Traditional Building Portfolio

Michael Lykoudis

According to the Department of Energy, the construction industry, along with mechanical systems required to light, heat and air-condition buildings, and the transportation required to support the built environment, account for 70 percent of the energy consumed in the United States.




The Real Changes to Come

By Michael Lykoudis

The discussion about climate change remains focused on how to maintain our current car-and-suburb based way of life through the search for new sources of energy and developing current technologies to their maximum efficiency. Even streamlining and maximizing technologies cannot maintain the pace of growth at the scale of our energy needs. Our consumption at every level has to be reduced dramatically to make considerable strides towards a truly sustainable way of life.

According to the Department of Energy, the construction industry, along with mechanical systems required to light, heat and air-condition buildings, and the transportation required to support the built environment, account for 70 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. Rethinking the ways we build and live on the planet could dramatically reduce the amount of energy we use and the greenhouse gases we produce.

These practices are part of our recent history, a proud American tradition that we can revive to help sustain our communities, our country and our planet. Before the Second World War, building and cities were, for the most part, sustainable. They were the "original green." Built on a planning model based on a pedestrian scale, they established urban settings organized so that all or most of life’s daily necessities were available within a 10-minute walk. The basis of this model is a traditional mixed-use neighborhood that does not rely on fossil-fueled automobiles to connect people to commercial and civic centers. The traditional city grows by multiplicity. New neighborhoods grow adjacent to older ones with their residential areas around commercial and civic centers. Through mass transit, these neighborhoods can be integrated into larger regions with a much smaller carbon footprint than today’s sprawling mega cities.

The principles of traditional architecture further enhance the sustainability of thoughtful urban design. Durable methods and materials last for generations and require less maintenance than modern buildings that consume resources unnecessarily. Traditional buildings do not have to be replaced often, conserving embodied energy necessary in a sustainable world. Masonry construction is the most enduring method we know. Locally available stone or locally made bricks have low embodied energy, with respect to being transported. In the case of bricks that need to be fired, the embodied energy can last for thousands of years.

The passive heating and cooling properties of traditional buildings also add to their environmental value. Traditional buildings typically depend less on mechanical means of heating and air-conditioning than their "modern" counterparts. With their narrower footprints and use of courtyards, they also avail themselves more readily of natural light rather than relying entirely on electricity. Masonry walls absorb heat in the summer days and radiate it back out at night. Deep-set cornices, windows and doors provide shade and minimize heat gain in the summer when the sun is at its highest. In the winter, this allows the sunlight to help heat the interior of the buildings.

Traditional buildings also lend themselves to adaptive reuse. The massing and organization of a building determines its usefulness long after its original functions have become obsolete. Designing for the long-range purpose of a building rather than its specific function allows for "recycling" through renovation. Embodied and life-cycle energy are conserved as fewer resources are used to rehab a building than to demolish and replace it. In the event that a stone or brick building needs to be torn down, masonry can be separated and reused again and again if joined properly with lime-based mortars, increasing the sustainability of this method of construction.

Almost all of the current "green" models for the built environment operate on unsustainable assumptions about our lifestyle and patterns of consumption with respect to urban planning and building. Planning cities and buildings according to these traditional principles is the only way to create a significant reduction in energy consumption and sustain both our built and natural environments.  


Actions for Sustainable Building
Short term:

1. Promote the principles of duty and civic responsibility to all citizens.

2. Create bicycle/pedestrian, bus line interfaces.

3. Tax recreational fossil-fuel powered vehicles and inefficient transport systems such as private cars. Provide tax breaks for light and heavy rail services and mass transit.

4. Tax impermanent building materials and methods and provide tax breaks for permanent building materials and the conservation of water and other commodities.

5. Increase taxes on suburban real estate and lower taxes for inner-city properties.

Medium term:

1. Provide tax and other incentives to the big three automakers to build buses, trams and locomotives.

2. Develop short- and medium-haul regional rail services.

3. Rewrite building codes to use durable construction methods such as load-bearing masonry and wood-frame and heavy timber and buildings with natural lighting capabilities and flow-through ventilation.

4. Establish development boundaries around cities.

Long term:

1. Develop short, medium and long-haul rail services.

2. Develop new transoceanic high-speed surface travel.

3. Develop inner-city low- and medium-rise high-density transect-based development.

4. Develop local, rural and urban agriculture.

5. Rebuild local and regional industries for the production of daily needs of nearby villages, towns and cities.


Michael Lykoudis is the Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. A leader in linking architectural tradition to urbanism and environmental issues, he has devoted his career to the building, study and promotion of Classical architecture and urbanism.

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