The green building movement has garnered a lot of attention in the last dozen years or so with many sexy new buildings gaining LEED Certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). In the 1970’s when I was studying architecture at Virginia Tech the green building ethos was already alive and well and championed by the likes of faculty members Bob Schubert and Dennis Kilper. The need for environmentally responsive architecture was reinforced by the first and second oil crises (1973 and 1979) during which time the price of a gallon of gasoline tripled. The environmental geology faculty emphasized the finiteness of the earth’s resources, although logic would lead any reasonable person to recognize this.
Within four months of my graduation, I found myself involved in the reconstruction of the Greene County Courthouse in Stanardsville, Virginia following a gas explosion and devastating fire which burned the roof and original cupola off of the building. This, of course, piqued my interest in preservation of historic buildings. During the interim period while the historic building was being documented and reconstructed, we converted an adjacent building into a functional temporary courthouse. It wasn’t at all attractive, but was functional and because the bricks and mortar were already in place, the county courts were back up and running within a few weeks.
It is at this point that the green movement and the historic preservation movement intersect. Reusing existing buildings makes use of the massive amounts of embodied energy that is in all existing buildings. Granted, older buildings require more energy to heat and cool than newer structures, but there are many energy related improvements that can be made to the existing building stock. Because there are so many existing buildings, even moderate improvements in energy consumption in the existing building stock will have a huge positive environmental impact. Think about the magnitude of the savings if we can improve one hundred percent of our existing building stock. Additionally, we will be able to preserve our historical heritage.