Good historic preservation continues to struggle against the headwind of modern construction practice. For a number of reasons, the design and construction industries in the US remain geared toward new construction. The nation has been in growth mode for more than 2 centuries and the result has been innovative looks, products and techniques that allow us to, in many ways, build better, faster and seemingly less expensively when starting from scratch. This has been reflected in new products, in our building codes, and most recently in our efforts to improve sustainability. When these new ideas are applied to the retention and reuse of existing buildings however, contradictions often arise.
Nowhere have these contradictions been more evident than in the issue of historic windows in historic buildings. While historic windows are often among the most important, character-defining elements of historic buildings, to attempt to retain them is often to argue against widely held assumptions, carefully crafted marketing programs and a construction industry where few have experience in working effectively with existing conditions. Only this past Thursday I was in attendance at a local Landmark Commission task force meeting where an applicant was surprised and puzzled that he was not allowed to just replace all of the windows in his historic building, and to do so without any consideration of the alternative of keeping them.
I will be putting up a series of posts on this subject over the next few weeks where we will look more deeply into the choices that have to be made when dealing with historic windows. The slide show below from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is an excellent overview of the issue and a good place to start the discussion.