Preservation Greensboro has a forty year tradition of engaging the local community with notable speakers at the organization’s annual meeting. Beginning with Jane Davies of Columbia University at the very first annual meeting in 1966, other speakers have included Clement Conger, Curator of the White House; James Biddle, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Lindy Boggs, U.S. Congresswoman from Louisiana; NC Governor James Martin; and Gordon Bock, Editor of Old House Journal magazine.
Last night, the tradition continued as 150 members and friends of historic preservation gathered at the Revolution Mill Special Events Center for dinner and a presentation by architect Carl Elefante. Elefante is Director of Sustainable Design and a Principal in the Washington DC office of Quinn Evans Architects. In 1994 he served on the Sustainable Communities Task Force of President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD). Since then he has built an extensive body of work and become a recognized leader in architecture, historic preservation, urban design and sustainable development by participating in programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Association for Preservation Technology International, Preservation North Carolina, Historic Districts Council of New York, American Institute of Architects, United States Green Building Council, and US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Last evening, Elefante proposed that preservationists were best poised to confront issues related to sustainability – especially in terms of architecture and planning – due to their extended outlook of building design. He illustrated his point by discussing the lifespan of replacement windows, which he pointed out, live up to their name through their necessity to be replaced on a regular basis due to the difficulty in their repair. No maintenance windows, are in fact, not easily maintained.
Many may argue that sustainability has always been at the heart of historic preservation. We are, after all, in the home state of Preservation North Carolina, the organization that has bumper-stickered the slogan “Historic Preservation: The Ultimate Recycling” into our consciousness. What has been obvious to everyone in the preservation community is now becoming obvious to everyone else: historic preservation makes sense. Not only is it pretty to look at, not only does it build community and a sense of place, not only does it create jobs and build our tax base…but it is sustainable at a time when we are just beginning to comprehend the carrying capacity of our planet.
Sustainability in our built environment is just getting off the ground here in Greensboro. We are all aware of notable projects, such as the LEED certification of the Proximity Hotel and the new Northern Guilford High School, but we are now beginning to see efforts in historic preservation and “green design” blended, as witnessed with the restoration of Archdale Hall at Guilford College.
Preservationists are just beginning to grasp the demands of the twenty-first century on the built environment, and Elefante certainly presented a new spin on historic preservation. As it turns out, we find ourselves in a key position to assist citywide efforts to put the “green” back in Greensboro…and perhaps, to save the world in the process.