10 Tips for Successful, Sustainable Historic Modernizations

March 17th, 2011 | Related: ,

Historic buildings present intriguing challenges from a sustainability standpoint, requiring extraordinary sensitivity to cultural priorities and an attention to detail. The synergies between an historic preservation approach and sustainable building priorities have yet to be fully addressed in the broader community dialogue, but present a powerful opportunity to learn from the past with an eye to the future.

GreenShape has compiled a list of basic tips for addressing historic preservation projects from a sustainable design perspective. This list is based on our observations gleaned from facilitating over 200 green building projects including numerous historic modernizations, over 40 LEED certified projects, and the development of a sustainability master plan for the Architect of the Capitol. While focused on historic modernizations, these process tips can also easily apply to new construction projects. Today’s buildings have the potential to become tomorrow’s historic buildings if they are beautifully designed, durable, and adaptable to future needs.

  1. Partner in Prioritizing
    Collaborate with historic preservation entities to identify historically-significant building features. Adapt elsewhere as needed to meet programmatic and sustainability goals.
  2. Invest in a Robust Process
    Build in time and budget to conduct in-depth evaluations for optimized returns. Calculate the ROI of various options (with or without monetized non-cash benefits).
  3. Practice “Histomimicry”
    Understand how the building systems were initially designed to work together and evaluate the potential to return to historic methods. Be inspired by the science of historic building systems, updated to incorporate current technologies.
  4. Put all Ideas on the Table
    Utilize a facilitator if needed to create an environment where even the craziest or smallest ideas can be considered. Put cost and other perceived barriers aside for outside-the-box thinking.
  5. Evaluate Integrative Impacts
    Create iterative models to test the impacts of bundled components against a baseline.
  6. Mock up and Measure
    Test potential new components to evaluate actual performance and use the data to inform models. Track actual building performance to inform system refinements over time.
  7. Utilize Compatible, Reversible Updates.
    Protect the integrity of historic building fabric when making changes, as today’s improvements are likely to become obsolete in the future.
  8. Design for Longevity
    Introduce new components selected for durability and the ability to be refurbished.
  9. Plan for Deconstruction and End-of-Life Recycling
    Design components which can be removed without inadvertently destroying other components, and which can ultimately be separated for recycling.
  10. Prioritize Maintenance
    Design systems for ease of access for routine maintenance. Create and use a preventative maintenance plan during building occupancy to ensure preservation of the building fabric.

Iris Amdur, GreenShape Principal, spoke about Innovative Energy Solution for Historic Modernizations at the recent Climate Management in Historic Buildings Symposium, cosponsored by the Association for Preservation Technology and the Washington Conservation Guild.

The Symposium presentation featured two local historic modernization projects – the Treasury Annex and the Lafayette Executive Building. Joined by Dilip Parikh PE, CPD, LEED AP, Senior Project Manager at URS Corp., Robert Perry, AIA, Principal at AECOM, and James Standish of WSP Flack+Kurtz, the panel addressed challenges, design process, technical solutions and lessons learned in marrying the demand for a high-performance workplace with historic preservation priorities and the challenge of creating a LEED Platinum project within a prominent historic building. Technologies discussed included chilled beams, phase-changing insulation, photovoltaic solar panels, solar thermal hot water heating, building control systems and a detailed envelope analysis. For more information, contact irisamdur@greenshape.com.