Test the proposal

July 24, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1064

The City of Chicago just awarded $11 million to two contractors to demolish 28 of the 29 buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, including all 8 that were designed with the involvement of Walter Gropius. This brings the total city cost for the site to almost 100 million dollars, but this does not of course begin to tally the environmental costs. Ten years ago, I watched another lakefront demolition, where dust and debris socked those watching from the lakefront. Continue Reading

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A Sustainable Proposal

July 23, 2009 Economics, Sustainability, Technology Comments (2) 1013

Since sustainability is the flavor of the year and perhaps the century, it is time we started applying it to HOW we do things and not just those THINGS we buy and sell. Essentially, sustainability is about HOW things are made, HOW they operate over time, HOW they are recycled into other things or just left as junk in the earth. But we tend to ignore the inconvenient aspects. I am sitting here typing on a computer and I might feel all high and mighty about saving trees but the fact of the matter is this computer was assembled thousands of miles from here with parts from thousands of miles further and it is being operated thanks to the combustion of coal and fission of uranium. I can plant trees and make more. Can I make more coal and uranium? No. Continue Reading

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June 28, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1162

I took this picture as Felicity and I were bicycling through Elmwood Park and Dunning the other day. I was struck by the frequency of awnings on various 1950s bungalows, ranch houses and apartments and then I realized the historically obvious: these were pre-air-conditioning buildings. Awnings helped cool them in the summer – a wonderfully low-tech, low-carbon solution. This was especially poignant on a 90-plus- degree (nearly 40 C) day (always the best for a long bike ride). We are fortunate to have a large brick house shaded by massive trees. We have two AC window units in the bedrooms and Felicity put a fan in the cool basement. Bingo – the first floor was comfortable all week without AC. Technology goes ALL the way back in history, don’tcha know. Continue Reading

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Tuesday: Unity and Sustainability

April 29, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1105

Yesterday I brought my class to Unity Temple for the announcement of this iconic landmark’s listing on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List for 2009. As a Trustee, I got to make the announcement. It is a challenging issue, because Unity Temple is threatened not by demolition, but by deterioration. Moreover, it has a congregation that has spent $750,000 on maintenance in the last five years plus the separate Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, which has raised $3 million for restoration during the same period. The problem, however, is even bigger, and the building needs a national and international community to save it. Village President David Pope offered a compelling analogy: the local community of monks that used Angkor Wat did not have the resources to preserve it. Continue Reading

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Sustainability, LEED, and Preservation

March 20, 2009 Economics, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (2) 1060

I am at the Preservation and Sustainability conference at Goucher College today, where I presented a paper on the Greening of the Prairie School, which I joked was like saying “Gilding the Lily” since my biggest point was that much of the 100-year old Prairie School included design features we would now consider green, such as local sourcing, unfinished materials, climate-sensitive siting, overhanging eaves, natural ventilation systems, and compact design. I also talked about ways in which the Prairie School was not sustainable, including the sprawling anti-urban bias of Frank Lloyd Wright himself, and I concluded with the example of the former River Forest Women’s Club, which went from the 2005 Illinois’ 10 Most Endangered List to the 2008 Illinois Preservation Project of the Year, thanks to Ellen and Paul Coffey, who rehabbed the building using the latest in green technology. Continue Reading

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How To Weatherproof Your Windows

March 5, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology, Window Replacement Comments (2) 1385

Many previous posts deal with windows and the benefits of repairing historic wooden windows. A post from November detailed one of my do-it-yourself repairs of my perfectly square, well-functioning 110-year old windows and just this week I shared the details of my heating bill. Now, you can learn “How To Repair and Weatherproof your Windows” in a workshop of that name this Saturday, March 7, from 9-10 AM at Von Dreele-Freerksen, 509 Madison Street in Oak Park. It’s free!

In 2005 I did a panel on windows with Doug Freerksen, who brought his tools and discussed how you can repair and weatherproof your windows, so I know it will be a good seminar.

BTW, you CAN’T do a seminar on “How to Repair Your Replacement Windows.”

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Getting the LEED out

February 28, 2009 Sustainability, Technology Comments (1) 1228

Reusing an existing building saves 35 tons of CO2 production – www.emptyhomes.com

“We can’t consume our way to sustainability” – Carl Elefante, AIA

“Confronting energy reduction with technology in lieu of conservation is short-sighted-
-the problem is conservation is not very sexy and difficult to package and sell. ”
Neal Vogel, Restoric LLC

Neal is a longtime friend and colleague and one of several experts who have seen the limitations of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which was introduced this century by the U.S. Green Building Council and has made new buildings more energy efficient. The problem is that LEED at the beginning virtually ignored old buildings, despite the fact that an old building’s carbon footprint is always less than a new one. Much of the “Green Building” industry was driven by marketing efforts to push new products. Continue Reading

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Insulation, not replacement windows

February 15, 2009 Economics, Sustainability, Technology, Window Replacement Comments (0) 1385

The Obama stimulus bill has $5 billion for making modest income homes more energy efficient. The way to do this is to insulate their attics, not replace their windows. Once you insulate the top of your house, you have completed 80% of your energy savings. The marketing by window replacement manufacturers and vendors disguises this fact, but it is obvious once you remember one principle from elementary school: heat rises.

A few hundred dollars of insulation will thus do more for energy efficiency than a thousand dollars of replacement windows. The cheapest replacement windows, under $200 plus installation, will take 30 years to pay for themselves in energy savings, and will not last nearly that long. Continue Reading

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February 8, 2009 Economics, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1170

My last post discussed one of the great problems of sustainability today and our conceptual laziness in distinguishing between reuse and recycling. Sustainability as a concept can also lead to lazy thinking because like economics, there are different levels of sustainability.

I read today about all of the green products at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, lovely bamboo “socially conscious sinks”, sinks made out of recycled enamel, and tiles made out of 10-100 percent recycled glass (depending on the color), and the quickest shortcut to green heaven, the CFL bulb.

Of course, we have the reuse versus recycling problem here: It is swell that building materials are made out of recycled materials and that sinks can be made from bamboo, but where are they coming from and what is their carbon footprint? How much energy was used to remelt and reform those glass tiles? How much to forge that sink enamel? How much to ship that bamboo sink halfway around the world? And then you have the whole problem that a new building has a big carbon footprint no matter what it is made out of, and if you removed an old building to build the new building, odds are the project won’t become carbon neutral in your lifetime. Continue Reading

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February 4, 2009 Economics, Sustainability, Technology Comments (2) 1018

The words we use in everyday life tend to be casual and unfortunately, that means the concepts they embody can also get sloppy. In the field of fixing up old buildings the terms “renovate,” “remodel,” “rehabilitate,” “preserve,” and even “restore” are used interchangeably, even though the latter three terms have fairly precise definitions and guidelines for their practice promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior. Those guidelines are not interchangeable and it is a very different thing to “preserve” a building rather than “rehabilitate: it. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that we use “preserve” to mean “save from demolition,” even if the final treatment of the property is (as it almost always is) rehabilitation.

Now, in the era of sustainability, a similar casual conversational confusion may lead to causal conundrums. The goal of the historic preservation movement, broadly, is the reuse of historic buildings. This is very different from the recycling of buildings, but in conservation, as in preservation, we have been lazy with our terminology. Continue Reading

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