Conservation of building materials played key role in early architecture

How did modern society become tainted by tear-down, rebuild mindset?

"People will not look forward to posterity," said the English statesman Edmund Burke, "who never look backward to their ancestors." Burke's words ring truer than ever today, when many of the world's most fortunate inhabitants behave as if they were the only ones who ever mattered or ever will. Although many of our ancestors have been pictured as heavy-handed exploiters of the environment, at least they had the excuse of ignorance. Nor were they quite as wasteful as we might imagine: None other than the English aristocracy of the 17th century, for example, routinely used salvaged stone, iron, lead and glass in the construction of their manor houses. Closer to home, our Yankee predecessors knew well the value of materials such as lumber, glass and hardware, since they were obliged to either laboriously produce them on their own or import them at great expense from abroad. It wouldn't have even occurred to early Americans to waste containers such as crates, barrels, and bottles, which wer...