Architect Advocates for Maintenance and Adaptive Reuse of Buildings

In an August 7 Sustainable Cities Network article, a Boston-based preservation architect argues that adaptive reuse of existing buildings is more sustainable and economical in the long term than constructing new buildings, including green buildings.

Preservation architect Jean Carroon believes the United States – a country that accounts for five percent of the earth’s population but 30 percent of its resource consumption – must take a leadership role in reversing the trends of the past half century. And, given the fact that new construction accounts for half of that consumption, the best way to reverse this unsustainable trend is to start reusing and maintaining what we’ve already built, and building things that last.

“The greenest thing we can do for both our buildings and our world is constant, steady maintenance,” Carroon told a group at the recent Building Energy 2013 conference hosted in Boston by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.

“It breaks my heart to understand that the politics of our world don’t support maintenance. They don’t fund maintenance; they fund capital projects,” she said. While she appreciates the “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra, she clearly has her favorite.

“My life’s passion is about making people remember that reuse comes before recycle on that list,” she said. “Why are we recycling aluminum cans when we could and should be recycling our buildings?”

Carroon, FAIA, LEED, is a principal in Goody Clancy’s preservation practice, based in Boston. She thinks adaptive reuse all too often gets overlooked in the frenzy to construct green buildings.

The article discusses several of Ms. Carroon’s green renovations, including that of Boston’s historic Trinity Church.  Ms. Carroon also expresses skepticism about “zero-energy” buildings and whether all building practices labeled “green” are actually green.

And, [Carroon’s] skeptical about so-called “zero-energy” buildings because many of them use too many materials or systems that can’t be maintained or have a short lifespan. She’s also concerned about the toxicity of modern building materials.

She favors double-hung windows protected by storm windows, wooden sills, awnings and other “passive” energy-saving devices. Some technologies are old, like rain barrels, and others are new, like high-efficiency faucets, but the key is to find durable, local materials that are easily cleaned and maintained for long life and functionality, she said.

“I am extremely skeptical about what we’re putting into buildings,” she said. “I’m extremely skeptical that everything we say is green is really green.”

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