Challenge #7: Green Collision Crash Course
There are inherent challenges when we talk about Modern architecture in the context of sustainability. The thought that we might want to preserve some “sprawly” suburbs and energy inefficient places clashes with all things associated with being green, smart growth, and sustainable.
Preservationists struggle with these mixed messages and how to communicate our conflicting positions with the public. On one hand, we advocate for well-designed, dense development and infrastructure that reuses existing buildings and encourages “walkability.” On the other, we say we want to preserve early suburbia, entire neighborhoods of ranch houses on quarter-acre lots, and the associated car-oriented culture.
Sprawl locations and energy performance are just two factors that work against preservation. Without question, the reuse of Modern resources is a sustainable practice, and unlike demolition, keeps buildings intact and out of the landfill.
Yet we cannot trot out the “sustainability card” every time we want to try and save a threatened place.
Increasingly, we need to counter and better address arguments for demolition based on perceived sustainability and energy deficiencies in Modern buildings, particularly structures built between 1950 and 1980.
For example, the fight to save the Century Plaza Hotel arose, in part, from this type of justification, where the developer relied on the promise of increased density and a proposed “green” building project in the quest to demolish this 1966 Southern California landmark.
We also need more examples of how to retrofit and upgrade Modernist and recent past buildings without jeopardizing their historic character. While of number of architects practicing during the mid-century era designed with energy efficiency in mind, the vast majority did not, and instead tapped into a readily available supply of cheap energy.