Public perception thwarts decarbonization. Could preservation be the answer?

Submitted by Katherine Flynn on Thu, 04/28/2022 - 20:49
{"version":"0.3.0","atoms":[],"cards":[],"markups":[["a",["href","https:\/\/\/insights\/books\/us-real-estate-market-outlook-2022\/office-occupier"]],["b"],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/2022\/01\/04\/climate\/biden-climate-change.html"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/fact-tank\/2020\/04\/21\/how-americans-see-climate-change-and-the-environment-in-7-charts\/"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/news\/2021\/11\/how-does-the-public-feel-about-cop26"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/government\/uploads\/system\/uploads\/attachment_data\/file\/996575\/Climate_change_and_net_zero_public_awareness_and_perceptions_summary_report.pdf"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/globalassets\/\/thinking\/pdfs\/2022\/esi-sustainability-trends-report-2022-2.pdf?utm_source=term-of-the-day\\u0026utm_term=27064446\u0026utm_medium=email"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/articles\/6192622-the-rebirth-of-a-gothic-icon:16"]],["i"],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/article\/us-france-notredame-insurance\/insurers-expect-france-to-bear-notre-dame-rebuilding-cost-idUSKCN1RS1LO"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/aia-architect\/aiafeature\/ritual-evidence_o"]],["a",["href","http:\/\/\/the-ethics-of-dust-series"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/sites\/ceciliarodriguez\/2016\/12\/12\/paris-cant-breath-worst-pollution-in-a-decade-has-city-scrambling-for-solutions\/?sh=257f14dc1c2f"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/research\/2020-census-big-cities-grew-and-became-more-diverse-especially-among-their-youth\/"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/construction\/nrc\/historical_data\/index.html"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/benchmarks\/economic-outlook-rri\/remodeling-growth-to-stabilize-after-record-year-in-2021_o"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/articles\/6502007-renovation-claims-50-percent-share-of-firm","target","_new"]],["a",["href","https:\/\/\/books\/reader\/826-preservation-sustainability-and-equity#reader-anchor-4"]]],"sections":[[1,"h2",[[0,[],0,"In February, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on\nClimate Change (IPCC) said that at the current rate, and despite the commitments made at COP26, humanity will exceed our carbon budget globally in less than a decade. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Our time to entertain differing priorities between science, politics and economics is dwindling, according to the IPCC, and our opportunity to contain global warming within 1.5 degrees compared to preindustrail levels is imperiled. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"That\u0027s the bad news. The good news, detailed in the\nIPCC\u2019s follow-up report in April, is that\nreducing emissions quickly is possible on the demand side\nof the equation to avoid that barrel over the falls. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"For architecture, that\u2019s about transforming the\nrelationship between what we build, the energy we use, and the carbon dioxide\nemissions we create. It\u2019s also about reusing the\nbuilding stock we already have\u2014of which there\u2019s plenty. The United States government alone holds an estimated 45,000 unused or\nunderutilized buildings. Some state legislatures like New York\u2019s have recently\npursued redevelopment of so-called \u201czombie\u201d buildings to reinvigorate\ncommercial and semi-industrial areas. Several rust belt cities have pursued\n\u201cgreening\u201d projects for their once-thriving and now-abandoned industrial and\ninfrastructural assets. CBRE recently "],[0,[0],1,"reported"],[0,[],0," that\nthe national office vacancy rate will reach levels not seen since 1993 as 53\nmillion square-feet of new office space comes online, prompting us to ask not what offices can do for us, but\nwhat we can do for these offices to adapt to them for the next\ngeneration of workers and uses. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Architects know this information\u2014and\nspend a great deal of time talking to developers, commercial real estate\nagents, clients, city officials, and others to secure opportunities for their\nfirms to redevelop or renew aging\nbuildings. It\u2019s also for this reason that architects who care about materials\npipelines, environmental product declarations, and kilowatt hours can be\nforgiven for thinking that the public conversation about sustainability has\nadvanced considerably toward a broad understanding of carbon emissions in the\npast few years. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The fact is that public awareness around\ncarbon emissions and carbon neutrality is lower than expected or even hoped.\nThat\u2019s the not-quite bad news because it\u2019s a situation ripe for opportunity. Many\narchitects will point to large gaps in knowledge about sustainability during\nclient-side conversations, which maps onto a complicated landscape of public\nawareness of concepts like carbon neutrality. The simple concepts of\nenergy conservation and the effects of a warming planet are known to all, it\nseems. What it comes down to is making those concepts real, and nothing can be\nmore real than the buildings in our landscape."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Continuity isn\u2019t accidental "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The day after his inauguration in\n2021, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United\nStates after President Trump abandoned it in 2017, rescinding the Keystone\nXL pipeline in the process and signaling that the US was prepared to\nmake amends for faltering. But, the Build Back Better legislation that followed (and\nfloundered) prompted critics and pundits to "],[0,[2],1,"declare"],[0,[],0," his\nfirst year in office a case of ambition without real action, as climate took a backseat to the coronavirus\u2019s variants and the\nimmigration crisis on the US-Mexico border. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Adding insult to injury, recent\nsurveys have also revealed a widely held public opinion that lawmakers are not doing enough to protect the\nenvironment\u2014as cited in recent reports by Pew in "],[0,[3],1,"2020"],[0,[],0," and by the\nBritish Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND) in "],[0,[4],1,"2021"],[0,[],0,". In April (six\nmonths before COP 26 in Glasgow), the British government published a "],[0,[5],1,"report"],[0,[],0," stating that a\n\u201cfair amount of net zero knowledge\u201d was held by less than half of Britons\nsurveyed (even if, as the report notes,\nfour in five respondents supported it in principle after reading a definition\nsupplied by the interviewers). After COP26 wrapped in November, BOND "],[0,[4],1,"found"],[0,[],0," that knowledge\nof the conference was still low across France, Germany, Great Britain, and the\nUnited States\u2014and that \u201cless than\n50 percent\u201d of the surveyed public knew what a\nnet-zero target means. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Still, the 2021 BOND report noted\nthat low awareness didn\u2019t necessarily mean indifference and that, when\neducated, respondents could clearly prioritize topics discussed at COP26. If Mitt Romney was right while on the campaign\ntrail in 2011 in saying that \u201ccorporations are people, too,\u201d then the 2022 "],[0,[6],1,"report"],[0,[],0," released by the\nconsultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) offers another glimmer of\ngood news: the number of times \u201cnet zero\u201d was mentioned as a target or focus in\nSecurity Exchange Commission filings among corporations increased 121 percent\nbetween 2020 and 2021 (from 667 to 1,474). "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Despite this Janus-like picture of\nawareness, it\u2019s never been easier for an average person to at least contemplate\ntheir carbon impact. Google Maps will now clearly mark the most environmentally\nfriendly routes to drive to, say, the airport (next to options for subway, bus,\nbicycle, and pedestrian results), and Google Flights will now clearly mark the\nestimated carbon emissions of your journey, factoring in plane type, distance,\nand probable weight of the flight. For the last several years, many airlines\nhave offered customers the option to purchase carbon offsets to remove the pang\nof guilt in booking a flight to attend, say, a conference about sustainability.\nMasterCard now offers a carbon calculator for banks to help consumers track how\ntheir spending impacts the environment. Renovation blogs frequently advise\nreaders that refurbishing a home can result in as little as 15 tons of embodied\ncarbon emissions while new construction can total as much as 50 tons.\n(Better-insulated new homes, however, seem to make up for it after 40 or 50\nyears of reduced operational carbon.) "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Lori Ferriss, AIA, Director of\nSustainability and Climate Action at Goody Clancy in Boston and both a licensed\narchitect and engineer, says that the scientific argument is less convincing to\nmany than the cultural and commercial realities of our everyday lives. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cAt least in the US, most of us\nare removed from the impact our existence has on the environment and so the\nways we perceive our impact are through gimmicks like reusable drinking\nstraws,\u201d she says. \u201cFirst, we\u2019re consumers, but getting the general public to\nunderstand the technical aspect of carbon as a metric is hard. We all get\nenergy bills, and we sort of all know kilowatt hours. But, we don\u2019t have a\ngrasp on greenhouse gas emissions in a tangible way.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Ferriss, recipient of a 2022 AIA\nYoung Architects Award, says translating causal relationships is the vital\nfirst step to improving public awareness \u201cGetting people to see it is step one.\nStep two is letting them know that they have agency to change their choices in\na way that has a positive impact.\u201d "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Ferriss and others working to\ninstitutionalize net-zero or climate-positive design at architecture firms\nagree that adapting existing building stock is the surest best to decarbonize\nthe design and construction industries. Historic preservationists, whose efforts\nhave sometimes been politicized through public perception, have known this all\nalong. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cThere\u2019s an ethos of stewardship\nthat runs in common between preservation and sustainability,\u201d she says.\n\u201cCulturally, preservation is about continuity. Environmentally, sustainability\nis also about continuity.\u201d "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Stewardship, motivation, and capability"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"In 2019, Notre Dame de Paris expelled more than\n200 tons of lead after what was thought to be an electrical short caused a fire\nthat ultimately claimed its roof and spire. As the fire raged, television\ncameras captured the yellow cloud of vaporized lead particles billowing and\ndissipating into the surrounding neighborhoods full of workers, students,\ncommuters, and patients (H\u00f4pital H\u00f4tel-Dieu is Notre Dame\u2019s largest immediate\nneighbor). Less obvious to the cameras and the thousands of people watching\nalong both sides of the Seine was the molten lead flowing through the gutters\nduring the blaze and forming what has been described as stalactites on the\ncathedral\u2019s carved downspouts. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Two years into the cleanup and what was known as\nthe \u201cconsolidation\u201d phase to dismantle charred scaffolding and stabilize the\nstructure, France\u2019s government, cultural, and religious authorities agreed that Notre\nDame should not be reimagined but faithfully reconstructed\u2014roundly rejecting a flurry of post-fire "],[0,[7],1,"proposals"],[0,[],0," to\nupdate the 800-year-old icon with rooftop pools, promenades, and\nVictorian-style greenhouses. The restoration phase, which\nofficially began last September, would push toward a faithful reconstruction of\nthe roof and spire and the ambitious 2024 reopening goal set by President\nEmmanuel Macron."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"In March, I visited\nNotre Dame to observe the work. The "],[0,[8],1,"parvis"],[0,[],0,"\nin front of the cathedral was half-opened now\nand life had half-returned to a usually bustling area. Beneath the 15-foot\nsafety wall topped with barbed wire, tour\nguides explained that the new wooden formwork supporting the flying buttresses\nare like those used 800 years ago during the\nnave\u2019s construction. Scammers hustled tourists, lawyers hustled to court at the\nPalais de Justice two blocks east, and cyclists dodged the crush of cross-Seine\ndelivery trucks. The thrum of activity made it possible to forget, for a moment, that hundreds of\ntechnicians were working 50 yards away to save the heart of France that,\nby all accounts, is in stable, if critical, condition\u2014at a cost that\u2019s estimated to\ntop $1 billion by some observers or closer to the $8 billion it cost to restore\nLondon\u2019s Houses of Parliament by "],[0,[9],1,"others"],[0,[],0,". "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Even if the restoration phase has begun,\nbioremediation efforts continue. Liberating the building from lead oxide released\nby the fire requires one set of processes for the cathedral\u2019s smooth surfaces\nthat involve cotton wipes and distilled water, and another set of processes for\nits porous stone. Depending on the location of the damage, laser cleaning might\nbe more advantageous than the other alternative of applying a latex membrane\nthat can be peeled off (carrying the lead dust with it). The architect, artist,\nand historian Jorge Otero-Pailos, AIA, has "],[0,[10],1,"used latex membranes"],[0,[],0," to\nsimilar effect in his ongoing project, \u201c"],[0,[11],1,"The Ethics of Dust"],[0,[],0,".\u201d The ethics, in\nthis case, is about confronting what he calls our only enduring legacy as a\nspecies\u2014toxins\u2014and the latex sheets that contain the grime and pollution that\nhave accumulated on monuments serve as anti-monuments, which he often displays\nbacklit to haunting effects. (Still, the goal of bioremediation at Notre Dame\nremains the restoration of an icon, not the preservation of a tragedy, and one\nwould be hard-pressed to find a Parisian who would now want toxic lead hanging\naround on latex sheets for posterity\u2019s sake when, just six years ago, the city\nwas "],[0,[12],1,"plagued"],[0,[],0," with alarmingly\nhigh levels of pollution.) "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Officials in charge of the restoration of Notre\nDame have yet to announce the environmental impact of the bioremediation\nefforts. They have also not publicly tabulated the embodied carbon emissions of\nthe restoration to date, although those figures likely exist on the back of an\nenvelope somewhere. Lack of transparency aside, its restoration raises a\nquestion that applies to all existing buildings, exceptional or unexceptional:\nIs our stewardship a matter of motivation or capability? Can it not be both\u2014one\nbeing the bailiwick of the public and the other of architects?"]]],[1,"h3",[[0,[],0,"Redefining the\n\u201ccontributing structure\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"In 2011, the National Trust for Historic\nPreservation (NTHP) released a report chronicling what happens when we reuse\n(and even restore) buildings. At the scale of the single building, the\ncarbon-related impact of retrofitting is small relative to the rest of the\nbuilt environment in the immediate area, but at the scale of the block or the\ncity, the impact can be significant. Report authors cited the case of Portland,\nOregon\u2019s Multnomah County, whose officials hoped in 2011 to reduce their carbon\nemissions 15 percent over 1990 levels through retrofitting rather than\nreplacing 1 percent of the city\u2019s office buildings and single-family homes\nbefore 2021. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The city reportedly met that goal in 2017, but\nin the last five years, it has struggled to meet more ambitious carbon\nneutrality goals owing to a population boom that added an average of 30,000 new\nPortlanders to the region each year until 2021. It\u2019s a trend other US cities\nhave struggled to negotiate with 2030 or 2050 carbon goals, as well. Looking at\nCensus Bureau data on urban growth, one Brookings Institution study "],[0,[13],1,"found"],[0,[],0," that, among the 50 largest\ncities in the US, 46 experienced population gains between 2010 and 2020\naveraging 8.5 percent, up from 5.6 percent in the decade before. Among those 46\ncities, 32 grew more rapidly than in the decade before."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"For ten years, cities were growing and building\nactivity had been on the rise until the pandemic, playing catching up to the\npre-Great Recession boom. New residential starts in the US jumped 162 percent\nin the last decade from 609,000 in 2011 to 1.6 million in 2021, "],[0,[14],1,"according"],[0,[],0," to the US Census\nBureau. On the renovation side, Zonda "],[0,[15],1,"reports"],[0,[],0," that its\nResidential Remodeling Index averaged 12.9 percent growth in 2021 alone, and an\nunrelenting 73 percent growth since the fourth quarter of 2011. To date,\nconstruction industry analysts have widely claimed that the ratio of new\nconstruction projects to renovation work has been about 3:1, a key contributing\nfactor to the carbon emissions represented by buildings worldwide. But, the\nlatest news from AIA, which has been tracking reconstruction projects for the\nlast two decades, is that we\u2019re renovating far more than we think we are\u2014and\nthat we have been."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"According to AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker,\nHon. AIA, "],[0,[16],1,"half of the annual billings"],[0,[],0," at architecture firms are for renovation\nprojects in 2021, up from about 35 percent two decades ago. Not only that, Baker\nsays, we\u2019ve been moving toward the 50 percent number for some time, meaning\nit\u2019s not an anomalous blip, but representative of something more stable. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cThis\nincreased share of renovation work has been a long-term trend resulting in\nslower population and economic growth. Until these trends are reversed, which I\ndon\u2019t see happening, we are going to move toward an increased share in\nreconstruction and a decreased share in new construction,\u201d he says."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"A recent "],[0,[16],1,"AIA survey"],[0,[],0," revealed that, in the last 12 months, the two most\nimportant goals of these reconstruction projects according to firm leaders were\nadaptive reuse (around 25 percent of respondents) and basic interior\nmodernization (also around 25 percent of respondents). Two of the least\nimportant goals in the eyes of interview respondents were energy performance\n(3.8 percent) and increased resilience (1.6 percent). It\u2019s not to say that many\nadaptive reuse projects weren\u2019t also targeting net zero, and it\u2019s not to say\nthat resilience wasn\u2019t a close second on the goal priority list. But, if we are\nto take something from the survey, it is\nthat the type of work being performed eclipses the benefit to which it aspires.\n"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cThat was\nsurprising to me,\u201d says Baker, \u201cespecially given all of the emphasis on\nsustainability in the media and among firms, at least anecdotally. Over the\nnext few months, we\u2019ll see how those numbers change, though, as energy prices\nand the cost of transporting goods fluctuate in response to both existing supply\nchain issues made worse by the pandemic and conflict in Central and Eastern\nEurope.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"What this means is that as cities have grown in\nthe last decade, we have been approaching a point where exactly as much design\nand construction effort has gone into revitalizing existing buildings as into\ncreating new ones. We don\u2019t\nhave to split hairs in terms of primary goals or motives to divine the future\nof practice in light of this trend. Any time architects, clients, and\ndevelopers reuse something that already exists\u2014no matter their goal\u2014chances are\nthey are also reducing the carbon\nfootprint that new construction otherwise represents, of which \u201cuse,\nmaintenance, repair, replacement, and refurbishment\u201d together count as 20 percent\nof cradle-to-grave carbon. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"As we\nbecome more capable of reducing embodied carbon in new construction (and in\nspecifying the materials and products for renovations), eliminating operational\ncarbon in a climate positive way has become a new set of goal posts. Some would\nargue they should have been the only goal posts all along, but others are more\npragmatic about the process of transforming an industry, a political landscape,\nand public perception. Yet, the idea that a building can contribute more than\nincreased value to a lot or an eventual return on an investment has long been\nthe bedrock of the historic preservation community, just as the term\n\u201ccontributing structure\u201d has long defined National Register criteria. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cAfter years of making the environmental case\nfor saving old buildings, historic preservationists are no longer alone in\ncalling for action,\u201d writes NTHP\u2019s Senior Policy Director James Lindberg in the\nlatest "],[0,[17],1,"issue"],[0,[],0," of \u200b\u200bPreservation,\nSustainability, and Equity, published by Columbia University. \u201cReuse must\nbecome routine, not just for exceptional buildings that are determined eligible\nfor historic designation, but also for ordinary buildings of all ages and\ntypes.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"As Lindberg suggests, not all clients will care\nabout historic designation for their investments, but they all should care\nabout the true contributions their buildings make to the environment. Goody\nClancy\u2019s Lori Ferriss says it\u2019s a communications\nchallenge faced by all architects who might take a cue from preservation\nprofessionals accustomed to translating their world of codes and requirements\ninto information that\u2019s not just useful but moves people to think about how\n\u201cthings are interconnected,\u201d she says. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\u201cI often think of preservation\nfolks as being more technically minded than many architects when it comes to\nsustainability even though the benefits of historic preservation are often\nunderstood to be qualitative and cultural,\u201d says Ferriss. \u201cBecause of this\nexperience balancing the tangible and intangible, preservation professionals\nare storytellers who can express the social and cultural importance of complex technical undertakings like reusing\nand upgrading existing buildings.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[8],1,"William Richards is the editorial director of Team Three, an editorial\nand creative consultancy, and a writer whose book, "],[0,[],0,"Together by Design: The Art and Architecture of Communal Living"],[0,[8],1," (Princeton Architectural Press), appears in\nJune."]]]]}
Primary Image
Is historic preservation the answer to decarbonization's PR problem?
Members Only
Primary Image Caption
Preliminary work begins at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral on July 17, 2019 after a major fire destroyed the roof and steeple of the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral on April 15, 2019.
Tile Sizes
Use on Homepage
SEO Keywords
historic preservation, decarbonization, Notre Dame
Temp Draft
[{"updated_date":"2022-04-28T20:49:17+00:00","author_name":"Katherine Flynn","author_id":"32bc7e87-2d30-4669-be52-411912a0e836","action":"created"},{"updated_date":"2022-04-29T13:41:33+00:00","author_name":"Katherine Flynn","author_id":"32bc7e87-2d30-4669-be52-411912a0e836","action":"published"},{"updated_date":"2022-05-03T22:09:47+00:00","author_name":"Katherine Flynn","author_id":"32bc7e87-2d30-4669-be52-411912a0e836","action":null},{"updated_date":"2022-05-03T22:16:36+00:00","author_name":"Katherine Flynn","author_id":"32bc7e87-2d30-4669-be52-411912a0e836","action":null},{"updated_date":"2022-05-06T18:27:08+00:00","author_name":"Greg Menti","author_id":"ce8f442d-41a9-4b1e-8e5b-a1684d8460df","action":"draft created"},{"updated_date":"2022-05-06T18:27:11+00:00","author_name":"Greg Menti","author_id":"ce8f442d-41a9-4b1e-8e5b-a1684d8460df","action":"submit for approval"},{"updated_date":"2022-05-06T18:36:13+00:00","author_name":"Evan Eile","author_id":"e44baba6-b597-42ae-8af7-44306a870398","action":null},{"updated_date":"2022-05-06T18:36:14+00:00","author_name":"Evan Eile","author_id":"e44baba6-b597-42ae-8af7-44306a870398","action":null},{"updated-date":"2022-05-06T18:36:53+00:00","author-name":"Evan Eile","author-id":"e44baba6-b597-42ae-8af7-44306a870398","action":"published"}]
Suppress Tile Description
Use on cd Homepage
Remove from cd Homepage
Ready to Publish
Hide Ads
Embargo Date
Use on CD Homepage Right 1
Remove from CD Homepage Right 1
Use on CD Homepage Right 2
Remove from CD Homepage Right 2
Hero Text Properties