We live in a village that takes pride in our collection of great architecture. I am reminded of this each day walking the dogs up Forest Avenue, around the FLW Home & Studio, and then passing by Unity Temple and the Post Office. On Madison Street our village hall was designed by nationally known architect Harry Weese and is a Modern Movement masterpiece. Weese drew his inspiration for this building from Alvar Aalto, who is to Helsinki as Wright is to Oak Park. Everyone in Helsinki knows Aalto and they treasure his works.
Now there are rumblings that Oak Park Village Hall is in danger of demolition. The urgent need for a new police station is certainly warranted, and I do not contest this. Let’s put aside the architectural significance of village hall and look at the issue through the prism of climate change, waste, and unwarranted spending of our tax dollars.
The concept of sustainability, linked to mitigating climate change, requires effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. Architects like to say that the greenest (most sustainable) building is the one that is already built. The reasoning becomes obvious when you realize that demolition, filling landfills with usable materials, quarrying and harvesting, production of building materials, transportation, and construction activities and their carbon-producing activities will greatly decrease if a building is rehabilitated rather than replaced.
Replacing village hall is a wasteful measure and is an example of the throwaway society that America has been. Such actions were acceptable in the past but should not be acceptable in an enlightened village such as ours.
My experience in historic preservation has shown me that rehabilitation is almost always less costly than demolition and replacement.
I remember when Ridgeland Common was on the verge of demolition and the excuse was obsolescence — the outdoor field did not drain properly, and the plumbing was bad. An economic slowdown, thankfully, put that project in limbo, and we now have a great example of adaptive reuse of an existing building. It also pokes a hole in the myth that building problems can only be solved by replacement.
Working toward solutions that would rehabilitate and possibly expand village hall would be better for the environment, less wasteful, and will most likely cost less than demolition and replacement.
Let’s do the right thing here and put aside talk of demolishing village hall.