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A Green Future for Old Buildings

November 2009
By Charles N. Tseckares, FAIA

During the 1950s and ’60s era of urban renewal, Boston, like many cities, destroyed old and historic buildings replacing them with new, modern structures that embodied the spirit of an age of prosperity and limitless growth. The impulse to tear down and build anew was rooted in the belief that man had transcended the limits of the natural environment. After all, this was an era of plentiful and cheap energy, especially oil, when we shunned the frugality of our forebears and embraced the throw-away society. The cultural shift was reflected in the design of modern buildings, which relied on energy-intensive systems of lighting and climate control.

Only in hindsight did we see how reckless we had been. Books like Jane Holtz Kay’s “Lost Boston’’ chronicled the destruction of our cultural and architectural heritage. The architectural and historical landscape of Boston and other historic cities was spared the full brunt of urban renewal by a powerful countermovement of historic preservation that emerged in the 1970s and helped lessen the destruction.

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