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The best green architecture is actually an old building

by Jay Walljasper - May 9, 2008

Green architecture has become a hot new trend in the real estate business, which is great news. Buildings account for a sizable share of greenhouse gas emissions and consume a significant amount of energy.

The city of San Francisco is taking steps to enact the most advanced green building code in the U.S., estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by 60,000 tons by 2012 while conserving 220,000 megawatts of power and 100 million gallons of drinking water.

Yet a debate is now emerging about what building practices are the most green. 
Aaron Peskin, president of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (city council) points out, "The greenest building that exists today is one that is already built." He wants to make sure the city's new green codes do not foster a wave of teardowns. Demolishing buildings to erect new ones--even green buildings--generates huge volumes of solid waste, creates pollution, and consumes energy and natural resources.

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, calculates that even a new state-of-the-art green building using 40 percent recycled materials will take 65 years to recover the energy lost in demolishing and replacing an existing building.

"Durability is the most sustainable thing an architect can do," says Philip Bess, professor at the Notre Dame School of Architecture, who played a key role in preserving Boston's Fenway Park baseball stadium.

"Sustainable architecture means buildings that people love," adds his Notre Dame colleague David Mayernik. "They won't be torn down."