Sustaining Sustainable Preservation

Operating Manual for Spaceship *insert your address here*

Operating Manual for Spaceship *insert your address here*

Sustainability and preservation, with regards to the built environment, both aim to achieve the same goal: that is the stewardship of a finite resource. In the title of Jeffrey Chusid’s chapter in Pragmatic Sustainability he suggests that these two fields were at one point, and should again be, ‘Natural Allies.’[1] He argues that as early as the Roman period to preserve was to be sustainable and vice versa: they were considered logically one in the same. Preservation, in broad-brushed terms, tasks itself with taking care[2] of our built heritage, which can be considered finite as time approaches infinity. Although new buildings are built everyday, once constructed they become part of a stock of built heritage, a dynamic stock, which to reference Meadows’ bathtub analogy, is being filled and drained simultaneously; however, the second law of thermodynamics establishes that no building can last forever.

Similarly, Sustainability’s charge is the increased vigilance over the finite collective resource that is Spaceship Earth, to borrow Buckminster Fuller’s term for our biosphere and its resources. Unfortunately, unlike the hopeful promise of that book, there is no operating manual for neither of these fields nor their goals, only proactive hypothesis that nonetheless require reactive experimentation and adjustment. It is no coincidence then, as Caroon cites in the first chapter of Sustainable Preservation the widely circulated statistic that the built environment, has the largest impact on the non-built environment directly and indirectly, when all embodied energy is accounted for: material extraction, processing, packing, transportation, installation, demolition, etc. As we begin to quantitatively analyze these impacts, it would appear that preservation and sustainable design are in fact fated to be natural allies.

Despite the obvious direct relationship between that the largest, energy-dense volume of stuff, i.e. buildings, on the planet has to the largest negative impact on the environment, forward progress has been stifled by the faulty logic that preservation exists solely within the public realm and that sustainability, as popularized today under the ‘green’ umbrella by LEED, is primarily a private enterprise between the building owner/client and the architect or developer. Chusid also attributes this divide partly to the “disparate forms of discourse”[3] involved in the preservation and sustainable design fields, like oil and milk swirling around in the same glass but never able to coalesce due to their inherent properties. Sustainable design, including the adaptive reuse and renovation of historic buildings, has thusly evolved alongside a remarkably well-marketed, yet discriminant, growing economy of green stuff: triple-glazed windows, low VOC finishes and paints, recycled this and energy-saving that, et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseam. This rather gentrified microcosm has all but alienated a vast number of preservation and renovation projects simply due to lack of funds and professional expertise in their specification and installation. While LEED has in truth expanded the layman’s awareness of environmental sustainability, the ‘check box’ or ‘scorecard’ nature of this popularized green movement does little to measure post-construction efficiency. In other words, a 12,000 square foot summer home for a family of three on Marco Island could very well be considered green ‘on paper’.

An architecture professor of mine at the Illinois Institute of Technology once told me as an undergraduate architecture student that, “You simply cannot expect to solve a design problem simply by adding stuff.” Both LEED and its army of new vendors, manufacturers, marketers, and promoters have regrettably begun to emphasize the inappropriate notion that sustainability can be achieved by adding stuff to a design. This stuff has a cost, and typically the embodied energy of this stuff is much higher than anyone might expect, and when specified improperly or in instances when the result that would be otherwise achieved by the item could be achieved simply by opening a window for a few hours a day, has a doubly negative effect. This mentality furthermore distances occupants from their buildings in terms of repairability. I can’t help but recall this excerpt from an essay (now a book) entitled Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford[4]:

At the same time, an engineering culture has developed in recent years in which the object is to “hide the works,” rendering the artifacts we use unintelligible to direct inspection. Lift the hood on some cars now (especially German ones), and the engine appears a bit like the shimmering, featureless obelisk that so enthralled the cavemen in the opening scene of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Essentially, there is another hood under the hood. This creeping concealedness takes various forms. The fasteners holding small appliances together now often require esoteric screwdrivers not commonly available, apparently to prevent the curious or the angry from interrogating the innards. By way of contrast, older readers will recall that until recent decades, Sears catalogues included blown-up parts diagrams and conceptual schematics for all appliances and many other mechanical goods. It was simply taken for granted that such information would be demanded by the consumer. A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them.What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part. So perhaps the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world.

impact wrench drawing from Sears

impact wrench drawing from Sears

A great deal of active sustainability can be achieved passively by relinquishing some of this environmental burden from the industry to the occupant. Most historic buildings have a tremendous advantage in this regard, what Caroon calls “Passive Survivability.”[5] Taking advantage of the inbuilt features that were necessary for the use and maintenance of historic buildings in a pre-technological era, i.e. the passive ventilation, daylighting, and often water systems as a means to sustainably preserve might just be the best way forward. Each historic building is unique, each behaves differently as a system, and it is impossibly naïve to think that any universal method of preservation, sustainable or otherwise, will successfully apply universally.

Perhaps what is needed after all is an operating manual of sorts, specific to each historic building; created by thorough analysis of these individual structures, compiled and presented to the new occupant as an Operating Manual for Spaceship insert address here* complete with schematics and ‘blown-up parts diagrams’ to encourage self-exploration, tinkering, and acclimatization. This notion of occupant responsibility should be a preservation criterion unto itself, and could aid in the substantiated justification for or against the decision to preserve.

[1] Jefrey M. Chusid, “Natural Allies: Historic Preservation and Sustainable Design.” In Pragmatic Sustainability: Theoretical and Practical Tools (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010) p.172.

[2] I’ve used a loose term here to accommodate the various levels of preservation intervention, i.e. to accommodate the ‘scrapers’ and the ‘antiscrapers.’

[3] Chusid, 175.

[4] Matthew B. Crawford, “Shop Class as Soulcraft.” The New Atlantis Summer 2006. Accessed Nov 28, 2014 at

[5] Jean Caroon, Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings (Hoboken, NJL Wiley, 2010) 10.

The Dream of Life

So, I came across this today and after listening to it over six or so times I think I get it.

Or not.

It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Sometimes it’s liberating to let something melt your mind and your way of thinking, even if for just a fraction of a second.

…or six fractions of a second.


Alan Wilson Watts was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

Halloween ’14

So, I was Edgar Allan Poe and my girlfriend was Dia de los Muertos Annabelle Lee.

That coat I’m wearing I found at this great vintage clothing store across the street from my apartment called Briar Vintage. It’s actually an early 19th century Freemason coat from Boston, so says Dave, the owner and good friend of mine. It still has the original wearer’s named stitched inside. You gotta love clothing with a history, I thought it made my ‘costume’ all the more fun to wear.


And the Raven on my shoulder is Ulysses (Poe did not have a pet Raven, that I’m aware of,  but I’m taking some creative license here). Kristy’s makeup came out quite well, if I don’t say so myself. I think I’m going to setup shop next year and charge. Was a great night all in all. Started out with Happy Hour and went to Four Fathers, our favorite local bar, before then hopping around old city until the wee hours of the night.

halloween 14

Annabel Lee
It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea—
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Books, Antiques, & Collectibles.

IMG_0181Right around the corner from my apartment is a little shop that has just about everything you can imagine. I’m not even sure it has a name…

Anyway, the shop is essentially the entire length of the building and has everything from books to paintings, models to comic books, jewelry to maps, the list goes on. They have this mountain of historic maps (USGS, hand drawn lot maps, engravings of the Medieval French countryside, I even found an aged, yellowed overhead transparency depicting one of the D-Day  invasion patterns).   Being a bibliophile and fanatic for all things old, I came across these old architectural drawings of some French buildings, no questions asked I just bought them. I got them for the bargain of 5$. Not sure what to do with them now, but I’m glad I have them. If anyone has any ideas let me know.

I would definitely advise checking this place out if you are looking for..anything, really.

Address is ~30 N. 2nd Street.

Also, there is a great vinyl record store directly next door, if vinyl is your style. And just south of THAT is a great book store called The Book Trader, that any lover of books must absolutely go visit.

Lastly, all of this is situated directly across 2nd street from Christ Church, which needs no introduction or argument for its visit (or revisit).





Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site


Edgar Allan Poe, being one of my favorite all-time literary figures and man of all-around mystery, a visit to the National Historic Site in his name has been on my list for a while. I took advantage of the Halloween weekend with the hope that my visit might be that much more dark and eerie. The glorious blue skies and wonderful, sunny weather did much to quell any  foreboding or spooky atmospheric effects that I was hoping to capitalize on, unfortunately.

The house is located on the corner of Spring Garden and North 7th Street (the exact address is 532 North 7th Street), and is the only standing building in which Edgar Allan Poe and his family lived in during his short time in Philadelphia, about six years. As the 7 minute introductory video will inform you, if you decide you visit, no evidence of Poe’s stay in the building remains; but there is something powerful about walking through rooms (with most original and intact finishes, some of which are quite beautiful, check out the picture below) that he wrote such stories and poems as The Masque of Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, the Black Cat, The Fall of the House of Usher, among 13 total, many of which were written in this particular house.


Original Interior Plaster Finish Second Floor Rooms

I’ll leave all of the details for the Site itself. I would certainly make a trip to visit this place and learn about one of America’s most influential writer and poet. There’s street parking and admission is free.

For more information check out the National Park Service’s website.

As for the management and current configuration of the Historic Site exhibit, there will hopefully be a part II to this post with some criticism of the current state of affairs regarding the way in which the NPS has attempted to convey information about the site and its history. If anyone else has been here, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the site itself, the way it is presented and maintained, etc.


Stay Tuned….