18 February 2007

Preservation + green = good questions

The Real Estate section of today's Sunday NYT has an article on "The Greening of Graying Buildings." The article covers two successful preservation projects--a NJ farmhouse and a Hoboken factory--which also go green. The most interesting of the two is the farmhouse, developed by Conservation Development of Hillsborough, NJ. (Full disclosure: The principal of Conservation Development, Lise Thompson, is a personal friend and colleague.)
Rosemont Farmhouse
It may not look green... and that's the point.

In its customarily clunky way, the NYT states the obvious as though it were utterly arcane:

THE conversion of a huge Hoboken warehouse building into condominiums and the nearly completed restoration of a small 1860 farmhouse near the Delaware River are two very different sorts of projects. But they share an intriguing goal: creation of 21st-century “green” homes in history-laden structures without stripping the buildings’ original character.
It's not "intriguing"--it's only sensible. In any case, the real story here is captured beautifully and succinctly in a quote from Ms. Thompson:

“Sometimes, we had to ask ourselves: What is ‘green?’”

Green isn't a "movement," a "lifestyle," or even a technological category. Green is a state of consciousness--a paradigm--a mental model. The challenge isn't a scientific or technical one--the whole question of "efficiency" is merely a sidebar--but rather a spiritual one. In order to build greener buildings, we must become greener people.

Ms. Thompson goes on to explain a bit of her generative thinking vis-à-vis this project:
“The fact is that preserving the house is itself ‘green,’ because it avoids further development and sprawl — but there are tensions between being green and authentic restoration, and we had to resolve them as best we could.”
While there's plenty of room for growth beyond this statement, the point is that Ms. Thompson didn't assume that there is only one answer, and that all she had to do was find it. Instead, she creatively opened up an entire new vista for thinking green: the idea that preservation itself is a kind of environmentally sensitive practice.

There's much left to explore here. But the takeaway, which of course the NYT doesn't really take away, is that green isn't the answer, it's the question.