A day to focus on saving old structures

Dec. 1

By Alan Jaffe

For PlanPhilly

There is no greener building than the one that already exists.

That’s the increasingly popular mantra of preservationists as they try to persuade architects and developers to reconsider the economic and environmental expediency of building new structures over the value of saving the old.

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia hopes to get a conversation started between the region’s preservationists and progressive designers at a one-day conference on Dec. 8 entitled, “The Past Is Our Future: Historic Preservation and Sustainability.” The program will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch St., and is open to architects, designers, community development organization leaders, developers and preservationists.

It is the first conference of this type in the Delaware Valley, explained Patrick Hauck, director of Neighborhood Preservation Programs at the Alliance. “Folks have done conferences about sustainability, but I don’t think there’s been a discussion in which preservationists have a place at the table. Sometimes it’ll be a sidebar in a discussion.”

When the organizers began exploring topics for a fall conference, “we kept seeing these issues coming up,” Hauck said. “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) people would say, ‘I don’t know much about preservation,’ and preservation people would say the same kind of thing about LEED certification. So finding people with feet in both worlds was very interesting.”

Participants in this gathering will explore how historic preservation can be a key element in sustainable design and adaptive use of older buildings. The focus will be on recent developments in LEED standards, energy and building codes, and their application to existing structures.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been looking at ways to insert preservation into language about sustainability and LEED standards, Hauck said. The plenary speaker on Dec. 8 will be Patrice Frey, director of sustainability research at the National Trust.

Frey, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s historic preservation program whose master’s thesis was on applying LEED standards to historic buildings, has written on the National Trust blog, PreservationNation, about the longevity and viability of traditional versus modern materials and design.

The National Trust, Hauck said, is “talking more and more about where these pieces fit in. It’s about talking about preservation as something that’s not just beautiful and nice; it’s about using resources and energy that have already been extended, in addition to getting the benefit of great design, and history, and the culture of a community.”

The keynote speaker at lunch will be Audrey Tepper, a historical architect with the National Park Service’s technical services branch, which provides assistance and review of preservation tax credit projects for Washington D.C., New Jersey, Virginia, Vermont and Minnesota.

The Secretary of the Interior, Tepper has written, believes that modifications to make historic structures more sustainable must be done to retain the building’s character and integrity. Intact materials, inside and out, should be retained and repaired whenever possible, to support sustainability, according to Tepper.

Hauck said Tepper will speak at the December conference on how LEED standards can be incorporated into the Interior Department’s standards for historic preservation, and how adding preservation can get more points toward LEED certification.

The conference also will feature two panel discussions. The first will focus on buildings and materials and will examine the recent renovation of the former Architects Building into the Palomar Hotel. “We’re bringing in the architecture team from that project, as well as Cindy Hamilton, who is a preservation consultant on the tax credit piece. That’s a LEED-certified and preservation tax credit project that has happened in Philadelphia,” Hauck said.

An adaptive reuse of an architecturally significant building, Hotel Palomar Philadelphia is Kimpton’s first hotel designed to receive LEED certification. Work began in February 2008 to transform the 1929 landmark building, the Architects Building, into the 230-room hotel. The 24-story structure, one of the city’s most striking examples of Art Deco architecture, is the former headquarters for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The 20-month, $92.5 million renovation is Kimpton’s 11th adaptive reuse development.

“We thought that would be a great example to show some of the challenges,” which included getting the approval of the National Park Service on the use of the building’s windows, he said. The panel discussion will include “how they incorporated a lot of things about energy efficiency in the use of materials for that building, and doing a really good balancing act about getting the tax credits for preservation and getting LEED certification.”

The other panel will look at the new LEED standards and how they have been expanded to allow more points for reuse of existing buildings.

“We’re also bringing in Bonnie Mark, of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, who will talk about examples where it’s been a balancing act between LEED certification and historic tax credits. One of the challenges they have is being a little flexible with exterior and interior standards for historic buildings in order to allow some innovations for LEED certification,” Hauck said.

Besides the transformation of the Architects Building into a Klimpton chain hotel at 17th and Sansom, Philadelphia is in the midst of other green preservation projects. The Race Street Friends Meetinghouse, 1515 Cherry St., had geothermal walls installed recently, though the work was performed in the 1970s addition. “The next piece is to work on the historic part of the building,” Hauck said.

There is increasing overlap of environmental concerns and preservation issues in the portfolios of architects, but by and large the specialists are still in two camps, Hauck said. Those who concentrate on green construction tend to look to the suburbs, where new design is the norm. “But if you really want to be green, come back to the city,” where older structures can be just as green, he said.

“The gist of this conference is to get both sides of the equation to look at how to make both things successful: how preservation can strengthen LEED projects, and how LEED can strength the preservation of existing fabric.”

For more information and to register for the Dec. 8 conference, visit www.preservationalliance.com, or contact Patrick Hauck at 215-546-1146, x. 4.

Contact the writer at alanjaffe@mac.com.

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