Last Saturday Professor Chip Piatti spoke to a full house about the "Language of Architecture." Here are some of the things that stood out to me in the context of Historic Salem's mission to preserve historic resources and ensure that new construction fits in the historic context.
#1 - When you build you change the environment three ways:
1-You change the location you are building in.
2-You process resources into building materials.
3-You change the location that the materials come from.
How does this relate to our historic city? The intersection of preservation and sustainability is greatly underappreciated in the United States. In Britain, for example, these two disciplines are grouped together under the name “conservation” with specialties in heritage conservation, landscape conservation, or biodiversity conservation.
Without discounting the negative effect humans can have on the environment we have to acknowledge that we are nevertheless part of the environment. Our bodies are made of the same carbons that birds and beaver are made of, and just like them, we build shelter and edifice, which then becomes part of our built environment, nestled in our natural environment. Throughout Professor Piatti’s talk he referenced our human connection to the environment, pointing out that one part of a successful city or building is having a connection to the environment.
But back to the intersection of preservation and sustainability. When one makes the effort to build something it should balance positive and negative impacts to the environment (natural and civic). It is particularly critical to acknowledge the overall and long-term environmental impact of extracting, processing, shipping and disposal of materials. This seems like a great time to mention that the greenest building is the one already built -- reusing a building results in dramatically less change to the current environment, less need to create new materials (or dispose of old) and less change to the places from which materials originate.
"The greenest building is the one...that is already built."
#2 Architecture is the intersection of art and engineering – and -
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