David and Goliath: Two Projects Test Green Limits

Event: Green Building Case Studies
Location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 08.15.07
Speakers: Tony Daniels, AIA, LEED AP — Director of Sustainable Design, Studio A/WASA; Sarah Beatty — Co-founder, Green Depot; Rolf Grimsted — Owner & Manager, R&E Brooklyn; Serge Appel, AIA, LEED AP — Associate Partner, Cook+Fox Architects
Moderator: Joe Franza — GreenHomeNYC
Organizers: GreenHomeNYC

One Bryant Park

One Bryant Park will “outgreen” its neighbors when complete.

© dBox for Cook+Fox Architects

The two-unit house at 93 Nevins/453 Pacific, Brooklyn, and the Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park, Manhattan, have little in common to the naked eye, but at opposite ends of the budget spectrum they both evince their developers’ and architects’ commitment to resource responsibility. When completed, One Bryant Park will be a midtown landmark, and the Nevins/Pacific building may be an eye-catcher only to its neighbors (and readers of Natural Home magazine, which has designated it a Show House), but both offer valuable messages to the evolving sustainable building movement.

A forum in GreenHomeNYC’s monthly series explored the challenges of sustainable urban construction under way at two radically different sites: a small residential adaptive-reuse project and a skyline-defining corporate tower.

The 1920s-vintage Nevins/Pacific building has spent most of its life as a commercial structure (successively a pharmacy, a laundromat, and a deli/grocery with second-floor residences). Decades of structural neglect and a 1980 fire did their worst, and neighbors came to view the building as a “very dangerous and toxic” blight on the community. But developers Rolf Grimsted and Emily Fisher of R&E Brooklyn saw it as reclaimable. “This is our engineer,” said Grimsted, introducing one photo of a gentleman surrounded with rubble, “telling us how crazy we’d been to buy this building.” The project is proving successful anyway, in large part because the partners assembled a like-minded team, including green materials marketing specialist Sarah Beatty, experienced green architect Tony Daniels, AIA, LEED AP, of StudioA/WASA (the trio’s chief technical presenter), contractor Robert Politzer of Green Street Construction, the Boerum Hill Association, and other local consultants. It takes a village — at least in a residential neighborhood — to give new life to a much abused building.

Daniels’ work began with the idea of preserving the brick façade. He designed a new structure that rises up within it, carved out a courtyard that optimizes natural lighting, and incorporated contemporary technologies, including rooftop solar collectors to heat water for radiant flooring. The more Con Edison power a photovoltaic system can replace, or a gas-fired absorption chiller system conserves, the lighter the burden on peak-time summer power consumption and the less fossil fuel is burned. Little of this is news among the green construction afficionados, but demonstrating both the feasibility and the aesthetic appeal of such a house to the community is beneficial, and the Nevins/Pacific house has a high public profile even before it’s complete. It’s the city’s first American Lung Association Health House (for exemplary air quality) and the first accredited under the LEED for Homes program. Whoever ultimately lives there will enjoy low utility bills, though they’ll need to brace themselves for tour group visits.

Cook+Fox Architects’ ice-shard-shaped Bank of America tower is already a well-established paragon of sustainability at the XXXL level. The goal of “outgreening” its neighbor has helped drive an all-systems-go approach to lightening its footprint: One Bryant Park’s power cogeneration, low-emission glass, ice-tank chilling system, recycled blast-furnace-slag concrete, underfloor air, individual thermal controls, waterless urinals, and other conservation strategies are projected to earn it LEED Platinum status. The data-intensive presentation of these features by Serge Appel, AIA, LEED AP, updates the portrait that his firm’s principals presented at the Skyscraper Museum’s Green Teams series last year (see “Biophilia Claims Bryant Park,” by Bill Millard, eOCULUS, 03.21.06 for an earlier view). If height competition is passé (or best left to organizations overseas), could green performance be a better outlet for American architects’ competitive impulses?