As a field, historic preservation has been identified as the enemy of progress. Those of us who love significant architecture seemed to resist innovation, ignore progress, and stand in the way of exciting new projects. Clearly, this was an inaccurate assessment. Those of us who love good architecture tend to love the old as well as the new, and we’re always documenting the latest architectural trends defining our built environment. But we’ve heard the criticism, and we’ve sat down with green architects, and we’ve begun to find common ground with the most forward-thinking developers.
Clearly, preservationists are not the first to embrace sustainability, but now we’re actively chasing innovation and pushing the building trades into new and creative directions. No longer made up entirely of individual efforts to save a single landmark, document a demolition, or educate a homeowner on the short life of replacement windows, the preservation movement sees its new role as integral to smart growth. You’ve probably heard the new mantra: “The greenest building is the one that’s already built.” Hardly a new concept, this one asks us to recognize the value of irreplaceable hard woods already embedded in our buildings, that storm windows can preserve original divided lights without threatening your heating bill, that tearing down a warehouse and replacing it with new “green” construction trashes all the energy, workmanship and materials that went into the original. Preservationists are the new advocates of upcycling! But how do we help old buildings become green buildings? The National Trust for Historic Preservation is providing the research (http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability) and we have the National Trust’s Green Lab in our own backyard (www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability/green-lab). But if you want more evidence that green preservation has gone mainstream, take a look at the California Office of Historic Preservation’s aggregated articles, resources, etc. on green preservation. Looks like it’s not getting regularly updated in 2010, but it clearly traces the first five years of the green preservation movement (ohp.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=24861).