The historical value of heritage buildings resides in the historical element itself. It may be valuable as an example of a style of architecture, a symbol of a figure who had an evident influence on society at some point, or simply for its age. It is more than just a solidified memory of the past that has a particular significance in the life of every nation. Many buildings that were unremarkable when they were built, for instance, have gained historical value because they lasted and gained acceptance by the community. The story behind these buildings tells what the community was and how it became what it is, which helps us to understand who we are. Preserving those stories can be a significant part of building a healthy community with authenticity and extended history.
The process of preserving and restoring the heritage buildings themselves is a form of sustainability, as it considers the use of existing materials and infrastructure to the maximum extent, reduces waste, and preserves the historical character of the old towns and cities. A recent report, “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Value of Building Reuse” (2011), discussed the question of; how green an existing building is. The Green Conservation Lab, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with the help of building makers, sustainability consultants, and life cycle analysts, created a set of case studies of known building types; Both renovation of existing and new construction, to determine the benefits of reusing buildings versus new construction. The lab’s conclusion was straightforward: reusing old buildings leads to immediate and lasting environmental benefits.
Sustained Historical Buildings
Historical buildings have been traditionally designed with many sustainable features that respond to the climate and location. Some civilizations left an architectural legacy and solutions to problems we face today, such as ventilation and lighting, for example, Mashrabiya in Arab architecture and internal courtyards in Roman architecture. When effectively restored and reused, these features can result in significant energy savings. Considering the original climatic adaptations of historical buildings, today’s sustainable technology can complement the inherent sustainable features without compromising the unique historical character.
The USGBC’s LEED rating system creates a guideline for greening Existing Buildings; according to the type of preservation implemented. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED®O+M is a guideline for Existing Buildings, used while undergoing improvement work with little to no construction, like one in which systems are being upgraded. Still, no changes are being made to the overall layout. Besides, The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED®BD+C for Existing Buildings is a guideline used for major renovations of existing buildings, in which the envelope is being preserved; but the interior design, walls, and plumbing are being replaced.
LEED Sustainable Strategies for Historical Buildings
As these LEED strategies show, making our buildings more resilient and energy-efficient only enhances the longevity of the historic places we hold dear, and green building professionals can be part of a more sustainable future by caring about our past. This guidance is for meeting LEED® and similar sustainability standards in historic building projects. Within the five LEED® categories, the following issues require special attention:
Heat Island Effect Reduction
Before the mid-20th century, most of the areas and parking around the building were pervious surfaces often surrounded by trees and covered with gravel to minimize mud problems. Implementing high albedo porous paving, like masonry pavers, will reduce heat island effects and create the added benefit of controlling stormwater runoff. It can be implemented as a roof covering because it has a high SRI value, can’t be seen from the public way, and won’t negatively impact the character of the historic building.
Light Pollution Reduction
The best way to mitigate the pollution of lighting such as glare, light trespass, and sky glow in heritage buildings is by implementing fixture shielding; so that installed fixtures don’t emit any light directly at a vertical angle of more than 90 degrees from directly below.
Outdoor Water Reduction
Reducing water use can negatively affect historic plantations and landscape characteristics. Preserve historic plantings and landscape characteristics by balancing water within the building and site. Historically, there were cisterns to collect rainwater, and water was reused. Grey water can be evolved in irrigation systems as a traditional water conservation method.
Energy and Atmosphere
Green buildings remedy energy and atmosphere issues through strategies that reduce the amount of energy demand and by using more renewable forms of energy.
Minimum Energy Performance
- Open shutters for natural ventilation can replace the heat stored in the building and reduce cooling loads in the building. Moreover, provide a more productive and healthy environment.
- Using awnings for shading, where it is historically appropriate, is efficient and works with the seasonal path of the sun. Properly designed awnings can reduce heat gain by 65% and more.
- Historic buildings are exceptionally durable and benefit from a large thermal mass. The thermal block helps regulate the temperature inside by storing heat and cold inside the wall block.
Renewable Energy Production
A project should be evaluated for the potential to incorporate on-site renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal, low-impact hydropower, biomass, and biogas strategies to reduce environmental and economic impacts associated with fossil fuel energy use. Some strategies, for instance, geothermal wells, can be installed for the adjacent building of a historic building using pockets of existing infrastructure. Solar panels can be installed on the roof, which won’t negatively impact the character of the historic building.
Materials and Resources
Materials Life Cycle Impact
Consider using appropriate salvage materials of historic materials for the restoration of lighting, hardware, and other speciality items. Conserve, repair, or upgrade historic fixtures rather than replace them, as each element has its historical value.
Indoor Environmental Quality
Use Low Emitting Materials
Using low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can provide a healthier indoor environment as it has adverse health effects like causing cancer.
Interior Lighting Quality and Control
The quality of natural light and fixture lighting will contribute significantly toward the comfort of building occupants. Keeping large window openings and specifying task lighting that illuminates work surfaces effectively; will contribute to increasing the lighting quality of the indoor environment.
Cities that lack memory and are far from their past don’t preserve their heritage and identity and can’t build their future, leaving them vulnerable to destruction, whereas countries with special cultural heritage provide humanitarian service to the global community and society, in particular. Therefore, many international organizations are interested in preserving heritage and providing emotional, scientific, and material support to many countries, such as UNESCO, Arab city organizations, the Aga Khan Institute, and others. Hence, it is a call of duty to preserve this legacy and spread the necessary awareness because without awareness; it will be as Koichiro Matsuura, Former Director General of UNESCO said “Without the understanding and support of the public in general, and without the respect and daily care of the local communities, who are the true guardians of world heritage, no amount of money or an army of experts will suffice to protect the cities.”
- LEED Look book: Reviving historic buildings through LEED strategies (2022). USGBC website (Last updated 20.Oct.2021) available at: https://www.usgbc.org/articles/leed-lookbook-reviving-historic-buildings-through-leed-strategies [Accessed 1.Oct.2022].
- Hmood, Kabila. (2019). Chapter: Heritage Conservation – Rehabilitation of Architectural and Urban Heritage. Jordon: Al-Zaytoonah University of Jordan.