The last time I saw Ed McMahon on TV, I couldn't stop looking at his teeth. Like a lot of older TV stars, he seems to have had a lot of dental work done to keep them smooth and white, and they have now become the most prominent feature of his face.
Even though they're smooth and white, they didn't look right to me -- they just didn't fit with the rest of his face.
That's the way I feel about a lot of window replacements on building renovations. UNCG is re-doing the Brown music building and Aycock auditorium (both of them very attractive buildings), and has chosen to replace the original wood windows with new metal or vinyl clad ones (I can't tell which from the street).
I managed to get a comparison photo of the Brown building's last remaining wood window, which has since been removed. Can you tell which one it is?
At first glance, the old window (on the right) looks bad, doesn't it? At Historic Preservation Commission meetings, people who want to replace their windows often describe windows in this condition as "rotted,"
but if you click and enlarge the picture below, you'll be able to see that the only real problems are peeling paint and old glazing compound. The wood is in very good condition. Most of these old windows were made with old-growth yellow pine, which is very decay resistant. With scraping, sanding, repainting, and reglazing, these windows would be good for another 80 years at least.
Another irreplaceable feature of the old windows is the "wavy" glass, which gives them a distinct appearance that's visible even from a distance. It's a small detail, but one that lends a lot of character to old buildings.
Here's a view of the Aycock auditorium, with new windows fully installed. They look like very good-quality replacement windows, but something about them reminds me of Ed McMahon's teeth.
I'm disappointed that the university decided to go this route, not only because of the aesthetics but also because of the sustainability issue, which is becoming increasingly prominent in the school's public discourse.
Those old windows contain a lot of "embodied energy" which is simply being thrown away, and more energy is being used in manufacturing new windows. Although the new windows are probably somewhat more energy-efficient than the old ones, studies I've seen show that efficiency gains from new windows are generally much smaller than most people think.
And the new windows probably won't last nearly as long as the original ones would have, necessitating more expense and energy outlay for their replacement in a generation or so. Manufacturers call these windows "maintenance free," but that really means that you can't maintain them. When they start to fail, you just have to get rid of them. They can't be repaired.
Case in point: the "new" replacement windows in UNCG's Curry building were just replaced again last year. I doubt that the replacement windows that were replaced were even 30 years old.