Date of Award
The environmental value of historic buildings can be quantified by calculating embodied energy, as a means to expand understanding of historic significance. As a test of this notion, the embodied energy of historic brick, the largest material by volume in historic load bearing brick masonry buildings is calculated. The current criteria for designating buildings as significant were designed in the mid-to-late twentieth century and did not anticipate the environmental issues that would face the historic preservation movement in the twenty-first century. There is, for example, no existing database or index of the embodied energy of historic building materials. This thesis estimates the embodied energy of both pre and postindustrial brick, and uses those values along with the approximate volume of brick used in constructing buildings of varying levels of historic significance. The calculations for the embodied energy of sixteen buildings are compared to the ranking of buildings according to their tiers of significance as seen by different designations in historic preservation. Findings concluded that buildings that are not currently recognized as being significant are those dating from the Industrial Revolution, and because those buildings were constructed with machine made brick, their embodied energy values are much higher. These buildings are threatened by neglect and demolition and therefore at risk of wasting their embodied energy. If the field is going to contribute to envisioning and advocating for a built environment that deals with the reality of the impacts of climate change, preservationists should expand their arguments for protecting historic resources to include environmental considerations.
O'Brien, Bernard J., "Re-evaluating Significance Through Embodied Energy: Quantifying Significance in Load Bearing Brick Masonry Buildings" (2021). All Theses. 3530.