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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Can Heritage Buildings Be Called Green? by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 11.30.09 DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE

Guest Blog - posted in Treehugger, Nov '09

Can Heritage Buildings Be Called Green?
by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 11.30.09


The keefer before its very jazzy renovation

We spend a lot of time saying that Heritage buildings are green, but Vancouver architect Gair Williamson, who has worked on a lot of them, says only "sort of" in an interview with a construction industry newspaper.

"A building constructed in 1904 is not going to perform to modern standards. If we were to take the Keefer project and bump it up to LEED standards, it would be unrecognizable as a heritage building. If they replaced the single-pane windows with double-panes, for example, it would lose the character that made the building iconic."

He makes some very good points that most architects miss when they work on old buildings- that they need to leak a bit.

"If we add showers and kitchens to these buildings, we have to add a semi-permeable sealer to the walls so that it lets the air in and lets the vapour back out as well. That helps to preserve the brick walls constructed with 100-year-old technology.
"Even some of the timbers in these buildings look like they've come fresh out of the sawmill. If you put up a full vapour barrier, these building components begin to age exponentially."

But I think he is off the mark when he says:

"An existing building is an invested resource of energy and material." By preserving that, we're meeting some of the goals of green building, but by any performance-based standards, these buildings are not green."

Of course there is a lot more to performance than just energy. There is the issue of durability, natural light and ventilation, use of healthy materials. But there are numerous examples (like 401 Richmond Street in Toronto) that show that older buildings with opening windows and walls with a lot of thermal mass use less energy and resources than newer ones. Studies have also shown that properly restored single glazed windows can perform very well, particularly if storm windows are installed.

There are lots of reasons to save old buildings, and Williamson is really good at it. But from any life-cycle analysis point of view, and even from a total energy consumption point of view, they can perform well. I think he understates their case here.

More in Greening heritage buildings a trade-off

In Hard Times It's Time For Renovation and Preservation
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall

1 comment:

  1. Who Are We?

    I’d like Shoreline to be a city that embraces the past as we move forward. I encourage voters to be very discriminating when determining how to vote regarding the upcoming School Levy and Bond. While I completely support the levy to continue ongoing education (tax payers funded my education and I feel it is my responsibility to do the same for today’s students) I will not vote for the Bond to rebuild our high schools until the plans for the Shorewood Property have been redrawn to honor the community’s investment in both the Ronald School building and the Shoreline Museum. This can be done by respectfully incorporating them where they currently reside as an integral part of the future. It is my sincere hope the School Board will reconsider their current, insensitive and short-sighted direction by taking time to reconsider the current plans and simply insist the Ronald School be kept intact where it is and can continue to share the living history of our city.

    We each learn and define ourselves by the things we experience. What our parents are/were like, the neighborhood where we played in the backyards, the woods, and the alleys; the friends we had growing up and those we surround ourselves with now. Each of these has added color to the picture defining what we know of the world and how we see our part of it.

    Communities are the same. Who we are now is built on those who came before us. What the neighborhood was like, the things that happened to shape what it looks and feels like now. Knowing these things helps us know who we are today. This is just one reason why museums are so important around the world. Museums help paint the background for today’s picture of who we are. Where we came from and how we got to be the way we are now. They can also help us to learn from how the outcomes of historical decisions have played out over tie; what was good and what didn’t work out so well.

    It’s most unfortunate the School Board is now taking actions which will result in forcing the Museum to abandon the Ronald School Building. This building is a Historical Landmark with over a $1 million invested in it over the last 15 years because the Communities of Shoreline and Lake Forest Park have chosen to preserve it. Yet even though the Museum owns the building the School District doesn’t think it “fits” into the new plan for the Shorewood High School property. If the School Board current decisions go forward they will not only undo all preservation efforts, but ultimately force the Shoreline Museum itself to relocate.

    We need to keep the Ronald School Building and Shoreline Museum it houses right where they are!

    There is a way that we can have it all: the Shorewood High School rebuilt AND the Ronald School with the Shoreline Museum too. This property is in the heart of Shoreline’s Town Center; is there really any better place for our museum?