Why are they called replacement windows?

October 15, 2019 Blog, Economics, Sustainability, Technology, Window Replacement Comments (1) 242

Because you have to keep replacing them. I have been lecturing and blogging about replacement windows for twenty years. Here’s a good one from 2005. Here in San Antonio my window lectures go back five years, even though I’ve only lived and worked here for 3 1/2. Yet still, we are plagued with well-meaning homeowners and developers who think replacement windows are a key upgrade.

And then there are the aesthetic issues….

As I explained in 2005, the issue is one of viral marketing, the kind that makes you get out of bed, stretch your arms and replace your windows because you just KNOW it is right. Oh, but I am saving energy, you say!

Not if you install it like this.

A historic window made of old-growth, non-warping dense-grained wood can be restored and made energy efficient. And up to a fourth of replacement windows are improperly installed (see above) so that the main source of air infiltration – THE FRAME – is still leaking like a sieve. In fact, a new tighty whitey plastic window may well force MORE air through the frame.

You can fix an old window. You can only replace a replacement window.

Now, when I first began public speaking about window replacement mythology, I was in the North and now I am in the South. And the issue is pretty much the same – you save energy – whether heating or cooling – by limiting air infiltration and installing insulation. The problem is, the myth of the replacement window so colors our perception that we can’t see things right in front of us.

Ten years ago.

The power of the myth is so strong that the writers of this magazine failed to interpret the cover photo correctly. This is a heat audit, where red and orange illustrate air infiltration and heat loss. Blue is where there is less air infiltration and heat loss. So the obvious conclusion is that this house needs to insulate its roof, because it is raging red. But that’s not what they saw – they saw blue windows and celebrated their replacement. (You can see classic frame infiltration in the center second-story window.)

Steel casements are a challenge, but interior glazing adhered by magnets helps a lot.

Today we drafted a statement for tomorrow’s Historic and Design Review Commission that covered FIVE different buildings trying to get replacement windows. A couple had a little rot on the bottom rail or sill, but most were in fine shape. They. Could. Be. Fixed. That is the bottom line.

We lose sight of this basic truth by focusing on replacement window materials – should they be wood? Plastic (vinyl)? Aluminum clad?

At some level I don’t care. Once you have landfilled the historic windows it becomes academic. The whole point of heritage conservation is reusing things that are valuable.

HELLO LANDFILL! I am old-growth wood!

It is hard to keep the simple fact of “Fix it. don’t ditch it” in a mind poisoned by a generation of relentless advertising.

They are called replacement windows because you have to keep replacing them. That is the business model.

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Both And

February 25, 2019 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 350

Paper or plastic?

For years we have been offered this choice at the supermarket checkout, and it annoys me. Why can’t I have both? I sometimes reply “Some of each,” which confuses people. But I actually have some need for plastic and some for paper. I’m NOT one or the other.

Paper in plastic.

Our “polarized” 2019 world has been caused by many such false choices – politically and otherwise – between categories that seem to exclude each other. But they don’t. Making the categories more extreme (i.e., you are either Communist or Fascist) makes the duality seem real. It’s not.

YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE!

Let’s leave the hoary hoardings of the politicalifragilistic to one side and remain in our expertise: architectural history and preservation. 13 years ago in this blog I celebrated a debate which I witnessed several times between modernist Paul Byard and classicist Steven Semes (who is a good friend) on the appropriate way to design additions to historic buildings. Byard, who has since passed away, advocated modernist additions while Semes has written a book arguing for contextual additions. The debate was AWESOME because each speaker was so convincing you actually suspended your own bias and wandered back and forth between the camps.

The debate and the dichotomy struck me yesterday as I visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, a late Victorian building with two contemporary additions.

Paper.
Plastic.

One satisfies the contextualists, and one uses contemporary materials to distinguish itself from the original. Both defer to the original building in scale, massing and setback. If you are sensitive to brick color and the patina of time, both read clearly as additions. I like them BOTH.

SAMA has both MODERNIST and CONTEXTUAL additions. Or perhaps I should say SAMA has BOTH Modernist AND Contextual additions.

And where does Art Nouveau stained glass fit into your philosophy, Horatio?

BOTH AND is the actual dynamic state of the world. The binaries and categories we use to make sense of this world are intellectual constructs that negate a major physical reality: Time.

A thing now does not equal a thing ten years from now. This is manifest at the quantum level but it is also true up here in the everyday. Styles change, technologies change, and materials age, each at their own rate.

King James Bible, 1611. Words and language change as well.

There are continuities, of course, and indeed the task of heritage conservation is about maintaining continuities amid change. To do that job, you need to see things as they are, not as you would have them be. You need to understand BOTH now AND then.

The dynamic nature of experience and existence belies clumsy categorizations. We, and our work, are always in the process of becoming.

I explained this better in my 2012 blog: Categories are your Frenemies.

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Heritage Conservation 2018 – PastForward

November 20, 2018 Blog, California, Intangible Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 563

Just back from San Francisco, currently sporting the worst air quality on the planet but also hosting PastForward, the National Preservation Conference.

For me it brought back fond memories of Beijing, 2004.  

It was the final meeting for National Trust President Stephanie Meeks.  I remember flying from Chicago to Washington DC and back the same day to vote her into her position back in 2010.

Her speech at the Plenary session hit five major points that well illustrate the status of heritage conservation in 2018 and its future direction.  You can see her full speech here, but I hope she will allow me to reflect on her five points below.

People First

Heritage conservation is about what people want and need, and not about museums and architectural obscurities.  It is about Main Streets and housing and schools and jobs and how communities are built and thrive.  It about more than tourism and curation – it is about how we feel about belonging to a place, investing ourselves in it.

Stephanie cited Abraham Maslow’s 1943 “Hierarchy of Needs” where PLACE and a sense of belonging were first identified as essential human needs.  Current neuroscience has dramatically underscored this early intuition with the solid research into the brain chemistry of architecture and environment in the work of Colin Ellard (which I blogged about here in 2016.)

Ahhhh…dopamine….

The latest developments go even further that Ellard’s quantification of how – chemically – interesting buildings make us feel good and parking lots make us anxious.  I just read Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s Welcome To Your World, a study of the new concept of embodied cognition – that how we think about and understand our world is crafted by our built environment, largely in an unconscious way.  She makes the case that good design is a basic human need, a key to brain health and a source of emotions.  “Recognizing and identifying patterns produces in us a sensation of pleasure.”

We see ourselves in our surroundings.

It turns out architecture is neither a luxury nor an externality.  It is the way we construct our thoughts and feelings.   The heritage conservation field is only beginning to take advantage of these new frontiers in neuroscience which prove something we suspected for a long time.  Look for a big expansion in the coming years.

Innovation

The changes to heritage conservation in the last two decades are epic.  In terms of diagnostics, we can now learn so much more about archaeology and buildings with minimally invasive techniques impossible in the 20th century.  Ground-penetrating radar.  LIDAR.  We can snake cameras into the tiniest crawlspaces and cavity walls, and we can point cloud anything with a regular camera if need be.

Presidio 2007 – an actual point cloud station but they did show us how to do it with camera.

New tools are also available for rehabilitation.  I learned Thursday that a company actually makes siding that matches 1940s asbestos siding!  We can 3-D print components, or we can find the companies that still make the same sash cord they did 90 years ago.

Yeah baby!! 

The greatest innovations, of course, have been in interpretation of historic places.

Painting with light.  “Restored By Light” at Mission San Jose, 2016

Innovation works at two levels here.  First, we have to reach the next audience through the media they choose to use.  Second, we can restore history without resorting to massive physical intervention, as seen above.

Interpretation at the recently reopened Cooper-Molera historic site, Monterey, CA.

Innovative interpretation is key not only to the massive tourism industry, but also the more basic and democratic project of sharing why we save and repurpose elements of the past.  People love the stories in the simplest of buildings.  They enrich our experiences, which people crave today more than things.

Stephanie referenced the virtual reality interpretations of historic sites, and I would simply add that augmented reality is already a staple of museums and public history today, in 2018.  The next generation of tourists will expect AR at every heritage site.  Full stop.

I blogged about this moment almost two years ago here.  

Scale

Scale.  We complained at Harvard Business School this summer that every case study was about scaling.  But yes, scaling is growth and that is the pattern of political economy and indeed civilization.  So too in preservation we need to scale beyond the regulated landmark by incorporating heritage – in some form – into every aspect of building and planning.  We are doing it here in San Antonio, from our neighborhood workshops that invite ALL communities regardless of designation to the city’s recent efforts to improve infill zoning.

Stephanie specifically referenced the rehabilitation of Cooper-Molera Adobe, the National Trust site in Monterey which I was involved with and saw in all of its free-entry glory last Saturday.  It is like the Gaylord Building now – a restaurant, bakery and event space pay for the lively restored and crisply interpreted historic house.  Nice job!

The challenge of bringing the heritage conservation message to scale is implicit in the initiatives described above – including all older neighborhoods regardless of their architectural integrity or consistency; reaching out to include diverse voices from history; understanding heritage as a part and parcel of EVERY planning and zoning decision.

The challenge for groups like the National Trust or San Antonio Conservation Society is how do you transmit scale into your organization?  Can you grow membership in an era of declining membership?  Can you create micro-members who join for a singular moment and cause?  Can you re-tool surveys to fully incorporate diverse and intangible histories?

Living Heritage

This was not one of the categories in Stephanie’s speech, but it was a frequent topic of educational sessions, since San Francisco is leading the way in dealing with Living Heritage through its thematic context studies, Legacy Business Program, and cultural place initiatives.

Japantown, San Francisco

These initiatives explode the traditional bounds of architecturally-based heritage conservation by focusing on intangible heritage and community values that are embodied in PLACE but not ARCHITECTURE.  Some of these sessions were TrustLive follow-ups to the TrustLive presentation at our September Living Heritage Symposium in San Antonio, featuring my friend Theresa Pasqual.  I blogged about our 2017 symposium here.

Climate Change.

Three and a half years ago I attended the Pocantico Conference on Climate change and heritage.  With so many coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels, climate change remains a central concern in the field of heritage conservation.

Preservation is always triage – which are the most important places to save, and which must be let go due to limited resources or political capital?  Climate change accelerates these hard choices.  I am reminded of Valmeyer, Illinois, the little town that moved – in its entirety – up to the bluffs following the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1993, or the National Historic Landmarks on the east coast that have been moved inland as storms worsen.

Like Lucy the Margate elephant.

Joy.

This was a nice touch on Stephanie’s part.  Spread Joy.  The joy of heritage, a work that supports the brain and enlivens the body through its haptic interaction with a nurturing environment, an environment rich in stories and social interaction.

We know about this in San Antonio, where 12,000 volunteers entertain 85,000 attendees each year in support of preservation.  A Night In Old San Antonio® will be here April 23-26, 2019!

 

 

 

 

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Last Stand at the Alamo

June 20, 2018 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas Comments (0) 678

Are they making a state park in the middle of the city?  With a 130,000 square foot museum?  Fencing off the San Antonio’s most important public space?

This is the Piazza Navona, one of the world’s great urban spaces.  It sits on the site of the Roman Circus.  There is no need to recreate the circus, or wall it off.  The use of that space by the public connects it back 2000 thousand years and forward another 1000.  It is alive, not covered by glass or shrubs.  Alamo Plaza is our Piazza Navona.  They are almost the same size and scale.

Last year’s Master Plan envisioned glass walls around the Alamo Plaza.  This year’s Interpretive Plan reduces the walls to fences and shrouds them in shrubs, but the goal is the same.  Manage – and likely monetize – the space.  Since both plans have this attribute, the order is clearly coming from the client, not the designer.

No more sneaking in

Public meetings are going on now to take stock of this interpretive plan.  Bottom line?  Every San Antonian has the right to take a selfie in front of the Alamo at 1 A.M.

Or 7 A.M.

We at the San Antonio Conservation Society are circulating a petition focusing on access to the plaza and the buildings that face the Alamo. We have been fighting for these buildings since 2015 when the state bought them, and a year ago, we thought we had won!  Last year’s Master Plan had the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth’s Buildings saved as part of the new museum.  We supported that, along with the restoration of the chapel and Long Barracks, and the regrading of the plaza to create a more uniform space in the courtyard/battlefield.  The City Council approved it.  This year’s plan is different, and not in a good way.

Crockett Building on left, built the year before the Alamo was purchased by the state.

This is still the location of the big ‘ol museum.  For our presentation, they showed keeping the front half of the Crockett Building, which would create an appropriately reverent transition from the courtyard/battlefield to the high-tech wizardry they are promising inside.  They also had an illustration that demolished all three buildings.

The plan we saw removed the two other landmark buildings, including the Woolworth’s on the corner, site of the first voluntary peaceful integration of a lunch counter in the South (March 1960).  All three are landmarks locally and listed on the National Register.

You can interpret both the lunch counter and the long-lost west wall of the compound inside the building.  In the shade.  Why is it always either/or?  Designers know better.

The real irony here is that in the name of interpreting history, they suggest removing actual century-old historic buildings in order to replace them with modern versions of long-lost elements, like the wall.  Replacing real history with fake history?  Tossing actual historic fabric in the dumpster for a conjectural reconstruction?

The other big issue is access.  Last  year the plan closed Alamo Street in front of the Alamo.  Now they are closing part of Houston Street to the north, Crockett Street, and the bit of Alamo between Market and Commerce.  Access is limited to five gates.  The planners are adamant that the Battle of Flowers parade and Fiesta Flambeau can’t parade in front of the Alamo?  Why?  We have a fence around Wulff House and we still let the Granaderos y Damas de Galvez do their living history there once a year.  We take the fence down for a day and then put it back.  That’s not hard.  Why the bloodymindedness?

We okayed closing Alamo Street in front of the chapel a year ago, but now the closures have grown like kudzu and it seems there will be little northerly traffic through the downtown.

Unless they re-open Main Plaza.  Just sayin’.

I still don’t get why no one has proposed restoring the chapel to the way it was during the battle.

In addition to the irony of demolishing actual historical things for reproductions, there is the irony of wanting to get rid of the “tacky” theme park-styled attractions that occupy the Woolworth’s and Palace Buildings, as well as more to the south.  Yet walling off the plaza for heritage reenactment risks turning the whole thing into a kind of theme park like Colonial Williamsburg.

The amount of physical intervention proposed by this interpretive plan is really staggering.  This is the 21st century – you don’t need the sort of physical interventions people were doing in the 1930s (like Colonial Williamsburg).  Or 1960s.  This is NOW.  Augmented reality, programmable to the latest discoveries.  Clean up, regrade and reprogram.  No heavy machinery needed.

Looking at the key point where the March 6, 1836 battle turned – underneath the Post Office. 

Check out my previous blogs on how actual tourists will be experiencing historic sites tomorrow.  Don’t spend millions crafting something that will be silly in five years.  Y’all can’t outdo Piazza Navona.  That takes actual, continuous history, not a recreated circus.

Not the Alamo.  Also not Piazza Navona, but it is a Roman ruin.

AUGUST 2 UPDATE:

Still no timeline for a revised plan, but they are releasing an RFQ for an architect for the museum and commissioning someone to evaluate the buildings in light of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation weighed in with a letter urging preservation of the buildings.  The City Manager, Mayor, County Judge and Councilman Trevino have all gone public in support of preserving the buildings and keeping the plaza open, which are the two main points in our petition.  And our petition now has over 6,200 signatures!

OCTOBER 1 UPDATE

We now have more information on the importance of the Woolworth’s Building (see my blog here) and a new August 2018 The Alamo Plan.  It devotes six pages to the Crockett Block buildings, beginning with “Why can’t you retain the buildings on the west side of the site?” following with “This needs further study” and then “Retain multiple options until later in the design process” and then “Assess the Significance and Integrity” before two pages of structural diagrams showing how the floors don’t line up.

After reading these pages it is hard not hear Henry II shouting “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

My blog also deals with the integrity and structural issues FYI.

Petition drive now concluded with about 7,300 total.  City Council votes on October 18.

 

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What Are You Reading This?

October 9, 2017 Blog, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 956

“We live today in the Age of Information and Communication because electric media instantly and constantly create a total field of interacting events in which all men (sic) participate.”  – Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964.

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Buildings For The Future

October 4, 2017 Economics, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1245

My favorite quote from Donovan Rypkema during our Living Heritage Symposium last month was a marvelously simple recitation about why saving old buildings is economically brilliant.  He said simply:  “You can’t build new and rent cheap.”

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The Construction of Nature

August 19, 2017 History, Interpretation, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (1) 2452

Over the dozen years of this blog I have sprinkled in historical facts about how old certain ideas and institutions are. This is because these things are so fundamental to our way of seeing and interacting with the world that we assume them to be eternal, not a few decades or a couple centuries old.

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Augmented Reality Arrives

February 12, 2017 History, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (1) 1343

Six months ago I wrote another blog about Authenticity and Technology (view here).  Part of my impulse was reading Colin Ellard and part was the threat to Alamo Plaza from those who think it should look only like 1836.

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Real Estate 2017

January 27, 2017 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts, Technology Comments (1) 1313

I attended a recent ULI event here in San Antonio that outlined emerging trends in  real estate.  I was struck by how much the factors they identified tracked with my own prognostications in November during my Partners speech in Houston at the National Trust conference.

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Latest news on Alamo Plaza

December 3, 2016 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas Comments (0) 1314

The big news this week is the long-awaited release of the Alamo Master plan, following a process that took most of the year.  Actually, the real master plan won’t be done for another six months, but the summary that was released to City Council and civic groups finally takes some clear positions on what the Alamo area will look like in the future. Continue Reading

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