Solaire, the first green high rise residential tower in North America

– By Romilly Madew, chief executive, Green Building Council of Australia –

9 February 2010 – The city synonymous with the skyscraper has turned its attentions to the challenges of sustainable building.

The New York City skyline is being transformed by green thinking, with the celebrated Art Deco design of the Chrysler Building and neo-gothic Woolworth Building joined by new green icons such as Four Times Square.

Developed by the Durst Organization and designed by architects Fox & Fowle, Four Times Square became the first green skyscraper in North America in 1999. The property was fully leased within four months of opening, adding momentum to the green building movement both in New York and nationwide.

Speaking at Green Cities 09 in March, Douglas Durst, Co-President of the Durst Organization, argued that the green building challenge required real commitment and courage – and with it, a new way of thinking.

“The easiest way to build is to do what you did last time.  But you can’t do that with green building.  Each building requires a new design, unique innovations and systems – and a real commitment to green thinking,” Durst said.

This year, another leading green thinker from the Big Apple, Susan Kaplan from the Battery Park City Authority will be in Australia for Green Cities 2010.  Hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia and Property Council of Australia, Green Cities 2010 will be held in Melbourne for the first time from 21-24 February.

Susan Kaplan, who is the BPCA’s Director of Sustainable Development, will be sharing the lessons learnt by the BPCA as it started its journey on a sustainable path.  The BPCA was an early adopter of the LEED green building rating system (equivalent to Australia’s Green Star) and now operates one of the world’s greenest neighbourhoods. It is home to the Solaire, a LEED Gold-certified building, and the first green high-rise residential project in North America. In addition, the BPCA has seven other green residential buildings under construction, three of which are expected to achieve LEED Platinum.

Green development has certainly come a long way in a short time.  When BPCA started its green building program in 1999, LEED was only in pilot phase.  Instead, BPCA created a clear set of required strategies to help real estate developers determine precisely what constituted a green building.

According to Kaplan, developers, architects, engineers and contractors alike were originally challenged by the need to rethink their design and construction practices.  “They were accustomed to designing and building structures in the same way that high-rise construction had been done in New York since the 1940s! So the first challenge for all these groups was overcoming inertia.

“At first, we faced challenges from nearly everyone!” Kaplan adds.  “The construction trades, for example, asked who would install photovoltaics (PVs) within the façade – the glazier, ironworker or electrician? The answer turned out to be: make the PVs look and act like a window, and bring in the electrician at the end.”

Meanwhile, the New York City government questioned items that were prohibited by the existing codes, such as waterless urinals and micro-turbines.  “Fortunately, we were able to convince the department of buildings to write new codes for these and other green projects,” Kaplan says.

The sustainable features in Battery Park City’s new developments are certainly impressive.  Not only do all new residential buildings incorporate PVs, but one building includes PVs that follow the arc of the sun throughout the day. This creates even more efficiency and thus more energy than standard PV systems.

Also, these buildings contain cogeneration equipment, blackwater treatment plants that clean and reuse up to 50,000 gallons a day per building, and, in one commercial building, ice storage.

Furthermore, all the buildings are required to employ sophisticated, computer-based building management systems. These communication and tracking systems do not exist in most residential buildings in New York City. They are advantageous in keeping equipment at its most efficient, as well as keeping up with maintenance and potential equipment malfunctions. They also make it very easy to track energy usage and, it is hoped, to compare usage over time and to energy usage of other buildings.

With all these high-tech green features, you’d be forgiven for thinking the developments cost more to build.  But you’d be wrong.

In October 2009, the Urban Green Council (a chapter of the US Green Building Council) commissioned a study of the cost premium of green construction in New York City.  The Researchers from Davis Langdon examined 107 projects, 63 of which were either pursuing or had achieved LEED certification.  They found no significant difference in the cost per square foot between green and non-green buildings, based on analysis of luxury high-rise residential and commercial interiors projects.

See the videos on the Battery Park City website