Green Design and Preservation of American Heritage

One of the finest examples of Green Design is the preservation and reuse of historic buildings. The need to preserve America's cultural heritage began as a grassroots movement in the 1800s and continues to have its most effective results at the community level.

Preservation of Historic Structures

One of the first architectural buildings to be preserved was George Washington's home, Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association was formed and raised the funds to purchase and restore the home in the 1880s. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association is still responsible for the home and the tours.

Before the turn of the 20th century, America recognized the need to preserve its national treasures. Large areas of land were set aside as National Parks (a concept developed in America), National Monuments, and Historic Sites. In 1914 the National Park Service was formed to manage these and future acquisitions. Throughout the early 1900s many homes and buildings were preserved and restored to be used as museums to define America's heritage. Williamsburg, a reconstructed village, illustrates how an early American community lived and worked. The Historic American Buildings Survey, or HABS, was begun by the Park Service in 1933. The initial record produced 24,000 measured drawings of historic structures.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., founded in 1949, is the largest organization in the country devoted to the preservation of historic buildings, districts, and neighborhoods. An organization sustained by both public and private contributions, the National Trust maintains the National Historic Register. The National Trust also administers historic buildings as museums, disseminates information about preservation to property owners and to the public at large, and assists in a variety of preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation efforts around the country. However, it is important to note that National Historic Register designation does not ensure the building's sustained preservation. The National Historic Register is a recognition status that requires only government-owned buildings to be subject to environmental review prior to proposed demolition. If a community is determined to maintain its local historic character, that community must invoke local ordinances and regulations to preserve their structures.

Through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s many national treasures were destroyed in the name of "progress". Of the structures surveyed by HABS in the 1930s, over half had been destroyed. Recognizing the need to reaffirm America's historical heritage, the grassroots movement lobbied Congress, and the national Historic Preservation Act was greatly enhanced in 1980. Tax relief and grants-in-aid (among other important legislative actions) were established to promote preservation. Downtown communities were granted funding through the Mainstreet Program to save their historic downtown character. Businesses that renovated historic homes, public buildings, and even factories helped to create the green design specialty of adaptive use.

Through the grassroots efforts of many individuals and organizations, America's cultural heritage before and after European occupancy can be observed through buildings, historic sites, and communities, as well as in the open spaces of National Parks and Monuments. Americans have recognized the need to preserve a sense of space. They also recognize that natural resources, elaborate architecture, and unique details are costly to replace once destroyed. In fact, many are irreplaceable.