Current sustainability discourse labels many existing buildings as ‘bad.’ Hooked on fossil fuels, leaky, and inefficient, existing buildings are penalized for their carbon footprint by cities and policymakers to provoke energy renovations and upgrades. New ‘Net Zero Carbon’ buildings have been the sustainability focus of the AEC industry—all-electric, highly efficient, and technologically advanced, these ground up buildings have been heralded as climate saviors. This seminar presents the opposite as true: new ‘Net Zero’ buildings are a distraction, not our salvation. It is the existing ‘bad’ buildings, the messy fabric all around us, that do pose a carbon challenge, but also hold a profound solution to achieving a low carbon future.

In pursuit of new solutions grounded in practice, this seminar follows two tracks: the technical and theoretical. The technical side covers reuse (embodied carbon) and retrofit (operational carbon) through lectures, guest speakers, and short assignments. The theoretical track covers case studies and readings on adaptive reuse and architectural proposition. The seminar culminates in student-initiated proposals for decarbonizing and reinventing an existing building in New York City.