Valuing history and conservation in FuturArc Jul-Aug 2014 issue

Some buildings last longer than others. Longevity, from a sustainability perspective, is a good thing. It is said that the most sustainable thing to do is ‘not build’. We need to use what is already built; we need to value what is out there.

So what do we value?

The majority of projects in this issue seem to value history—things that are imbued with collective memory. The world changes too quickly; these projects remind us of where we have been. We see several recurring conservation types: the shophouse, the factory, the warehouse. In many, there is a trend towards gentrification: old buildings turned into cafés, boutique hotels or art galleries. Chang Jiat Hwee, in his commentary on the shophouse, offers us a perspective on historical trends and drivers.

But what else should we value? What is important that is not yet in vogue?

The everyday. We should value all buildings, especially the ones that meet everyday needs. Every building, already built, represents embedded resources, usefulness and performance. In our editorial quest, we found too few examples of this. There is a workplace interior in Jakarta and a student dormitory in Bangkok. These are more than facelifts; they improve quality of life.

Forrest Meggers in the Main Feature talks of things that matter to designing for longevity. We could not, however, find these ideas in use in the real world. The exception to the rule, though not in Asia, is the London Olympics Park. True, it was a big project with large capital and political cost but there are lessons here on how we should be thinking, regardless of scale.

The other noteworthy trend we cover is the Living Building Challenge (LBC), a building certification framework that is unlike anything we have known. There are no tiers here; no platinum, gold or silver. A project is certified or it is not. There are no performance targets against self-generated benchmarks—it is net zero or not eligible. The LBC asks that we think about education, equity and beauty—ideas that almost no other assessment tool has touched.

The 200-plus LBC projects are mostly in the USA. Lately we have seen completed projects in Australia and New Zealand. There is now an office interior registered for certification in China. And there are the LBC ambassadors in Singapore, Malaysia and India. Clearly, there is momentum. The FuturArc Interview is with the CEO of the International Living Future Institute, Jason F. McLennan. We start the discussion on the question of beauty—the theme of the Living Future Conference and the LBC Petal—and end on what it would take for the LBC to make inroads into Asia.

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