Towards a culture of sustainable preservation : sustainable design, historic preservation, and cultures of building



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The growing sustainable design movement in the United States focuses almost exclusively on the construction of new buildings, largely ignoring the existing and historic building stock that constitutes the majority of our built environment. Historic preservation, a discipline that deals exclusively with the existing building stock and puts an emphasis on long-term management of the built environment, would seem to be an ideal partner for the sustainable design movement as it begins to address existing buildings. The practice and goals of the two fields, however, are currently perceived to be in opposition to one another by the building community and the general public.

This thesis argues that sustainable design and historic preservation represent two unique and distinctive building subcultures – distinct subsets of the larger building culture of which they are a part, and that the opposition between the two disciplines stems from not only their historically distinct discourses, but also from cultural and ideological conflicts between the two fields. Different languages, code typologies, cultural identities, and conflicting attitudes toward the use of technology in contemporary building practice all stand as barriers to a significant partnership between the two disciplines.

This thesis explores the cultures of sustainable design and of historic preservation in order to provide a view for practitioners in both fields into the culture of the other, and ultimately proposes a path towards developing shared cultural understandings by placing a new emphasis in both fields on social sustainability.