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Yes, Midcentury Buildings Can Be Saved

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
Friday, September 6, 2013 06:00 EDT

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mejiac
mejiac  
9/28/2013 2:28:19 PM
User Rank Village Voice
Out with the old, in with the new?
"significant energy savings are locked up in a segment of obsolete office buildings, which are not only inefficient but also have lost commercial value in the last fifty years."

One similar are where this also applies are vehicles. Every year, vehicles are more and more efficient, and with the fossil fuel prices, this trend will continue.

But replacing vehicles is a lot easier than replacing buliding.

My question is: is it more feasible to abandon a building and replace it with another? or have that building go through renovations to make it more efficient? I would think the later, since it can definilty lead to innovations being implemented, that can also be applied to residential homes.

Barbara A. Campagna
Barbara A. Campagna  
9/17/2013 3:49:27 PM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Architecture 101
Amy, thanks!  I just moved from DC after living there for 6 years.  I LOVE the library.  I saw the RFP and was considering responding!  I used to be the chief architect at the National Trust and I was trying to get them to look at the library for their new headquarters but didn't happen.  

Amy Rogers Nazarov
Amy Rogers Nazarov  
9/17/2013 3:44:41 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Architecture 101
Thanks, Barbara. 

It's not as graceful or as aesthetically pleasing as any of the NY buildings we've discussed in this thread so far, but here in DC, the main library designed by Mies van der Rohe is another interesting example for your blog, I think. For years I tutored a student there, and I liked the historical significance of the place. A search for an architect to preserve the facade but modernize the thing has just been announced. 

 

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
9/10/2013 10:50:43 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: Architecture 101
I'm no architecture expert either, but I too love the variety of buildings in NYC. You can look here and there and find jewels of older buildings thfrom midcentury all the way back to the start of the city (the old Trinity Church, etc.). It's amazing and invigorating.

I'm all for preserving what's there that's worth preserving. Each of the buildings you cite, Barbara, was well worth the effort it took to keep them modernized.

Barbara A. Campagna
Barbara A. Campagna  
9/10/2013 10:47:04 AM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Age As Class
It does seem like common sense doesn't it?  Buildings are as different as people and need to be taken case by case.  It would certainly make city planners' lives easier if they could assign an approach to entire eras of buildings, but then we wouldn't have the rich layering which is what makes our cities so special.  Thanks for the "age as class" observation!

 

Nicole Ferraro
Nicole Ferraro  
9/9/2013 3:15:45 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Architecture 101
Great example, Geographyjosh. Thanks for sharing that.

It seems that Barbara's argument here is also endorsed by the fact that Melbourne just won an award for its own carbon reduction plan, which is based largely on its intent to retrofit older buildings

kq4ym
kq4ym  
9/9/2013 10:29:36 AM
User Rank Urban Legend
Age As Class
Making decisions solely on age somehow reminds me that I'm well over the midcentury mark. I suspect there's some planners out there who would like to move me out of the mainstreet market so as to cater to more youthful and presumably more prolific spenders. 

Buildings, like people must be taken on a case by case basis. There's going to be some beautiful ones that might not make economic sense and some really ugly ones that earn a pile of money. Some can be brought up to green standards, some not. 

Geographyjosh
Geographyjosh  
9/9/2013 5:49:30 AM
User Rank Village Voice
Re: Architecture 101
In Christchurch in New Zealand, the city council tasked themselves with taking a mid century brutalist building and converting it into the new civic offices. As a result they created the "greenest" building in New Zealand (according to green star a rating we have here.)

The result has been quite marvelous but they have modernised it extensively. The tradeoff in this case was changes to the architectural elements.

Link - http://www.ccc.govt.nz/cityleisure/projectstoimprovechristchurch/newcivicbuilding/greenestbuilding.aspx

I think there is a balance between use and design that can be met to improve key metrics but both require the right sort of incentives to do so.

Barbara A. Campagna
Barbara A. Campagna  
9/6/2013 3:33:07 PM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Architecture 101
So Nicole, that is the big question.  In theory new buildings should always be the most efficient however since the real measure is in the actual operations, unless you're really monitoring properly and users and occupants are behaving as they should, it's always a question. And one of the biggest problems I have with the Midcentury (Un)Modern report.  Any building can become more efficient, design wise or operations wise.  We just have to be diligent.  And there are many other tradeoffs.  It's not just about energy use, it's water use, it's types of products and materials.  

If you're using a rating system like LEED you at least have the ability to measure. And in NYC we now have the benchmarking requirements for buildings over 50,000 sq. ft. so I'm sure we can get that data on Lever House now. None of these 3 case studies certifed under LEED.  Lever House was just before LEED, 510 Fifth chose not to although they did share with me some pretty substantial energy approaches.  And the Tishman Building is not going for LEED which I think is a huge oversight.  With the money and effort they're putting into retrofitting their curtain wall, I'm sure a high Silver or solid Gold rating would be readily manageable.  Each of these buildings still could go for LEED EB which is the monitoring rating system and would help them all I'm sure.  So, the short answer, all of these buildings have absolutely been better weatherized which should improve their energy use significantly, as long as they're operating their systems and building the way they were designed.

 

Barbara A. Campagna
Barbara A. Campagna  
9/6/2013 2:47:27 PM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Architecture 101
Amy, you expressed the problem perfectly and why the East Midtown Zoning Plan is so problematic as well as the desire by some to just demolish an entire era of buildings. So many of us moved to NYC because we love the layers.  We love the midcentury curtain wall skyscraper next to the 5 story walkups.  We have lots of density in NYC, why does every neighborhood have to be Beijing?  If we want to see Hong Kong, we'll go to Hong Kong! So liking Lever House, The "Lipstick" Building and the Flatiron Building is what makes NYC special to you.  Thanks for your comments!

 

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