Jean Carroon, principal at architecture firm Goody Clancy, wants to save our world by saving our buildings.
“When you think about the whole issue of recycling, to me it’s always seemed quite logical that if it’s important to reuse a bottle, then it’s even more important to reuse a building,” Carroon said. “In the last 50 years, the human race has consumed more raw resources and created more waste than all humanity prior to that time. … About half of all that material consumption and waste is directly related to the construction industry, to buildings.”
Carroon, who jokingly refers to herself as a “fountain of dire data,” can offer many other statistics that demonstrate how harmful the construction of buildings is to the environment – and how important it is for our fate as humans that we take care of that environment.
“But you don’t want to overwhelm people with dire data,” Carroon said. “Really, it’s about how positive and healthy of a world we can create if we start to think differently and if we value what already exists. That’s true in the environmental sense of [reducing] waste and material consumption … but we also need places that are unique, that lift our spirts and our souls, and that’s what buildings that have been here for some time do. … Memories are what people value, and those memories might involve being able to show your child where you used to buy your groceries. Maybe that grocery store has been turned into the new public library or it’s a senior center or a family center, but the fact that it’s still there helps to carry those memories forward.”
It’s hard to listen to Carroon for too long without wanting to join her world-saving quest, a truth that David Spillane, president and principal at Goody Clancy, knows well.
“Jean has a great passion for the things she cares about, and I think that passion is quite infectious to people,” he said. “She is an inspiring leader.”
Carroon has worked on more than a dozen national historic landmarks in her career – “and many other [older] buildings that aren’t designated [as historic landmarks] but are also important,” she added – including Trinity Church, which she described as the project “that made [her] career;” Old South Church; and the John W. McCormack Federal Building in Boston. She’s also working on historic buildings at the St. Elizabeth’s campus in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. On top of this work, Carroon is the 2019 president of the Boston Society of Architects, where she’ll focus on – you guessed it – educational programs involving the importance of preserving existing buildings. “It’s a bit of a life-long theme,” she said.
Though Carroon has always cared about the environment, becoming an architect was never part of her plan. She was a professional equestrian until the age of 21, at which point she moved to Oregon to become a river guide. “I didn’t break nearly as many bones river guiding as I broke riding horses, so it seemed safer to me,” Carroon said with a laugh, adding, “I played a lot in my twenties.”
Though she took a few architectural history classes in college, Carroon confessed that she doesn’t know why she decided to pursue architecture as a career. “I can tell you that when I announced that I was going to architecture school [for a graduate degree], just about every single person who knew me said, ‘What?!’” she recalled.
Regardless of the reason, the planet – and all of its inhabitants – should be very glad that she did.