Old buildings can learn new tricks
By Caitlin Powell, Skanska
Caitlin Powell is project engineer in the Portland office of Skanska USA Building and specializes in sustainable building. She can be reached at 503.382.0900 or Caitlin.Powell@skanska.com.
I remember the excitement when we first started renovating the former Meier & Frank warehouse, originally built in 1927, in Northwest Portland.
Neighbors began stopping by daily to share memories of the furniture sales they had attended in the building a few decades earlier. As more people shared their connections, it became clear that the building was much-loved and local residents were excited about it getting another chance at life.
Architectural historian Patricia Waddy observed, “Buildings have lives in time, and those lives are intimately connected with the lives of the people who use them. Eventually — when, for whatever reason, people no longer find them useful — they die.”
For years we have allowed our buildings to “die” without more than a thought. In fact, approximately one billion square feet of buildings are demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States every year.
You may have heard the saying that the greenest buildings are those that are already built. While assumptions have been made that renovating an existing building is greener than building a new one, until now there hasn’t been much evidence to support this supposition.
The recent release of “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse,” by the Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in partnership with the Cascadia Green Building Council, has begun to change that. This study digs into whether an old building can keep up or even surpass the environmental benefits of an efficient new building.
In the study, four criteria were examined: climate change, resource depletion, human health and ecosystem quality. Additionally, the study sought to cover various locations by comparing six types of buildings in four cities, Portland being one of them.
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