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Archive for August, 2012

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.

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I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours or so in Colonial Williamsburg and the experience provokes the following thoughts:

There is a certain order to the Colonial Era architecture.  The details that aficionados cherish today had a practical function.  For example, the Flemish bond masonry walls were so designed for structural stability.  The fact that responding to the forces of wind and gravity produced a beautifully ordered pattern is somehow lost these days when Flemish bond is specified for brick veneer.  It still is beautiful, but is a caricature of its original function.  The same is true of the elegant proportion and detailing of such mundane elements as the dormers above a steep shingled roof.  Siding was installed on a slope parallel to the roof surface because it was easier to flash and wouldn’t absorb water into the end grain as it would if installed horizontally.  The ogee crown mouldings would throw the water clear of the siding.

The same sense of order applied during colonial times.  Everyone who owned property was saddled with the responsibility to be a part of the local militia, and from the ranks of the property owners, legislators were chosen.  This was the price one paid for being a citizen of the Commonwealth.  The premise was that citizenship was worth the sacrifice of leadership.

So it is still, that everyone who is a member of an organization should be willing to lead it.  I find that organizations that are failing are failing because leaders are burning out and other members are running from responsibility.  This is a reaction I fail to understand.  If an organization, a community, yes even a state or nation will fail if we don’t step forward to lead.  We have a responsibility to do so.

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