The impact of climate change on America’s historic resources and communities is vast and complex. Climate change is not merely a physical threat to our cultural heritage; it also challenges our understanding of what it means to “save” a place—indeed, it challenges our notions of permanence itself.
The preservation movement has long touted the notion that historic preservation is the “ultimate recycling,” and rightfully so. Most of us are familiar with the poster celebrating National Preservation Week in 1980 of a historic building in the shape of a gas can illustrating in simple graphic terms that re-using an existing building saves energy. Borrowing from that message, we need to face the challenge of climate impacts head on. Now is the time to be persistent—by bringing old buildings into the future to demonstrate their compatibility with adaptability and flexibility-based frameworks.
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Addressing the impacts that climate change and sea level rise will bring requires both policy makers and the preservation community to be flexible and willing to consider nontraditional solutions, such as moving buildings, raising them, or using newer, experimental approaches and building materials. To protect the old, we must embrace the new in the face of forces bigger than ourselves.
Read more about how two of our National Treasures are experiencing the damaging effects of climate change, and how the National Trust and its partners are working on solutions that can provide lessons for other historic places, too.
Floods at Farnsworth over the past 60 years have caused extensive damage to the structure and its contents. The National Trust and its consultants are investigating solutions to the issue, each of which will be assessed on effectiveness at mitigating the threat, cost, impact to the site, and impact on the aesthetic integrity and on Mies’ original vision for Farnsworth House. Learn More
In the Chesapeake Bay, the combined effects of sinking land and rising seas have resulted in a rate of sea level rise that is twice the world average and poses an even greater danger to Annapolis and its historic resources (pictured at top). The area needs immediate action to avoid continued flooding that would irrevocably damage much of the historic Annapolis we know today. Learn More
Historic property owners face distinct challenges in responding to climate- and weather-related disasters. While they can rely to a certain extent on local, city, and state agencies to provide post-disaster services, they are ultimately responsible for their own properties. These resources can help building owners respond quickly and effectively to minimize property damage and ensure a safe return home.