision maker (designer|builder) and ultimate beneficiary (the homeowner) in what Energy Secretary Stephen Chu habitually refers to as ‘principle agent’ and ‘split incentives’ issues, phenomenons that ultimately put a downward pressure on quality.

Third, when low-cost production methods arrived, authenticity departed. Customization is a crucial component of the National Register. To be historic things must first be unique. That’s a fairly low bar to jump over, but Levittown’s houses fails to do it. In his book Why Architecture Matters, Paul Goldberger writes “architecture is the ultimate representation of a culture, even more so than its flag”, a statement that holds true in all eras, for better or worse: If Louis Sullivan’s ambitious art nouveau vine patterns say ‘We are unique; simultaneously in touch with industry and nature, powerful and innovative”, what do today’s faux grain vinyl siding and false-front Mcmansions say about what it means to be an American? What do the harmonizing boxes on a concrete and treeless landscape say about the US at mid-century?

I accept that one can simultaneously dislike something while appreciating its historic importance. I’ve never quite gravitated to Mies Van Der Rohe’s glass boxes, or the whole modernist movement, which sort of bore me. And I recognize the important business practices of production building that Levitt effectively created or mastered. Perhaps his work is better placed on a list of historic civil engineering landmarks, or in a business school hall of fame. Artistically, it’s a leading example of what happens when you take the pen out of an artist’s hand and let management do the creative.

Levittown, NY, 1948. Photo from http://www.affordablehousinginstitute.org

Levittown’s emphasis on quantity over quality has overtones with housing today. Like many other Americans in tract-build homes, his namesake company Levitt & Sons filed bankruptcy, interestingly, in 2007. The analogy goes further. Perhaps not coincidentally Levitt, too, overextended himself and died broke, saddled with dumb investments.

His factory process, which he described as Detroit-running-in-reverse, signaled the beginning of the end of American architecture; we’ve been building with his methods for seven decades now. The practice of expressing person through personal architecture hasn’t really been practiced since, and the assassination happened that day in New York, 1947. To put his work on the national register is akin to honoring John Wilkes Booth in the Lincoln Memorial. Change history, Mr. Levitt did. Just not for the better. It’s for that reason William Levitt’s contributions do not belong on our National Register of Historic Places.

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I started this blog to stay relevant. All of the green rating systems and new data about climate change and crazy building material lab experiments change daily. I finished my MS in Historic Preservation in 2008, while simultaneously interning with the Department of Environment, where I was a spokesperson on innovative green technology. Er, within about 2 months of graduating, I started to feel obsolete. I wanted something that would essentially force me to write a short paper at least once or twice a week so that I had to do research on the latest and greatest trends and data, but also, I needed to continually reevaluate why I am a preservationist and how I am a preservationist. Really, it can all be very confusing. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain what, exactly, it is that I do for a living.

On Earth Day, the National Trust published a few stories about the intersection of preservation and the environment, and I stumbled upon a particularly relevant one written by Patrice Frey called “Old Homes in a Sustainable World: A New Job Description for Preservationists” that sums up how rapidly the field of preservation has changed over the past few years. Basically, she explains that to be a preservationist today, one needs to expand the original scope and also understand how preservation fits into puzzle of climate change. While I feel this is crucial for myself and have been harping on this point to the rest of the preservation world for a couple of years now, I also think that there is room for different kinds of preservation work. Some days I wake up and think about how I spend so much damned time trying to keep my finger on the newest green trends that I hardly get to focus on any true blue preservation anymore. And to be perfectly honest, I miss that. It is why I changed careers in the first place.

So here is the question: as a preservationist, is the goal to save as many homes possible (retrofit existing buildings that may or may not be historic), or is the goal to sensitively restore homes that are already saved? Of course, both are crucial. While it seems silly to ignore the obvious signs of global warming, the billions of dollars in retrofit funding, and the overwhelming popularity of green building and materials, we still need some traditional preservationists to keep the older mission–the mission to accurately preserve history, not just embodied energy–alive. And these goals are not contradictory–the mission of the Trust has certainly expanded tenfold over the last two decades. It’s just about staying relevant. Diversifying and being sure that preservation has a voice in the Brave New World of glass-infused wood and LEED, but also not always compromising for some hybrid of old and new. In my mind being a “green preservationist” and being an “historic preservationist” are almost two completely separate careers, though there is certainly overlap and a need to combine their goals for increased success.

In summary, a green historic preservationist is a pragmatist who loves and appreciates historic architecture but also fears the wrath of climate change and is, most likely, just a touch schizofrenic.

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In my last post, I addressed rating systems and brought up the point that it is difficult for rating systems to, well, rate without standardized measures like NFRC ratings on windows. Fortunately, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) is smarter than me and is addressing this issue at the USGBC Cascadia Chapter’s Living Futures Conference in May. The Trust’s session will focus on “Outcome-Based Energy Codes as a Foundation for Policy and Market Transformation.”

As many of you may have read or heard, a New York Times article from August 2009 revealed that many buildings boasting the LEED label were not performing nearly as well as had been originally predicted by the U.S. Green Building Council. This was a pretty big deal because the LEED label allows building owners to gain tax credits and charge premium rents. It is also, well, a little annoying because there is so much patting on the back and hoopla surrounding these certifications. Once the data was released, some experts in the field were recommending that LEED certification be withheld until a building proves itself to be energy efficient, and that energy consumption data from every rated building should be made available to the public. Honestly, this was a big break for preservationists. Not that we like to encourage failure, but something smelled fishy from the get-go with many of these new “green” construction projects, and there was some rejoicing in that moment of “I told you so.”

Preservation Green Lab was created to encourage municipalities and states around the country to fully consider historic preservation and the existing building stock in formulating their climate change action plans.

I don’t bring that up to rehash the past, but to highlight how smart and timely the NTHP is in regards to this issue, even in a time when their budget is being hacked to bits and they are in danger of losing major programs. I will let Liz Dunne, Consulting Director of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab sum up what outcome-based energy codes are about:

The NTHP’s Preservation Green Lab (PGL) is working with the City of Seattle on a new energy code framework that will be based on actual energy performance outcomes, rather than prescriptive measures, for retrofitting existing buildings. Existing energy codes typically rely on prescriptive measures (for example, requiring projects to use windows with a certain “U” value) rather than targeting certain performance outcomes (for example improving overall energy performance by a certain percentage.)

I sometimes think of software and rating systems as a kind of misguided cyborg Superman (surely, I am not alone in this?). They seem like they will fix everything and keep you safe and warm, but in reality, they often lose that human, common sense element, creating even more problems.

PGL is currently calling for case studies on older buildings that have undergone energy efficient retrofits (they don’t need to be historic) to collect more real data and to hopefully be a major voice in this movement–or should I say, a voice that is finally taken more seriously. This data will be valuable in many ways as stimulus money is continually being pumped into home energy improvements, which is always well intentioned but not always in the most effective way to use funding. Energy audits are also proving to be a poor predictor of energy savings with older homes (based on what I have seen, they are inflating the projected energy savings of homes based on the software recommendations), so what is needed are more realistic and outcomes to draw on instead of software programs modeling off of god-knows-what. And, of course, this will also show which measures are effective and which are not delivering what they promise. This is not to say that energy audits are not crucial to energy saving measures, just that they need to be expressed in a different way. Audits are missing that more human element, which could help owners to pay more attention to existing features and not worry so much about all the lab testing done on replacement materials because much of it is bunk or doesn’t take into account existing materials and factors.

In short (finally): I’m completely stoked to see this new data and glad that we’re finally getting to a point where measures installed a couple of years back can now be measured in terms of true performance. It just seems that the most accurate lab testing out there will not be done in a closed room with expensive machines and artificial conditions–it will be the info gathered by the Preservation Green Lab.

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