Reuse, Re-cool

I was intrigued by “Inspiration” on the back page of the January-February issue of retrofit about the town of Nocona, Texas, reclaiming its identity in the face of industrial expansion and declining population. It’s inspiring to see a community pull itself up by its bootstraps and carve out an identity in the face of mediocrity and economic depression. But there’s a bigger picture here to discuss: Why is it important to reuse our existing building stock?

Reusing our existing building stock instead of continuing to develop previously undeveloped sites has many advantages. First and foremost, redeveloping existing buildings takes advantage of reusing existing infrastructure. New utility lines and roads cost excessive amounts of money. New roads and parking lots further contribute to the reduction of pervious areas and require storm water to divert to drainage systems rather then infiltrate naturally back into the environment.

Reuse of buildings in dense areas often can take advantage of public transportation options that are not generally available to projects in outlying areas. Giving employees and tenants options for commuting is not only a green notion, but one that can help create more satisfied tenants and reduce absenteeism with employees. By providing facilities in which employees can change clothes, business owners can encourage occupants to ride bicycles as transportation to promote healthy lifestyles. Being in previously developed areas also creates a sense of connectivity to a community. Often basic services and restaurants are within a reasonable walking distance.

Existing buildings contain a large amount of embodied energy. This may be a new idea for some people. Embodied energy is the sum total of all the energy in the life cycle of a building. Essentially, it is the energy required to mine, manufacture, transport, construct and demolish the building. By taking advantage of reusing buildings we can reduce the embodied energy and reduce the creation of new energy-intense materials. Our world has a finite amount of resources and reusing existing buildings is a best practice for material and waste reduction.

Old buildings have a certain character that we seem to miss in modern construction. How many times have you walked into a brand-new building and said to yourself, “This is an enduring building that will stand the test of time for 100 years”? Probably not very often. There’s something about an old Main Street storefront building with iron columns, exposed brick walls and a tin ceiling. It still says “cool” and is still the desirable type of space that many retail clients are seeking.

I applaud the efforts of the people in Nocona, Texas, for taking a stand and rehabilitating their urban core to protect and preserve the character of their community. By focusing our efforts on repurposing the existing building stock, we can help reduce demands on finite materials, preserve open space, take advantage of public-transportation options, and preserve some of the buildings that can truly take our breath away and make us say, “wow!”.

About the Author

Nathan M. Gillette
Nathan M. Gillette, AIA, LEED AP O+M, CEM, is director of Natura Architectural Consulting, Grand Rapids, Mich., and a retrofit editorial advisor. He works with clients to successfully implement and manage energy efficiency and sustainability projects.

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