No. 500 . 08 December 2010 
ArchitectureWeek

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The Märkisches Viertel Housing Renovation in Berlin, by DAHM Architekten + Ingenieure, involves reskinning 13,000 former East German housing units spread across several clusters of large residential buildings. Adding exterior insulation to these 1960s structures effectively transforms the concrete of their walls from poor insulation to valuable thermal mass. Photo: © Kevin Matthews/ Artifice Images

Modernizing Modern

by Carl Stein

In the United States, there is a huge inventory of unused, underused, and poorly configured buildings, many of them modern-style. These buildings are a valuable resource, and until this resource has been exhausted, the pace and pattern of new building construction seen in the second half of the 20th century is a luxury that is not sustainable.

There are also numerous modern-style buildings which are highly wasteful in their use of operating resources, particularly energy and water. Their continued operation with poor efficiencies is not sustainable.

To be clear, sustainability references a future in which our children and grandchildren can exist and in which they will want to exist. Given humankind's incredible power to affect the natural environment, survival of the species is no longer an academic question. As a result, the issue of global sustainability might more appropriately be called survivability. Climate change, limits on food production, and availability of clean water and air threaten the continued viability of the human species.

Because the problems are real and the stakes are high, it is often difficult for environmentalists, particularly those working on national and international matters, to take into account those factors which do not directly impact survival — the can exist issues.

However, in addressing questions of survival, it is important that we not lose sight of want to exist concerns, which define and enrich human experience, such as the enjoyment of beaches and sunsets, trees and flowers, and animals and birds, as well as appreciation of our cultural heritages and histories.

In scale, can exist concerns may be seen as global whereas want to exist concerns are generally local. The relevance of the different scales brings to mind the mantra "think globally, act locally" (the application of which to environmental concerns is generally attributed to Dr. René Dubos).   >>>

This article is excerpted from Greening Modernism by Carl Stein, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton.

 

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