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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Preservation- A Green Tool

What does "Preservation" of historic assets have to do with  Sustainability?

photo credit- Vicki Westberg

One thing is these older buildings have "captured carbon" stored within them.
I learned this at a National League of Cities Conference program on Green Building.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation gave a presentation and laid out the case for
Preservation as Sustainability.

Here is a White Paper that was presented a few years ago on the subject by NTHP.

The presentor pointed out that all of the buildings already built have caught up in their steel, bricks, concrete, wood and glass (and even plastic), millions of tons and tons of carbon. In other words, the carbon that was released in creating the existing buildings, is "tied up" within them. If you tear down a building, all that stuff gets hauled to a land fill and is then left to "rot". Then to rebuild or replace a historic building, you need to use up even more carbon. So these historic buildings actually contain "embodied energy".

Also, most of these old buildings (built before about 1930) have high ceilings, thick walls, natural lighting and many other features we desire now in "sustainably built" building. Natural insulation and indications of how folks used to live more simply. (Sure everybody like air conditioning, but remember how we used to manage just fine without it?)

This is even beyond the value of the historical asset and how it's "sustainable" to a community to preserve them for our cultural needs and maybe not "sustainable" fiscally to just dump something of value.

With that in mind check out this story from MAin2 Blog about an story that is eerily familiar with what's going on with the Shoreline Historical Museum. This time it's about a "historic" Boeing Plant in Tukwila, where B-52 Bombers were built that helped win WWII for the allies.

Think of all the "embodied energy" contained in this plant!’s-place-in-history-gone/#more-770

Boeing Plant 2’s Place in History: Gone?

Rendering of Boeing Plant 2 from Asahel Curtis Photo, ca. 1936 / Source: UW Special Collections
QUESTION: What do you get when you combine a powerful private corporation (Boeing), a City government that has no preservation ordinance (City of Tukwila), and a hulk of a utilitarian structure that happens to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (Boeing Plant 2) but is proposed for demolition?
ANSWER: You get a City agency declaring a “Determination of Non-Significance” through SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) that the proposed demolition of Boeing Plant 2 does not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment. How is it possible to propose that a National Register-eligible historic property be demolished, and yet not have this action be considered a significant adverse impact? It just doesn’t make sense.
What is Boeing Plant 2 and why is it important to our heritage? Located at 7755 East Marginal Way S. in Tukwila on the banks of the Duwamish River, its significance is multi-layered but it is best known for its association with the defense industry in Washington state and the U.S. during World War II. Plant 2 was where the B-17 (the Flying Fortress) and the B-29 (the Super Fortress) planes were manufactured—they played a pivotal role in the Allied victory in Europe. Plant 2 was so important during the war that the roof of the massive 754,000 square-foot structure was camouflaged to appear as a normal residential neighborhood in the air (to make it a less obvious target for enemy air bombers).
Diana Painter’s recent article from July 17 in Crosscut is a must-read because she tries to wade through the complicated morass related to the proposed destruction of Boeing Plant 2 and asks a lot of questions that have yet to be answered or have been answered inadequately. Ms. Painter is an architectural historian. Her father, a World War II veteran, worked as an engineer for Boeing for 27 years, including several years at Boeing Plant 2 on the B-52 bomber.
The proposed demolition of Plant 2 brings up the larger issue of what to do with historic utilitarian structures that are no longer used? How can they successfully be adaptively reused? Old mill sites and breweries across the country have been converted to commercial and/or residential spaces that offer unique places to work, live and play. Granted, Boeing Plant 2 has soil and ground contamination issues, but so do most industrial sites. Industrial and utilitarian structures are often not valued as much as other types of design. They are important for their function and utility and often, the designs are fine examples of structural engineering or a particular method of construction which are just as significant as architectural style or ornament on buildings—they’re just not as “pretty.”
In addition to Ms. Painter’s article in Crosscut, the Seattle Times broke the story on the proposed demolition of Boeing Plant 2 back in January 2010. For more on the significance of the site and photos, see the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s Blog. When news of the proposed demolition hit the streets in January, most of us in the preservation world were taken by surprise. The process, such as it is, continues to this day and we await the final death knell to sound on Boeing Plant 2. There is no mitigation for demolition.


  1. I love the fact the Steam Plant along I-5 was saved and non-functioning chimneys installed in remembrance of its' original use.

    Then there is the old Rainier Brewery where the old neon "R" has been honored by Tully's with a big neon "T".

    These landmarks are what make one place different from the next so we know who and where we are. They are literally foundational pieces of community anchoring us in space and time.

  2. I agree, look at how the old Iron Works became a City Park and how the Smith Tower stands among the new buildings as Seattle's first skyscraper! These are what make Seattle what it is, we have the same thing in Shoreline if have the will to save it from the School District's dirty deeds.

  3. Thanks to both commentators for great points!

    We actually do have many things in Shoreline worth preserving. They may or may not be nearly as old as Ronald School, but still give our town character as one of the first "suburbs" of Seattle.

    These things all hold "embodied energy" or carbon which would just be released if they are torn down.

    As a City that is developing a reputation for being green, it behoves us to save Ronald School and the Shoreline Museum for this reason alone!