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Historic old cigar factories: green before their time

TAMPA — Think of "green" building, and visions of robotic garages, grassy roofs and sleek modern designs come to mind.

"Welcome to the future," the images say. "When all buildings look like this, we'll be flying in fuel-efficient Jetsons cars."

The word "green" itself is often a synonym for new, fresh, recent and young. With that in mind, here's a green concept:

What if Tampa's oldest buildings, the cigar factories and bungalows built a century ago, were the first truly sustainable, energy-efficient structures?

And what if — way before the U.S. Green Building Council created its seal of approval, and long before Al Gore told us the world was melting — our earliest architects had it right all along?

Renew Tampa, a conference expected to draw 1,000 people next week, will seek to answer those questions, creating Tampa's first dialogue that unites energy-conservation and historic preservation.

• • •

Meet engineer Nicholas Jammal at his Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory in West Tampa. Let him explain: This building sat empty for 35 years after the cigar industry faded, serving no purpose until he bought it and converted it into office and retail spaces.

Think of all the energy saved by not demolishing the structure and building a new one, he says. It's recycling, in a big way.

Now, step inside. Built in 1903, long before air conditioning, early builders had to maximize ventilation in the building. Large windows span the walls. You can open them from the bottom half up, or the top half down, allowing for cross-ventilation.

"The building is inherently an energy-efficient building," he says.

Notice its long eastern and western walls, and short north and south walls. Because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the building was designed to take in the minimum amount of heat, and the maximum amount of lighting.

Venture into the basement. It's warm outside, but cool in here. That's because of the airtight, 22-inch thick masonry walls, designed to keep tobacco leaves cool.

Now for the new aspects of the building. Jammal installed low-emittance (Low-E) windows to minimize the amount of heat absorbed into the building. And he recreated the historic window frames with wood sold locally, such as pine, cedar and cypress, to reduce the energy consumed in transporting over long distances.

He'll use modern air conditioning systems to minimize energy and sensor-activated plumbing to reduce water usage.

"You take advantage of newer technology," he said. "And you take advantage of what

you inherited."

• • •

These days, one major measuring stick for sustainable architecture is the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

But "certain things within LEED are hard to do in historic buildings," said local architect Gus Paras. "There are things we feel historic buildings bring to the table that you don't get points for."

LEED doesn't deduct points for tearing down old buildings, writes James T. Kienle in an architecture journal. But it rewards points for installing technologies and designs that may compromise a building's historic integrity.

Renew Tampa will bring architects, green builders and historians together to share green preservation techniques. Paras expects that many historic homeowners will attend for renovation tips.

"Nationally, this is just beginning to be recognized," Paras said. "There's no rating or system to see what kinds of measures have been taken in existing old buildings. We'll begin to document what's really

happening in Tampa."

• • •

If you think of old buildings being preserved and brought to life as "green," then automatically, allowing historic buildings to sit unused and unsecured for decades of decay is the epitome of "ungreen."

Photographer Todd MacDonald will unveil a collection of "endangered buildings in the Tampa Bay area" at the conference. One includes the old federal courthouse on Florida Avenue, which the American Institute of Architects is working to restore and turn into their offices.

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said the city is working to create incentives for green building and trying to streamline the process to make it easier for preservationists to bring historic buildings back to life.

Saul-Sena plans to speak at the conference on "Battles Won and Lost."

"The best thing you can possibly do for the environment in terms of buildings," she said, "is to preserve them."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

. fast facts

Renew Tampa

Architects, green builders and historians will gather to share green preservation techniques. An opening reception will be held 7 p.m. Monday at the Tampa Museum of Art's temporary location, the Centro Espanol, 2306 N Howard Ave. Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory, 1403 N Howard Avenue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 11 and April 12, and at 12:30 p.m. on April 13 for a bus tour. The public is invited to attend the various events. For more information and pricing, visit or call (813) 229-3411.

Historic old cigar factories: green before their time 04/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2008 5:31am]
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