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Why the Recession is Good for Traditional Building

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The current economic climate encourages me about the state of traditional building. It is because of the financial crisis that the role of traditional building in climate change is gaining new acceptance and appreciation. In the February issue of Traditional Building, nine distinguished architects discuss "The Changing Architectural Practice in the Age of Lean." All of them cite a high level of client awareness on sustainability, particularly among governmental and educational institutions. All of them discuss the ways in which sustainable building practices imbue the culture of their firms. And to a person, they articulate the link between saving the planet and saving traditional buildings. On this last point, they concede, there is work to be done. To those of us in the $170-billion traditional building industry, it is obvious that saving an old building saves energy. While less obvious to private developers, developers are listening, and traditional building professionals have proof. For example, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), "a 500,000 square foot building has embodied energy of 800 billion BTUs. That's the equivalent of 6.5 million gallons of oil. If this building is demolished, all this energy is wasted." This point was conveyed particularly well by Dick Moe, president of NTHP, at the Greenbuild Conference last fall.

Moe says:
"Demolishing a 500,000 square foot building creates 40,000 tons for debris, enough to fill 250 railroad boxcars, a train two miles long, headed for the landfill."
"Constructing a new 500,000 foot building would release as much carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 30 million miles."
"It takes 35 to 50 years for an energy efficient new home to recover the carbon expended to construct it."

Moreover, traditional buildings constructed before 1940 are more sustainable by design because they have thicker thermal walls, operative windows, are better oriented to the environment, use local materials, are often on transportation corridors and are part of existing infrastructure. The AIA Historic Resources Committee, in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Association of Preservation Technology, is helping USGBC write new guidelines that will encourage restoration renovation and adaptive use. Proof of the connection between sustainability and traditional building has undoubtedly influenced the federal government. The recently passed economic stimulus package is a windfall for federal agencies like the National Park Service and the General Services Administration, whose job it is to quickly spend the money on greening existing buildings, restoring landmarks, pushing ahead on deferred maintenance, fixing infrastructure and renovating the historic building inventory in their care. There are 430,000 buildings managed by the federal government. Likewise, cities will spend on urban revitalization. And there are 24,000 schools built before 1951, most of which are within walking distance of urban centers. School restoration and renovation will occur with new stimulus money given to the states. All the facts, figures and energy efficiency evidence document the future viability and growth of traditional building.

For more on this, go to . A less quantifiable but important market driver is that people love historic buildings and the pedestrian friendly places they occupy. When times are uncertain, as they are today, the strength, beauty, permanence and proud history that traditional buildings convey make people feel hopeful and secure. These majestic buildings have stood the test of time; they remind us that we will too. Click here to read Part One in this series Peter H Miller
Restore Media, LLC

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