Monday, January 07, 2008

Historic Preservation and Adaptive Reuse Architecture

My goal in 2008 is to continue exploring the many resources we all have available to help us become thoughtful consumers. I'll be sharing information and links that will help us to unclutter and simplify our personal lives, to recognize how often and how effectively we're manipulated by advertising, and to think about decisions that we need to make collectively in order to create a society that is focused on the quality of our lives rather than the quantity of our possessions.

So, let's launch the new year with just a few thoughts about one of those larger topics that affects all of us: architecture. We don't live in a vacuum, we live in cities, towns, and rural areas, all of which are full of structures that impact our comfort, our sense of aesthetics, and the Earth's environment. Our surroundings affect us not only in our own homes, but outside them, in the communities where we live and work.

At home, living an uncluttered, simplified life means we're not consuming more than we need and we're being thoughtful about our purchases, often recycling items for purposes other than what was originally intended. When we achieve this goal, or at least valiantly strive for it, it's personally satisfying -- perhaps even sanity saving.

Adaptive reuse of older buildings serves the same purpose on a much grander scale. We can't keep slapping up monster-sized mansions, enormous bleak glass skyscrapers and endlessly clogged mega-freeways without cluttering our cities and creating tremendous stress on our society. Thoughtful decisions are crucial when dealing with public spaces, too.

I always like to look back to see what worked in the past before leaping to conclusions about how to shape the future. "Preservation" is the magazine published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- a favorite charitable organization of mine. The magazine is a perfect vehicle for examining the architecture of the past, then using what we've learned to make our lives better right now and in years to come. The January/February 2008 edition is called "The Green Issue." It's full of informative articles, as usual, but I was particularly fond of "A Cautionary Tale," by Wayne Curtis, who offers an often neglected positive viewpoint regarding the "green" value of older buildings.

In the past, houses and buildings needed to be constructed to accomodate weather fluctuations because heating was difficult and air conditioning was unheard of. So, depending on the location, builders relied on such things as high ceilings, sleeping porches, and shutters to help provide comfort to inhabitants. Using local materials was common, both in construction and landscaping. And buildings were made to last through the ages.

Preservation of older buildings is not just aesthetically desireable, it's practical. The energy used to renovate an already-existing building is almost always far less than what would be required for new construction. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing manufacturing company is quoted as follows: "The most responsible way to buy clothes is to shop at Goodwill. And the most responsible way to build is to recycle an old bulding."

Take a look at the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, to see how that area has become a vibrant, artistic part of town thanks to much historic preservation and adaptive reuse of buildings.

The dynamic Gallery of Modern Art for the Tate Museum in London was formerly an abandoned power plant.

Architecture Week has a library of interesting adaptive reuse projects.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a non-profit firm that redeveloped Boston's old City Hall.

Multi-Housing News reports on a Seattle project that successfully turned a 1919 warehouse into environmentally friendly lofts.

Architectural Record talks about the reuse of an unusual site: the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh.

This page about the history of Citadel Outlets shopping center in Los Angeles leaves out the many years that the huge structure sat abandoned and decaying. It's at the side of the freeway on the way to Disneyland, so many Angelenos happily watched its transformation.

Thoughtful consumers play an important role in creating public surroundings that are vibrant and nurturing. If you know of an adaptive reuse project in your area, please send along a link in your comment. Thanks!

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

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