A few years ago Michael Jackson, now chief architect of the state Historic Preservation Agency, showed me around the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece I nominated for “the most beautiful man-made object between Interstate 80 and the Saint Louis Arch” in a Reader story August 31, 1990.

Jackson was the restoration project manager for the place, working with Chicago’s Wilbert Hasbrouck. Now Jackson is on a more abstract kick, pointing out that the powerful tool for greening architecture, the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council, may not take into proper account how environmentally constructive restoring old buildings can be.

“Preservation provides ‘stealth green’ practices,” he tells Jonathan Moore in Focus, the monthly magazine of AIA Chicago. Over at another AIA site he opined, “The ‘green design’ movement has largely ignored the inherent ecological advantages of building re-use, including the primary one—embodied energy. The environmental benefits of building re-use, such as embodied energy, have to be measured against the operating energy for a true life-cycle equation. Historic buildings can be made energy efficient through the appropriate use of new technologies and ‘invisible interventions.'”

IOW, don’t assume that new is best. Moore again: “Jackson’s hypothetical example cites a new LEED Platinum-rated [i.e., top-rated] school built on the edge of town, contrasted with saving an existing school structure in an existing urban area.  Using green building materials, LEED may award more points for the new structure, while total energy expended for new construction actually saps more resources from the environment.”

LEED standards do encourage reuse of construction materials; could they do more?