True Green Cities / Greening What’s Already Here in Natchitoches, Louisiana : The Lee H. Nelson Hall

The Lee H.Nelson Hall in Natchitoches, LA , the headquarters of NCPTT, is the focus of a "greening plan."

The Lee H.Nelson Hall in Natchitoches, LA , the headquarters of NCPTT, is the focus of a “greening plan.”

As Kurt Vonnegut has been quoted as saying, “Another flaw in the human character is that everyone wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” NCPTT in Natchitoches, LA , has undertaken a sustainability management plan for its headquarters in the the Lee H. Nelson Hall, with ongoing and cyclical maintenance as its primary goal.  Can a historic building improve its resource efficiency while protecting its historic features?  This is what this model project is seeking to prove.

“The Greening Plan” for the Lee H. Nelson Hall can be downloaded in its entirety from the NCPTT website.

A Model Project

The construction and operation of buildings accounts for almost 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  But reusing and retrofitting our existing buildings can reduce these emissions dramatically.  Historic and existing buildings, such as the National Center for Preservation Technology & Training’s Lee H. Nelson Hall, are seeking to improve their maintenance programs and capital improvement approaches by combining time-tested preservation methods with green building practices.

The Lee H. Nelson Hall project team is integrating the use of green building tools and LEED rating systems with preservation planning methodology to improve the energy and resource use of the site and lower the bottom-line. The guiding premise for this project is that its recommendations should meet energy and sustainability goals while preserving the character-defining and historically significant features. One of the major goals of this project is to reduce energy and resource use while saving operations’ funds, a goal that most buildings aspire to.  By using the greening of their headquarters as a transparent model process, which can be shared with the field, NCPTT is leveraging their significant place in preservation research while demonstrating how to be a better steward.  NCPTT has posted the full sustainability management plan on their website and it can be downloaded here. 

The Past and Future in the Bayou

Marcus Eliason from Apollo BBC studies energy loss in the Lee H. Nelson Hall with the assistance of an infrared  tool.

Marcus Eliason from Apollo BBC studies energy loss in the Lee H. Nelson Hall with the assistance of an infrared tool.

The building was originally constructed in 1923 in Natchitoches, LA and designed by the New Orleans firm of Favrot and Livaudais as a classroom building and activity center for the campus of what is now Northwestern State University (NSU). Once the Hall was no longer large enough to serve the student body, it was closed. After 30 years of use as a storage facility, a new department of the National Park Service, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, was located in the building in 2001. The purpose of the project and the process is to develop a road map for greening the maintenance and operations procedures of all existing and historic buildings. By using the growing body of sustainable preservation case studies, understanding the original character-defining features of the building and integrating the necessary envelope, systems and site improvements with acknowledged green building practices, NCPTT has decided to use the LEED EB: O&M rating system (targeting LEED Gold), often called a cyclical maintenance plan on steroids, as the metric to guide both the maintenance and capital improvements approaches at the site.

The Sustainability Management Plan Process

The full client and design team develops project goals and objectives in the Lee H. Nelson Hall eco-charrette.

The full client and design team develops project goals and objectives in the Lee H. Nelson Hall eco-charrette.

A series of eco-charrettes, energy audits, a sustainability management plan and LEED EB:O&M, are being used to improve the resource use and efficiency of the site. The first goal-setting eco-charrette was conducted in January 2013 and the full sustainability management and LEED plan completed one year later. Using their historic building as the test case for this greening process, NCPTT will demonstrate that the use of green building analysis tools, in conjunction with preservation methodologies, can lead to a plan for efficient environmental actions that improve long term stewardship; and will show how new technologies and reactivation of original design features can together provide innovations in green building design while debunking the myths that historic buildings cannot readily achieve LEED certification.  NCPTT acknowledges the importance of a strong maintenance program and this sustainability management plan is one way forward.  The project team includes BAC/Architecture + Planning PLLC from Buffalo/NYC and Apollo BBC from Houston.  We will be presenting this project at Greenbuild in New Orleans next month.  So if you would like to learn more about the project and you’ll be in NOLA for the conference, please feel free to join us on Wednesday, October 22nd at 8AM.  Or contact me via email bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

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True Green Cities / Back To School

Back to School

The 7th Avenue limestone "megastructure" buildings that frame the entry portal to FIT's Chelsea campus.  Photo courtesy FIT.

The 7th Avenue limestone “megastructure” buildings that frame the entry portal to FIT’s Chelsea campus. Photo courtesy FIT.

It’s been decades since “back to school” really meant back to school for me. While I’ve been teaching one class a semester in the past few years at two different colleges, it still didn’t have that rigor and anxiety that comes with really going back to school at the end of summer. But this August, I did find myself going back to school in a real and profound way.

Why Sustainable Interior Environments at FIT?

A new graduate program in sustainability opened at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in 2011. FIT is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and while it is primarily known as one of the top five fashion design schools in the world, it is also a wonderful design school with undergraduate offerings in interior design, toy design, graphic design and related programs. Most people do not realize it is also one of the oldest State University of New York colleges as well. Located in the heart of Chelsea and the fashion district in Manhattan, just two blocks from the High Line, FIT could not be better placed for design. But why sustainability? A tenured professor in the Interior Design program, Grazyna Pilatowicz, worked for years to start a graduate program in sustainability at FIT, as an outgrowth of her design thesis. Grazyna published a book in 1994 entitled Eco-Interiors: Environmentally Conscious Interiors years before anyone else was talking about “green” or healthy materials.

First year students learning about garden cities in a historic Sunnyside Gardens home.

First year students learning about garden cities in a historic Sunnyside Gardens home.

Introduced by a mutual friend, Grazyna invited me to create and teach a class I have loved since the minute she explained it to me – Survey of Sustainable Architecture & Interior Design Historical Origins, a survey of the history of architecture and interior design through a sustainability and preservation lens. This is the third summer I have taught the class, and I learn as much as the students each time. When Grazyna decided she would like to return to full-time teaching again in the Interior Design program, I was honored and shocked when she asked me if I might consider taking over as Chair of the program. So it is ironic that just as I am settling into life in my downtown Buffalo loft, I find myself back in NYC now, splitting my time in both cities.

A Master of Arts in Sustainability at FIT

A central component of FIT’s mission, and woven throughout the college’s strategic plan, is a commitment to sustainability, diversity and civility. Through the establishment of various councils, task forces, and committees, President Joyce F. Brown has provided opportunities for members of the FIT community to incorporate sustainability into both operational and curricular activities. The Sustainable Interior Environments program offers the only degree in sustainability at FIT and is one of only a handful in New York City colleges and universities.

Students and the programs two chairs (Barbara and Grazyna in the center) on the annual summer visit to the Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan.

Students and the program’s two chairs (Barbara and Grazyna in the center) on the annual summer visit to the Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan. Photo courtesy Grazyna Pilatowicz.

The program marries advanced professional skills with strong personal values—and opens pathways to making a better world. It is for working professionals who want to create better-built environments and increase their industry leadership potential. The program focuses on exploring social impact, refining aesthetics, and fostering a sense of delight about how people live and work. Our students are conducting leading-edge research that increases their industry leadership potentials.   With masters’ theses on topics as diverse as integrative design, daylighting in historic sites, worker safety and health in labor practices in residential buildings and fire retardants in commercial furnishings, our graduates came to us as interior designers, architects, exhibit designers, planners, and environmental scientists and leave as experts in sustainability topics that no one else has researched yet.

Modern and Sustainable

FIT's "C" Building on W. 27th Street, designed by architects de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg, opened in 1959.

FIT’s “C” Building on W. 27th Street, designed by architects de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg, opened in 1959.  Photo courtesy FIT.

I’ve always loved the modern campus of FIT and indeed, on our business cards we choose a word for the back of our cards (FIT Is….) and I chose “modern.” The campus is a self-contained two full square blocks between 7th and 8th Avenues, West 26th and 27th Streets. Its well-known face is the two limestone somewhat Brutalist-style buildings, or “megastructures,” that border 7th Avenue between 26th and 28th streets, joined by a bridge. NY Times writer, Christopher Gray, has described the FIT campus as this “unusual burst of modernism that defines the campus.” Most of the key buildings, including these on 7th Avenue, were designed by the architectural firm de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg between 1956 and 1972. While other critics have called the buildings “dated,” “derivative,” and “confused,” Christopher Gray called it a “smorgasbord” and I am proud to now call it my professional home. Using the New York City metropolitan region as our laboratory, our students are learning about sustainability in what I consider one of the great modern existing building campuses in Manhattan. And if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that learning how to “green” and maintain our existing buildings, especially our modern era buildings, is key to saving our planet. So next time you have a few spare minutes and you find yourself in Manhattan, please stop by to see all we’re doing at FIT.

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True Green Cities / Does the Museum of Modern Art Disrespect Women?

Museum of Folk Art

The American Folk Art Museum is covered in scaffolding as the Museum of Modern Art demolishes it.

Earlier this week I visited the Museum of Modern Art for the first time since they “confirmed” they are demolishing the American Folk Art Museum. I struggled with renewing my membership this past spring given the disrespect both I and many others felt that MoMA showed towards its little jewel of a neighbor which lost out in the big real estate dealings of New York City. Despite the protests of nearly every architectural critic and historian and architects around the world, this beautiful landmark is now under scaffolding as it is dismantled. There has been much written about it and its doom, by me and most recently Architectural Record.  But I gave in and rejoined because some of the best architectural exhibits I’ve ever seen (including both the Labrouste and the LeCorbusier exhibits last year) have been thoughtfully and beautifully curated by the MoMA staff.  I love their restaurants (although incredibly over priced) and reading in the Philip Johnson-designed garden has always been a joy.  So off I went to spend another summer afternoon at one of my beloved institutions, this time to visit the new exhibit “Designing Modern Women.”

Ambiguity Meets Patriarchy

It was hard to tell where the "Designing Modern Women" exhibit at MoMA started.

It was hard to tell where the “Designing Modern Women” exhibit at MoMA started.

This exhibit made me question renewing my membership and left me quivering with anger. Ken Johnson at the NY Times wrote a much more measured review of the exhibit than I find myself capable of doing:  Shoehorned into half the Museum of Modern Art’s design department, “Designing Modern Women 1890-1990” is a confusing exhibition but an excellent conversation starter.  And If there have been important female designers of tools, automobiles and skyscrapers, that sort of work remains unrecognized here.

I had not read any reviews before I went.  I had no idea what to expect, but this was not it.  Before I discuss the intellectual content, let me share my discontent with the exhibit’s organization.  Like Mr. Johnson, I was very confused from the minute I arrived at the exhibit. There was no “entrance,” the entry boards were located halfway into the room and I was never quite sure where the exhibit started or ended.  The entire exhibit was very small.  While LeCorbusier’s groundbreaking exhibit last summer occupied an entire wing of the third floor, this one barely used one room.  Now I love Le Corbusier and that exhibit, which I went to three times, was worth every square foot.  But come on MoMA, an entire century of modern design by women is “shoehorned” in one back space?  (To quote Mr. Johnson again.)

"Kitchen Transformations" - took up almost 25% of the "Designing Modern Women" exhibit.

“Kitchen Transformations” – took up almost 25% of the “Designing Modern Women” exhibit.

It is my understanding that the exhibit is comprised of items already in the MoMA collections.  If that is the case, then MoMA better start seriously evaluating their collections and the representation of woman designers in it.  With such a lack of connected content, I really do not understand why they bothered with this exhibit.  There was no expected “shop” at the end with related items for sale and no exhibit catalogue.  In the book shop, on a shelf entitled “Books related to current exhibits,” the only “related” book I could find was one on midcentury kitchen counters. Really.

Charlotte Perriand designed this kitchen for L'Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles.

Charlotte Perriand designed this kitchen for L’Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles.

Overall I found everything from the chosen content, to the labels to the lack of real intellectual rigor solicitous and patriarchal.  The ambiguity of the goal of the exhibit was frustrating.  Perhaps it would have been less confusing if the exhibit were just called what it was – a random collection of various design items in the modern era by men with some involvement of a woman.  Charlotte Perriand, who worked with Corbu, receives the most attention as does her kitchen design for L’Unite d’ Habitation in Marseilles.  Eileen Gray is mentioned as is Francis Knoll but I had trouble even identifying what items they designed.  The design teams of Charles and Ray Eames, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown are meagerly represented, but nowhere are any of the brilliant modern architects such as Natalie de Blois even suggested. Yet an entire display called “Kitchen Transformations “ takes up 1/5 of the exhibit. To quote Mr. Johnson one last time, “If the exhibition were intended not to celebrate female designers but to lament how sexism kept them down, you wouldn’t have to change a thing.”

Where is MoMA Heading?

The public is now allowed into the garden for free. The bollards have been moved to the escalators and elevators.

The public is now allowed into the garden for free. The bollards have been moved to the escalators and elevators allowing free public access to the Garden through the opening at the top of the photo, left.

Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s architecture and design department curator, recently left to return to teaching at Columbia full-time.  His replacement was just announced last week – Martino Stierli, a Swiss art history professor.   I would love to know the real story behind Mr. Bergdoll’s leaving – was he frustrated by the museum’s response to the Folk Art debacle?  Or was it just his time to leave.  I fear that this meager “woman” exhibit is an example of what happens during a leadership vacuum.  I hope that Mr. Stierli continues the significant research and exhibits that are now Mr. Bergdoll’s legacy.   As I left the exhibit and museum in a huff, I realized that the entry bollards were removed, now providing free public access to the garden.  MoMA has offered up its garden to the public as mitigation for demolishing the Folk Art Museum building, and while that is appreciated, since free access to MoMA is not easily gotten, I hardly think that makes up for the reckless disrespect that this institution (and its board) shows toward actual built design on its street.  One wonders if the Folk Art Museum had been designed by Frank Gehry as opposed to the collaborative team of Tod Williams Billi Tsien Architects would the real estate-centric board of MOMA been so quick to dismiss it.

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