Best Practices in Sustainability: Historic Preservation Meets Energy-Efficient Green Design in Cambridge, MA

Feb. 7, 2006
Cambridge City Hall Annex recently became the first municipal building in Massachusetts to receive a LEED® Gold Certification from the USGBC

Cambridge City Hall Annex recently became the first municipal building in Massachusetts - and the oldest building worldwide - to receive a LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Cambridge is a leader among the handful of cities in the nation requiring LEED standards for their municipal buildings.

It is hoped that other municipalities will follow Cambridge’s lead. Bill Hammer of HKT Architects, Somerville, MA, points to the energy politics in the Gulf and the Middle East that reinforce the need to be proactive in designing for sustainability. “All our design work incorporates sustainable practices although, often, we have to quantify the value for the client. We were pleased to see a forward-looking client in the City of Cambridge. As a team working toward the same goals, we successfully combined energy efficiency with adaptive reuse and, in this case, because of the importance of the building, we also used best practices in historic preservation to guide the redesign.”

Originally built in 1871, the building was closed in 2000 after indoor air quality testing found mold spores at elevated levels. Following a major renovation, Cambridge City Hall Annex reopened in February 2004 as the city’s first green municipal building, proving that historic preservation and energy-efficient, healthy green design can go hand-in-hand.

Anthony Consigli of Consigli Construction, Milford, MA, points to the huge stock of historic municipal buildings throughout New England. “They’re excellent candidates for this kind of green renovation - they can honor our history and ensure a healthy workplace for more productive employees. Plus, rehabbing is ‘greener,’ if you will, than building a new building. It’s all about the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The city’s decision to renovate rather than demolish the building led to receipt of the Massachusetts Historic Commission’s 2005 Preservation Award, among five other awards for innovation and preservation. The building is an important part of the fabric of its historic neighborhood. Valuing the history of the building while choosing green for a better work environment was an important move for the city. “We were committed to renovating this building as a good and healthy workplace for our employees, and as a place the community could be proud of,” says Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi, who oversees the city’s capital projects. “A sustainable building better serves our employees and our residents, and can contribute to increased productivity.”

Rossi’s words are no surprise to Alexis Karolides at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, CO: “The message to managers about the institute’s landmark study, Greening the Building and the Bottom Line, is: While energy-efficient design can pay for itself in reduced energy costs alone, it may also produce vastly greater benefits in higher worker productivity, lower absenteeism, fewer errors, and better quality.”

Taking the argument further, Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO, and founding chairman of USGBC, says, “If the tremendous benefits to our environment and our health aren’t enough to convince someone that green building is the right move, he or she will certainly be swayed by the benefits to the bottom line. Huge savings in energy and water usage, and dramatic increases in productivity, make LEED certification a wise investment.”

It is clear that the city’s investment has paid off. Accolades from city workers and Cambridge residents about the newly renovated building range from the new bike racks to the pleasant parking-ticket windows. “As an environmental planner, I’m really proud that the city has renovated City Hall Annex as a green building,” states John Bolduc. “I enjoy my workspace with all the daylight; outdoor views; and sustainable, healthy materials. It also makes my job easier to encourage private developers to follow green building principles when the city is ‘walking the talk’ on environmental criteria. It makes me look forward to coming to the office every day.”

For more information, visit the City of Cambridge’s website (

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