As a "Green Architect", (…oh, HOW I hate that term… I was doing "Green" before it was even called that!…) as well as one who has done a lot of work in Historic Preservation areas, I am finding that there is a burgeoning need and demand for services to "Green the Past".
Now, what exactly does that mean? We have all become so utterly "Greenwashed" with every imaginable "green" product and service that I think many people feel ready to banish that term from our vocabularies altogether. Being *the* hot topic of the day, everyone wants "in". There are plenty of fakirs out there too… snake oil salesmen who will put the term "green" on anything at all in order to sell it. What is needed is some thoughtful re-assignment of the term.
What interests me is activities that actually can improve on historic structures while being conscious of and interactive with new trends and new awareness of issues in construction, energy efficiency, and materials and methods. This would be anything along the following lines:
- Improving Indoor Air Quality of aging buildings
- Removing toxins including Asbestos, lead, and other typical materials found in many historic structures
- Dealing with problems associated with outdated forced air systems
- Finding grossly inefficient systems, including huge old boilers, lighting, and other building infrastructure that works on "old energy paradigms"
- Updating materials and finishes to current standards, not only "Green", but also ADA compliant, appropriate lighting levels (in stairwells and the like), as well as being cosmetically attractive
- Replacing wasteful old toilet fixtures and other appliances that gobble too much water and energy
The importance of Historic Preservation Standards is also key to "Greening the Past". The United States Secretary of the Interior has instituted formally written standards for Historic Preservation, Restoration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. (http://www.nps.gov/hps/tps/standards/rehabilitation.htm) Each one of these terms has specific meaning to preservationists, and the historic designation of a structure is critically important in determining what can and cannot be done to it. Many of the suggested ideas above fall within the guidelines for any of these Preservation approaches, but some do not. Navigating that thicket with the Historic Preservation Planners at City Hall, as well as public organizations intended to protect Historic Resources is an additional challenge of its own.
What can certainly be said of "Greening the Past" is that it’s high time we attended to all the beautiful old buildings in our magnificent city, and brought them up to date in a sensitive, and thoughtful way.