Highlights from APT New York 2013

This year’s Association for Preservation Technology International Conference was in Times Square, New York.   While it was my first time at an APT Conference, I was still very impressed with the level of discussion starting with a great keynote on local conservation issues to a great panel on education and sustainability in heritage preservation on the last day.  I also had the pleasure of presenting on a panel on American and European perspectives on energy efficiency and historic preservation.  The following post includes some highlights from my panel as well as other sessions. 

My panel on Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings included presentations from historic preservation and sustainability colleagues from Dublin, Bath, Edinburgh, and South Carolina.  The panel kicked-off with a case study presented by Caroline Engel of the University of Edinburgh, discussing several historic multifamily housing projects and how various energy retrofits have incrementally reduced cots as well as carbon emissions over time.   Following that, Peter Cox, from ICOMOS, discussed policy issues surrounding a major initiative across the Europe, taking energy measurements across a wide stock of historic buildings to determine the true effectiveness of popular sustainability strategies.   Changing scale a little, I presented on our organization’s statewide approach to using greenhouse gas emissions data to target energy, water, and waste reductions as well as to change the culture by attempting to integrate the data into many operating decisions throughout the organization.  Finally, Geoff Rich from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios presented a project in Bath that not only brought up the functionality of the Bath Abbey built and rebuilt from the 9th century to the 16th century. Among installation of some modern amenities for the community functions of the church, the project also installed a radiant heat system in the floor of the Abbey using downstream hot water from the adjacent hot springs.  

Our panel brought presented diverse approaches to the discussion sustainability and heritage preservation, but common themes emerged in the use of data to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how sustainability measures apply to particular contexts. The analysis of the energy-efficiency retrofits in housing in Edinburg showed clear value in undertaking certain envelope and boiler upgrades.  The data collected by Peter’s European study of historic building stock also made clear that window retrofits don’t always make sense, despite what some developers and building owners may believe are best practices for energy efficiency.  As we know, greenhouse gas emissions data, as well as other evaluation factors, play a large role in our organization, and continue to grow in importance.  Even the radiant floor project in the Bath Abbey was undertaken after extensive energy models, thermal imaging, as well as laser imaging to understand the archeology implications. 

One of the final panels of the conference, chaired by David Woodcock, discussed the current state preservation education, with a particular focus on its isolation from counterpart disciplines.  One speaker, Robert Melnick from the University of Oregon, noted that the way we teach historic preservation must adapt to contextual changes, among them climate change.  He believes preservation education needs to rethink programs as well as the scholarly process.  Melnick also noted that adaptive reuse is not always sustainable preservation, which is a point particularly reinforced by gutted historic structures with almost nothing of the original building inside but still advertised as a green project.  It captures the idea that you cannot superficially address both historic preservation and sustainability. 

Sunday’s Historic Preservation and Development session, chaired by Jean Carroon, author of the textbook Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings, brought together architects and engineers to discuss projects that embraced sustainability and historic preservation.  The session presented buildings that embodied economic, environmental, and historic preservation within a single project.  This also linked to the keynote address on Saturday evening. Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, described the ongoing battle between the Real Estate Board of New York and the preservationists.  Earlier in the year, the Real Estate Board released an article arguing that conservation inhibited economic development and growth.  The discussion extended to both housing as well as office space, but in particular midcentury commercial buildings were reference in several sessions.  Older skyscrapers, while high tech in their time, often are a challenge for new infrastructure and equipment needs of offices.  While retrofits are possible, many developers believe the cost is just not worth it compared to building a new skyscraper outfitted to meet all these needs and more.  A study conducted by Terrapin Green noted the balancing act regarding midcentury modern office buildings. Preservationists are not only worried about the midcentury office buildings, but what massive redevelopment of commercial real estate in New York would mean to the urban landscape and the historic fabric.  Upcoming developments such as the Hudson Yard project propose skyscrapers that are taller than even the Empire State building.

Finally, while I didn’t attend any field sessions on Monday, I did spend some time exploring the city, so I end this blog post with a picture taken from the Elevated Acre, a pocket park between three midcentury office buildings in the Financial District.  While it doesn’t resolve the debate between development, sustainability, and historic preservation, it is an example of a very nice coming together of nature, older buildings, and function.  Hopefully it will remind us that economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability can come together.   


A Data-Driven Approach to Sustainability at Historic Sites (my presentation)

APT Conference website

Midcentury (Un)Modern Study

REBNY position on historic preservation

Landmark Conservation response to REBNY

Hudson Yard Development