The Green Building

I am sorry that I will again have to start a post with apologies. First of all, I want to apologize for taking months to write another blog post. I don’t know how some of my fellow students do it. Although I think that my daily visits to Wimp, Cracked, TED, The Daily Show and others (as well as the obligatory Gmail and Facebook) have something to do with it. I’ve made a decision to try and cut back on my online time wasting, which will hopefully allow for more fruitful pursuits.

Second, I want to apologize to anyone who is coming to this site for reasons other than architecture and urbanism news. I’m continually amazed that my Book of Mormon musical post has generated more traffic than pretty much all my other posts combined, and while I appreciate the visits, I am a little worried about anyone who subscribed expecting commentary on either Mormonism or Broadway, only to get information on streets and buildings. At the same time, some people will get to this blog through Twitter, where I was very active a few months ago in tweeting and retweeting information about uprisings in Libya. While I continue to support the efforts of those fighting for freedom and democracy in that and other nations, this blog is meant to serve another purpose.

With those out of the way, we can move on to discussing a building that caught my eye a few months ago: the Green Building in Louisville, KY, redeveloped by FER Studio.

I’ll be honest. When I first looked at this building, my first instinct was to criticize it. I think a lot of it had to do with this being the first picture I saw of it. I understand that, as architects, the designers wanted you to see the soaring, brightly lit tower, but as an urban designer the first thing I saw was a very large parking lot that opened directly onto what seems to be a pedestrian-oriented street, and this upset me. Luckily, I can safely say that this is the worst thing about the building. Line the parking lot with some hedges or walls, a la Christopher Alexander’s shielded parking from A Pattern Language.

Although the tower wasn’t the first thing I noticed, it is striking and beautiful. The glazing, as well as the slant of the roof, allows for maximum light to get into the building, decreasing the need for artificial light and heating. At the same time, a series of louvers dims the light, so that it is not so overwhelming.

Another thing I think is interesting in the choice of photos is that there are very few images of the facade of the building. Architizer has two “dramatic” (ie at crappy angles) images, while FER’s page only has one shot from the other side of the street. While the facade of the building is important, I can see why the architects weren’t too excited about it; they successfully preserved a facade, and while it is a very nice one, it’s only about 1/3 their original work. Architects want to show what they did, and so they focus more on the building’s additions and interior.

I like the part of the facade that FER altered. As I have often mentioned, I am very fond of wood construction, both as a material and as a casting for concrete, which they used here. The wood leaves its grain pattern in the concrete, making it feel more alive and warm. The cafe seating provides a comfortable “3rd place” for the community, and generally makes the commercial use more inviting by providing a place that is outside the building but still within the influence of the store. By setting it back from the facade of the building, it is conceivable that the space could be used to escape the rain on a wet day, and that adventurous diners could still use the space despite the weather.

According to the blurb on Architizer, the building was originally a dry goods store, but has been converted to a cafe and gallery. This is a great example of adaptive reuse, and a reasonable example of historic preservation. I’m no expert, but I’ve been told that a problem with historic preservation in America is that preservationists not only want to preserve the building, but also its use, which in many cases is out of date. By changing the use, and making moderate adjustments to the exterior to allow for new uses, the main facade of the building, as well as its footprint and many of its materials, can be preserved, while serving a new and more appropriate use.

What really turned around my opinion of this building was the interior. I love it. I think a big part of that feeling for me is the reuse of the old wood. While using all new members would give the building a slick, right-out-of-the-box look, reusing the old wood and also leaving segments of brick wall exposed give the building a real “lived-in” feel, a sense of history and permanence. At the same time, the new wood on the upper floors, the large window panes and the black aluminum mullions, as well as the contemporary seating, decidedly say that this is a modern building. The openness and height of the rooms allows for the sun from the tower to better penetrate the building white the various balconies and hallways create a variety of unique spaces inside the building that are unavailable in many contemporary office structures.

This place has sustainable features all over it. The solar panels generate 15 kw/hr, which is supplemented by energy from a geothermal system. An underground ice storage system provides unique cooling savings. Although the green roof captures a lot of rain water, any excess is stored in three rain barrels and used for landscaping and irrigation of a small vertical farm which provides produce for the cafe.

Despite a bad initial impression, I was thoroughly impressed by this building. It is a great example for a part of Louisville that is currently undergoing fast improvement, and with a few small tweaks could be even better.


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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