Preserving Modernism in a Green World at the National Building Museum

Who would have thought that those run-of-the-mill office buildings from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s might someday be regarded as historic? And yet many of the buildings that became symbols of anonymous urban streetscapes are now approaching their 50th birthday, which could qualify them for landmark status according to standards set by the National Park Service.

Aesthetic questions aside, the buildings of that era tend to pose significant environmental problems, plagued as they are by energy-intensive mechanical and electrical systems, poor indoor air quality, and little access to natural light. Typically, the solution has been demolition; why keep a building that doesn’t easily lend itself to sustainable performance? But is this the right answer?

Today, however, concerned architects and others are starting to argue that any reused building, even an inefficient one, is inherently greener than a new one. Its embodied energy from original construction simply should not go to waste. Can new technologies and renovation strategies provide a plausible future for these often unloved modern-era buildings?

Preserving Modernism, a moderated panel discussion, features a preservationist, sustainability expert, and an architect, who will consider where preservation and sustainability meet or don’t in the preservation of modernist buildings. The discussion takes place at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC on June 30, 2008 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.

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