Green Side Up

How many frames is a picture worth?

We missed the laying of the sod for a job we’ve been chronicling: the renovation of a historical house – the new offices for Petersen Engineering.

The project asks the question: can historical integrity and energy efficiency coexist? What are the tradeoffs?

This is an area of real tension here in New England. With many buildings – like the one I grew up in – the most energy efficient method is the Extreme Home Makeover method: level it and begin new. That seems to be the only way for a weekly TV show. Renovation takes time. And time is money.

But what’s the cost of removing the old? Our cultural past is part of who we are and wholesale removal of the inefficient old will leave us poorer. One of the lessons of this project is we need to deepen our understanding of cost and benefit. There is cost to removing the old. But rigid adherence to old structures will let them tumble to the ground as old timbers and foundations sag. Old structures have contemporary value.

As Michael Bruss of IBEA and Bruss Construction, general contractor for the Petersen renovation job, said, “How can we make this building relevant in the 21
st Century?” How can we make buildings of the past work – in terms of energy, in terms of livability, in terms their effective use – today? (more below video)

Here’s a short video about the early stages of the project:

But back to the sod. Ryan Lacey, the blog-guru at Petersen Engineering, sent me a note last week and said that the laying of the sod could be a good image. Perhaps it’s a green capstone – representing the completion of the project. I agreed. And then I got hung up by a project that wouldn’t say done, render hell as I outputted the requisite 15 DVD’s, 3 web formats, all of which required babysitting my machines.

But Ryan’s been taking pictures. Decent pictures. And, in fact, their excellent blog is full of those pictures. Which helps all of us to be present when we’re really not. So is a picture worth a thousand words? And how many video frames is the picture worth? At 5 seconds (with a nice move on the photo and calculated at 30 video frames every second) that’s 150 frames. We’ll probably use 10 of the photos with our own HD images. So that’s 1500 frames. 500 more than words, all for the cost of decent digital still camera. Thanks Ryan.

Equating pictures to words, words to frames really mixes our metaphors, but so does historical integrity and energy efficiency. We learn from stretching. One more thing to stretch the lesson to installing sod. It’s green side up. Historical integrity and energy efficiency CAN be put together. We just have to want to do it. And remind ourselves how to do the obvious. Green side up.