The cover of Preservation Magazine proclaims this month that “Old is the New Green.” It’s an interesting concept on a lot of fronts, especially in the way it undercuts the idea floating around out there that we can shop our way to sustainability. Sustainability, and being green, aren’t about buying clothing made from bamboo (which is really just rayon, the manufacturing of which brings a host of problems) or changing the lightbulbs, or well, buying different stuff instead of the stuff we’ve been buying all along. We’ve got to start thinking about ways to NOT buy stuff. To buy less stuff. To reuse the stuff we’ve already got.
Which is why I just loved this article about the green overhaul that the owners of the Empire State building have just done. For instance, instead of replacing all the windows, which would have led to a zillion pounds of window being sent to the landfill, they pulled out each window, broke the thermopane seal, added a layer of mylar, and resealed and regassed them. Then they put them back in. End result, lower energy costs for air conditioning since the mylar reflects the sun, and higher heat retention in the winter. Also, since the Empire State Building was built before air conditioning became prevalent, you can open the windows! My dad was something of an aficionado of old skyscrapers. He’d take me downtown to Chicago to see the old Sullivan and Root buildings, and one of the glories of those old buildings is the way they were designed to use natural light, and natural cross-ventilation. Anyone who’s ever been assigned an interior office with no natural light or natural ventilation knows how soul-deadening it is. In the early part of the last century, electricity was new and expensive, so they designed offices you could work in with daylight.
Old is the new green. Maybe we need to be looking back a little bit, thinking about siting buildings (as this Mother Earth News article also discusses). One of the reasons I bought my 1903 house is because they built huge windows into the entire south side of the living room wall. In January, when it’s grim and cold here, I get lots and lots of natural light during the day. Which some days, is crucial.