Blogs > Pat Gaylor > March 2010

Old Is the New Green

Blurring the line between preservation and renovation

I just read an interesting article in the magazine “Preservation” that’s put out by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The article, written by Blair Kamin, was entitled “Friends or Foe”. It was about the ongoing battle between architecture and preservation. His article begs the question: “Should preservationists place a new and unremitting emphasis on saving energy, or should retaining the integrity of architectural masterworks remain paramount? In other words, should the green movement and the threat of climate change prompt a rethinking of WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HISTORIC PRESERVATIONIST at the dawn of the 21st century?”
Interesting dilemma, for sure. When we at Green Builder Magazine were enmeshed in the ReVision project in Las Vegas this past January, this question came up many times. Now, I’m not saying that this little Palm Springs Modern home we worked at was the holy grail of architecture, but this particular period in architectural history was significant in that this style home was the first of its kind in the concept of ‘open floor plan’ living. Palmer & Krisel, architects of the home and surrounding development, had 5 or 6 different models of modern homes to select from. The ReVision house was model # 6C , and featured windows meeting ceiling heights, with beams extended out to the roof rafters to create fusion between inside and out. Which was all very well and good, but given that the house was in the desert, where temperatures can reach 110 degrees, I can’t imagine how unbearably hot it was, especially since the home has a southern exposure and air conditioning was in its infancy in the 60’s.
Steven Winter and Associates, the company in charge of the energy audit on the house, was insistent that the front clerestory windows that faced south had to go. Most of the homes on the block had already had those windows removed because of the massive heat gain. When the ReVision house was purchased, the front windows were intact and were actually painted over as an inexpensive way to block the sun’s rays from entering the master bedroom. Obviously, as you can see from the original architect’s rendering that these windows play an integral part of the overall design of the building. So I was more than upset that they had to go. I asked about installing really heavy blinds to block the sun, etc, but Bill Zoeller, the architect in charge of the energy audit, was unmovable, stating that there would also be significant solar heat gain through the blinds, given the southern direction of the home. So we came up with the idea of closing off the windows, but made sure that they appeared as if they were still there by painting the space where they were an accent color. As you can see from the recent photo, it was successful. And because of the removal of that glass, along with the beautiful Milgard windows and doors being so well insulated, the house far surpassed its goal of a 70% energy reduction.
I can certainly understand when an architect balks at the re-designing of his or her original idea. I would feel the same way. But here’s the conundrum: The ReVision house was bought at auction 2 years ago when it was literally a crack den. The neighborhood and surrounding area has declined over the years, even though there are several people who have lived in the development since its inception. So what’s the solution: do you demolish a home that’s now a crack den because you can’t bring it back to its absolute original state without making necessary changes it needs to house a family of today? As an avid preservationist who’s seen the heartbreak of losing our history day by day, adaptability is key. Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the very few architects we revere to the point of absolute preservation no matter what the cost. Somehow, some way, money is always found to preserve his works. But what about the other ‘not so Wright’ homes that are perfectly wonderful mirrors into our past that are still viable as good places to live? Do we abandon them in the name of preservation, or do we adapt? If we don’t adapt, we lose not only our heritage, but the chance to save our planet as well.

Posted: 3/11/2010 10:13:14 AM by Pat Gaylor | with 0 comments

About Me

Patricia Gaylor has practiced as an interior designer in the Northeast for more than two decades. Here, an abundance of older homes in need of complete renovations requiring the removal of everything, from dated appliances to cabinetry, prompted Pat to ponder the question: “What happens to all this stuff after it’s ripped out?” Pat’s passion for green design continues to be fueled by this question.

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