Long Life/Loose Fit & Vernacular Principles

In the first chapter of Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings, Jean Caroon makes a very strong case for the adaptive reuse and green preservation of existing buildings, historic or not. The need for a reduction of waste and carbon emissions in the developed world is clear to most people, but there are individuals who still do not understand (and some who do not believe) the problems we face. What I find most interesting about Caroon’s first chapter is the focus on historic buildings. While her points are not entirely new, she makes concise work of explaining the intelligent design used in building until the last century. Prior to the era of globalization and cheap transportation, buildings were truly local. Architects and builders used local materials in combination with vernacular principles to create passive, sustainable buildings. It makes complete sense that these buildings have been able to stand the test of time. Due to their longevity, many of these structures have secured a place in local history, and are valued by the communities they represent. When it comes time for reuse or renovation, these celebrated buildings are usually preserved or efficiently adapted for new uses. The concept of long life/loose fit is one that contemporary architects should appreciate and adopt in practice, but what can we do when difficulties arise? When buildings are not appreciated as “historic” by the public, how can designers work to convey their value to clients and end users?

Many new buildings are built with long life/loose fit in mind, but what can be done about buildings with specific program needs? When building program demands spaces developed around current technology, how can designers create spaces that are adaptable for future use without making the client feel that their needs are marginalized?