Every building represents a significant carbon investment. The resources, financing and labor that go into construction all contribute to a structure’s carbon cost and make a compelling case in preservation’s favor.
When a building is torn down, embodied carbon is immediately released into our atmosphere. These emissions not only contribute to climate change, but they are often needless expenses in favor of destroying the old to make room for the new. Rather than demolishing what we have, designers should focus on adapting existing space to better serve modern needs. Moreover, older buildings are strong candidates for energy efficient upgrades that reduce operational carbon and put them on par with new buildings (without all the costs of new construction).
The greenest buildings are the ones that already exist, and through a combination of preservation and adaptation we can realistically reduce carbon emissions without destroying useable existing space.
The construction sector accounts for 13% of energy emissions in the United States, while an estimated 19 million vacant buildings remain standing a
Embodied carbon is a top concern within the preservation sphere and provides one of the strongest cases for reuse over demolition.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has developed a crowdsourced archive of preservation case studies that documents a broad range of proj