Clipper Mill, Exterior (Baltimore, MD)

The greenest building is the one that is already built.

Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP 

How can a practice that is focused on preserving the past simultaneously help us build toward a better future? By considering each place’s embodied energy.


Embodied energy is the total amount of energy expended to produce any good or service. Or in this case, any building. This calculation tallies all of the energy and fuel used to extract and refine raw materials, manufacture various components, transport them, erect a structure and maintain it. If a building is torn down, energies spent for demolition are included as well. An additional consideration is the cost of losing historic materials and craftsmanship that are no longer available, and even depleting currently available resources.

American Brewery, Interior (Baltimore, MD)


Conserving embodied energy, promoting sustainability, and saving historic buildings can all be accomplished through adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse helps to sustain or revive a building’s relevance to the community by enabling it to deliver new value, different from its initial intent. Not only does adaptive reuse save historically- and architecturally-significant structures to preserve authentic connection to place, it also saves massive amounts of embodied energy. By giving an existing building fresh purpose, energy is prevented from being wasted on demolition and possibly construction of a new building.


To recap: Adaptive Reuse = Saved Buildings + Saved Embodied Energy = Sustainability


The QEA team has successfully demonstrated this approach to the benefit of numerous projects and their communities over the years. Here are some of our favorite examples:

Accident Fund Holdings, Exterior (Lansing, MI)Accident Fund Holdings, Interior (Lansing, MI)American Brewery, Exterior (Baltimore, MD)American Brewery, Interior (Baltimore, MD)Clipper Mill, Exterior (Baltimore, MD)Clipper Mill, Interior (Baltimore, MD)Darryl Carter Showroom and Studio, Interior (Washington, DC)Darryl Carter Showroom and Studio, Interior (Washington, DC)Element Detroit at the Metropolitan, Exterior (Detroit, MI)Knapp's Center, Exterior (Lansing, MI)Knapp's Center, Interior (Lansing, MI)Knapp's Center, Interior (Lansing, MI)Lion Brothers Building, Exterior (Baltimore, MD)Lion Brothers Building, Interior (Baltimore, MD)Lion Brothers Building, Interior (Baltimore, MD)Wurlitzer Building, Exterior (Detroit, MI)Wurlitzer Building, Interior (Detroit, MI)Wurlitzer Building, Interior (Detroit, MI)Zingerman's Deli, Exterior (Ann Arbor, MI)Zingerman's Deli, Exterior (Ann Arbor, MI)Zingerman's Deli, Interior (Ann Arbor, MI)

Accident Fund Holdings, Inc in Lansing, MI 
American Brewery in Baltimore, MD 
Clipper Mill in Baltimore, MD 
Darryl Carter, Inc. Showroom and Studio in Washington, DC 
Element Detroit at the Metropolitan in Detroit, MI 
Knapp’s Center in Lansing, MI 
Lion Brothers Building in Baltimore, MD 
Wurlitzer Building in Detroit, MI 
Zingerman’s Deli Expansion in Ann Arbor, MI