Saturday, November 22, 2008

Leaving Logan: Trash the Bach, Bring on The Verve

I spent the past week in Boston at the monstrous and inspiring Greenbuild conference. It's the second one I've attended. Last year I really only got to attend one day because the APT conference in San Juan overlapped its beginning. The conference is the hottest thing on the planet in the design field right now - from 0 to 30,000 attendees in less than a decade. I've been thinking alot about the market forces, the interest, the people who attend and are true believers and why this movement is literally changing the world, when the preservation "movement" has been around for 60 years and while, yes, it's changed the world too, not with such exhilaration. And looking around the conference, the way it was managed, the excitement that is exuding from almost everyone, I've made some very opinionated observations.

1. Youth and hipness. Doesn't get any simpler. Greenbuild and green buildings are hip. There are no fuddy-duddies. And I don't mean just "youth" in terms of age, youth in terms of frame of mind, world approach. These guys are rarely wearing ties. And the women are all stylish and gorgeous. Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "Outliers", pronounces that a lot of innovation seems to be just being in the right place in the right time. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and their Silicon Valley clan were all born in 1955 and were 21 when they started changing the world. "21" seems to be the age that the geniuses are formalizing their world view. Hmmmm, gotta read that book and see what that's all about...

2. Diversity. It's not all white. We have to struggle to get diversity at preservation events and preservation organizations. Why don't we just attract all people? We have to give out diversity scholarships to get people of color or gender differences at our conferences and then we pat ourselves on the back - oh aren't we being inclusive?

3. Perception. I'm starting to think more and more that "Historic preservation" - the label - is too past-looking. While people get that buildings are the biggest contributor to green house gas emissions in the US - it's still hard for most people to grasp that "preservationists" are doing more than saving Mt. Vernon. We just have to work harder with our PR, with our outreach. Preservation Nation is a great start but we have to be even more hip. We need some leaders who are younger, have business savvy, and twitter as much as communicate on facebook. We need freshness. I think we need a new name, something that doesn't end with "ist". It's not a mistake that all of the plenaries and keynotes at Greenbuild had Coldplay and Radiohead in the background, leading in the speakers. We have to trash the Bach and bring on The Verve.

4. Brilliance. Greenbuild is filled not only with hip architects, designers and engineers (yep, engineers can be hip too), it's filled with scientists, chemists, energy consultants, inventors. When was the last time you could say inventors were hanging out at a preservation conference?
Green=innovation. I met energy consultants, glass scientists, real estate gurus, biologists. My mind was spinning. And I was thinking non-stop. I had to work really hard to keep up intellectually and I love that. While it's sometimes nice to be the smartest one in the room, it's exciting to be challenged. I am constantly learning.

5. Saving the World. This is saving the world stuff, bigtime. You feel like you're part of a bigger thing. You feel like you are making a difference. And that's what everyone's talking about.
So, what can the preservation world do to open itself up to being taken seriously? Stop being so darn stodgy. I have noticed a lot of the older generation of preservationists are just inflexible. Save the Main Street or do nothing - complain about everyone else. Stop complaining. Start doing. Start collaborating. Green folks have figured out how to criticize and collaborate in many ways better than the old-time preservationists. And they just don't include the "preservationists" because so many of them come with this chip on their shoulder. Now while you rarely see green folks who don't consider themselves preservationists at a National Trust conference, I could count on my hands the number of "preservationists" at Greenbuild. Open up people. Reach out. The Greenbuild conference had 2000 people sign up onsite on Tuesday!! That's more people than came to our entire conference in Tulsa.

Sounds like I'm denigrating preservationists? Maybe a bit. I call myself a "preservationist" less and less. I'm an architect first. Actually I'm a human first. An Architect second. Preservationist somewhere further down the line. I care about saving our species and keeping the world around for our grandchildren. If it came between a wind turbine and a viewshed, guess which one I'm picking. Now, it's rarely ever that black and white, but I'll tell you as I read through "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and all the new research coming out that's saying the biosphere is collapsing, melting, heating, cooling, "weirding", exponentially faster than even the IPCC thought last year, a lot of the fussiness just isn't going to matter any more. Get with the program folks. We need to save the world so that the pretty communities matter, but if the world and our species are gone, then that nice main street around the corner isn't going to matter one bit.

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