A photo of an historic industrial building at Clipper Mill in Baltimore.

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.

An interior photo of the American Brewery in Baltimore.


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:

An exterior photo of the historic Ottawa Street Power Station in Lansing.
An interior photo of the Ottawa Street Power Station, now an office building.
A photo of the entry to the American Brewery.
An interior photo of the American Brewery, now an office building.
An exterior photo of a building at Clipper Mill.
An interior photo of a building at Clipper Mill, now an office.
An interior photo of Darryl Carter Interiors.
An interior photo of Darryl Carter Interiors with an exposed brick wall.
A rendering of the Element Detroit hotel at the historic Metropolitan Building.
An exterior photo of Knapp's Centre, a former department store.
An interior photo of Knapp's Centre.
An interior photo of Knapp's Centre looking up at a skylight.
An exterior photo of the Lion Brothers Building, a former industrial building.
An interior photo of a stair landing in the Lion Brothers Building.
An interior photo of the Lion Brothers Building showing a coworking space.r
An exterior photo of the historic Wurlitzer Building, now a hotel.
A photo of the lobby of the Siren Hotel at the Wurlitzer.
A photo of the bar at the Siren Hotel at the Wurlitzer.
An exterior photo of Zingerman's Delicatessen.
An exterior photo of Zingerman's Delicatessen.
An interior photo of Zingerman's Delicatessen.

  
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