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Zoe Rosenberg reports for Curbed: 130 Seventh Ave. South's Revised 'Glacier' Fails To Woo LPC

With their prior success in creating historically sensitive designs, BKSK Architects thought they might have done so again yesterday when presenting their renderings for a mixed-use project at 130 Seventh Avenue South to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Since the project's initial design, courtesy of Peter Sampton, was panned by the LPC in September, BKSK has stepped in.

"We believe a façade that clearly speaks of its time is an effective way to heal this scar" caused by the "ruthless cut of Seventh Avenue South at one point in time," said BKSK's Harry Kendall and George Schieferdecker, with Schieferdecker adding that the triangular site "offers us a great opportunity to be in the Flatiron mode". But yesterday afternoon, the LPC and a room full of neighborhood preservationists proved them wrong, citing the design as "monolithic" and like a "glacier". No one in the room was reluctant to acknowledge that the current site occupant, a one-story restaurant, is an "eyesore". However, few believed the new design was appropriate for the neighborhood.

[This is the old, panned design from September.]

What BKSK proposed was a 14,000-square-foot residential, 2,000-square-foot commercial building with five full-floor units and a two-story penthouse. The building would stand 75 feet to the top of the bulkhead, and 85 feet at the building's highest point. In their revision of prior "slice of glass" plans, the architects most notably attempted to reflect the surrounding neighborhood in their design by including vertical brick beams amongst the curtain wall façade at the points where the site's original party walls stood. But this contemporary tactic was what really seemed to irk neighbors and commissioners.

The commissioners' comments echoed ones uttered about the Peter Sampton-designed building for the same site at the LPC back in September, with Commissioner Diana Chapin noting, "the verticality is not appropriate" given the scale of the neighborhood. Commissioner Michael Goldblum took a different stance on the scale of buildings in Greenwich Village, declaring, "It ain't Park Slope". One speaker who represented several downtown City Council members declared that the building "will dramatically alter the sense of place at the site that lies in the heart of the historic district." Another speaker argued that masses of the city's visitors flock to Greenwich Village specifically because of its scale and charm, in contrast to Midtown's. Would this "disproportionate" lodging for just a few deplete the neighborhood of that charm? So it's back to the drawing board for developers Continental Ventures and the Keystone Group. See you at the next hearing.  

Eric Jankiewicz reports for Curbed.

Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for a new building at 100 Franklin Street, a development they sent back to the drawing board in November. Peter Guthrie of the development and design team at DDG presented a completely different design, stripped of all the elements that had once made Tribecans seethe. "I think this is extraordinary and exhilarating," one member of the commission said about the changes. "This is now resolved in the right way." The original iteration featured a slew of materials—fritted glass, metal, recovered brick—but a more simplified version won over the commission.

The new building, which the commission said fits more with the neighborhood, features brown bricks, as well a Romanesque arch on the ground floor and Jack arches throughout the façade. DDG first revealed their plans to the public last year during a community board 1 meeting. Located in Tribeca, the area currently holds two triangular parking lots created in 1930s, between White and Franklin Streets on Sixth Avenue. Soon after the plans were shown, more than 800 people signed a petition calling the building "historically inappropriate," according to DNAinfo.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission echoed the same sentiment in their deliberations at the time. The design proposals were for a condo that featured four-layered façade, with fritted glass, reclaimed brick, metal, and interior glazing. All of which the commission called "attention-calling" at the top and that it "just seems muddled and trying to do a lot of things."

The developers and architects took all of this feedback and came back today with a completely revised design, which a commissioner called "simple and elegant," and, most importantly, "contextual." During his presentation, Guthrie actually apologized to the commission for the original design and likened him and the developers to excited revelers, drunk from anticipation.

"I'm glad you guys went back and sobered up," a member of the commission said right before they voted to approve the building. It had been previously thought that the developers would have finished purchasing the lot by end of 2013. But the developers asked Peter Matera, the current owner of the 100 Franklin St. lot, for more time before setting a closing date.  

Annie Bergelin reports for The Architect's Newspaper: The Missing Link. AECOM designing new path to connect New York City's East River Esplanade.

 
For years there has been an inconvenient gap in the East River Esplanade between East 37th and East 60th streets, disrupting what could be a contiguous promenade experience along the waterfront. The gap is there because of two major built projects that cause the north section to be disjointed from the south section. The first is FDR Drive, the brainchild of Robert Moses who gave preferential treatment to vehicular traffic along the East River.
 
The second is the United Nations headquarters, an iconic Modernist building complex that trumps local land use in the interest of global alliances. Despite these two obstacles, AECOM has come up with a solution to bridge the gap on the East River Esplanade. The conceptual design work that AECOM has prepared for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) reveals that there will be a new piece of infrastructure dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle circulation decking over the water adjacent to the FDR Drive. The primary objective is to connect the north and south portions of the Esplanade, but the design team is using the opportunity to introduce other amenities as well.
 
 
Gonzalo Cruz, a creative design director at AECOM and project manager for the Esplanade project, explained that the design seeks to develop easily accessible connections to the street grid, provide three programmatic nodes, and establish a “ribbon” of features to integrate the mile-long project as one cohesive design. Between 38th and 41st streets there is a recreation node designed for active uses such as children’s play areas and fitness equipment. At 48th Street there is a gathering node for passive recreation with an amphitheater seating area, shade trees, and a variety of seating options, including a bar area with benches and small gathering spaces. And at 53rd Street there is an environmental education node with educational signage and ecological plantings.
 
 
Cruz pointed out that an increasing number of people want to ride bicycles in New York, either for recreation or commuting, therefore the city needs to build the infrastructure to facilitate that objective. The expanded esplanade will feature a bike lane separated from the pedestrian walkway to streamline north-south movement along the East Side of Manhattan.
 
Developing ideas for the project has been a true collaborative effort, said Cruz. AECOM worked with various city agencies and community groups to determine how to deal with access, programming, and logistics. Internally, AECOM brought together their landscape design and planning team with the environmental design and marine engineering teams to solve the complex design problem. The goal is to design a project that benefits the local community, as well as the city at large, and Cruz believes that they have been successful thus far with the conceptual design.
 
Cali Williams, vice president of EDC, agrees. “We’re proud of the open engagement process that sought and subsequently applied the best ideas from both the design team and local community to achieve the highest standards of form and function,” said Williams. There is no set timeline to develop the project yet, but planning is underway. For those of us who long for the landscape-oriented transformation of the New York City waterfront, this project cannot come soon enough.
 
 
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A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York

Rory Stott reports for Archdaily.

Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State.

“In an era of incompetent nation states and predatory transnationals, we must ratchet up local self-reliance, and the most logical increment of organization (and resistance) is the city.” This is how Michael Sorkin, writing in Aeon Magazine, explains his hypothetical plan to radically change the landscape of New York City, bringing a green landscape and urban farming into the former concrete jungle.

Street view of Amsterdam Ave. in northern Manhattan featuring a mix of traditional and advanced agricultural growing techniques.

The plan, called “New York City (Steady) State”, produced over six years by Sorkin’s Terreform Research Group, is not designed simply for aesthetic pleasure; it’s not even an attempt to make the city more sustainable (although sustainability is the key motivation behind the project). The project is in fact a “thought-experiment” to design a version of New York that is completely self reliant, creating its own food, energy and everything else within its own borders.

Street level view of the interior courtyard space in the Figure Ground Switch.

The key idea behind the project is to create a sustainable society from the bottom up – rather than relying on government to impose one from the top down – by applying autarky, a political concept which describes a completely closed system. This system resonates well with many established notions of sustainability: ideas such as 'cradle-to-cradle' or 'net zero' often demand closed loops or minimal outside influence.

New York City (Steady) State, Master Plan B.

After defining the extents of the study (including only the five boroughs of New York City and creating “an almost completely 'unnatural limit' to constrain the study), the first step was to define how a city as urban as New York might be adapted to provide food for its 8.5 million inhabitants. Using a variety of skyscraper farms, and reclaiming streets and under-utilized city blocks, Terreform has calculated that it would be technically possible to produce 2,500 calories per person, per day. Combining this with a sophisticated distribution network would give each resident access to enough food.

Exterior rendering of a vertical tower designed specifically for meat production.

A plan as dramatic as this obviously brings drawbacks: the first iteration of the design was calculated to require 25 nuclear power stations to generate the energy required to produce all this food, a result that was “somewhat at odds with our larger intentions.” However, this is where the project’s intention as a thought experiment comes into play: the radical design is meant to test boundaries, to take on a seemingly impossible task and see what the implications are of meeting it.

Street view of 147th street in northern Manhattan where dominance has shifted from vehicular circulation to food production and distribution.

“On the whole, we’re sanguine about the differences between the logics of comparative advantage and the politics of self-realization, and the difficulties of negotiating the territory in between,” explains Sorkin. The truly desirable solution to environmental crisis and social inequality will lie somewhere between our current situation and the designs of Terreform. But without their investigation pushing the boundaries of what is feasibly possible – and showing us just how different our urban environment could be – then our quest for sustainability would be limited, and therefore incomplete.

New York City streets and blocks with proposed Figure Ground Switch, where the buildings occupy what were streets and the interior blocks are reserved for vertical towers and traditional food production.

More images of “New York City (Steady) State”.

The Green Lab is partnering with New Buildings Institute on a project called Deep Energy Savings in Existing Buildings, which will provide guidance for owners of smaller commercial buildings to achieve deep energy savings (50 percent and greater) through energy retrofits.

We know that small and medium buildings matter as a critical (but as yet underserved) market for efficiency gains, representing 95% of all buildings and half of the commercial floorspace.  These buildings require simplified turn-key approaches that deliver deep sets of efficiency solutions requiring little time, knowledge or direct financial investment from the owners. The primary product of this project will be a free, online retrofit tool that will allow building owners to select retrofit strategies that are customized to their building’s size, features, climate and uses for deep energy savings without the need for computer energy modeling that is often cost prohibitive for owners of modestly sized buildings.

In the first phase of this project, the Green Lab helped New Buildings Institute investigate 11 examples of energy retrofits in existing commercial buildings that, on average, use 50% less energy than the national average – most with an energy use intensity (EUI) of less than 40 kBtu per square foot. The Project Profiles for each building include motivations, technologies and practices, energy performance, financial information, overall project results and quotes from owner and design teams. A Meta Report contains the aggregated results of the case studies plus findings from an initial group of 50 buildings with 30% or more energy savings. This research was made possible by support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA). In the project’s second phase, the Green Lab is describing the market for the online retrofit tool, so that we can target our work to buildings and owners most likely to take advantage of the resource.

Defining the “smaller buildings retrofit market” is no easy task. We are segmenting the building stock to identify “market clusters” of buildings that are: most in need of energy retrofits; under-served in the current marketplace; culturally and economically valuable or endangered; and that represent a substantial portion of the existing building stock smaller than 50,000 square feet. This is a new approach to market segmentation with emphasis on both smaller buildings and physical characteristics, and we think it will change the way smaller buildings are considered as opportunities in the marketplace by technical experts and financing entities. 

As part of this work, we co-hosted the Deep Energy Savings in Existing Buildings Summit, bringing more than 80 industry experts together to discuss strategies for delivering deep savings to existing buildings. In the final phase, the Green Lab will be involved in piloting of the retrofit tool once it is complete and is exploring with NBI opportunities for a second phase of this work that will focus on retrofits of multi-family buildings. Look for a chance to help us test the tool in your community. To learn more about Deep Energy Savings in Existing Buildings please go to the New Building Institute webpage or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Project Manager of the Preservation Green Lab.

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The Environmental Value of Building Reuse

A report produced by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential environmental benefit of building reuse.

This groundbreaking study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, concludes that, when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. The report’s key findings offer policy-makers, building owners, developers, architects and engineers compelling evidence of the merits of reusing existing buildings as opposed to tearing them down and building new. Those findings include:

  • Reuse Matters. Building reuse typically offers greater environmental savings than demolition and new construction. It can take between 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction. The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take between 20-30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction.
  • Scale Matters. Collectively, building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts. Retrofitting, rather than demolishing and replacing, just 1% of the city of Portland’s office buildings and single family homes over the next ten years would help to meet 15% of their county’s total CO2 reduction targets over the next decade.
  • Design Matters. The environmental benefits of reuse are maximized by minimizing the input of new construction materials. Renovation projects that require many new materials can reduce or even negate the benefits of reuse.
  • The Bottom Line: Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy, the community and the environment. At a time when our country’s foreclosure and unemployment rates remain high, communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock. Historic rehabilitation has a thirty-two year track record of creating 2 million jobs and generating $90 billion in private investment. Studies show residential rehabilitation creates 50% more jobs than new construction.
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Preservation Green Lab

By the Numbers

By Elizabeth McNamara | From Preservation | Spring 2012  City Graphic 42 Duration, in minutes, of the Preservation Green Lab press conference, held Jan. 24, 2012, during which the National Trust reported on the environmental and economic value of reusing buildings. Six different building typologies were tested across four U.S. cities—Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, and Portland, Ore.—each representing a different climate zone 98.003 quadrillion Total amount of energy, in BTUs, used in the United States each year 3:51 Time, in minutes and seconds, President Barack Obama dedicated to renewable energy and climate change in his 2012 State of the Union address, in which he stated, “The easiest way to save money is to waste less energy,” and proposed giving businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings $20 billion Amount of money that would be saved in the United States if the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings improved by 10 percent 925 million Square footage of building space demolished in the United States in 1996 1 billion Estimated square footage of building space demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States each year 82 billion Estimated square footage of space the Brookings Institution projects Americans will demolish and replace with new construction between 2005 and 2030, representing 25 percent of today’s existing building stock 46 Maximum percentage of energy saved through building reuse instead of new construction, comparing buildings with the same energy performance level 42 Time, in years, for the average new, energy-efficient commercial office building in Portland, Ore., to cancel out the negative climate change effects of its construction 50 Time, in years, for the average new, energy-efficient single-family house in Portland to cancel out the negative climate change effects of its construction 231,000 Metric tons of CO2 not emitted in Multnomah County, Ore., if, over the next decade, 1 percent of existing commercial office space and single-family houses is retrofitted and reused instead of demolished, amounting to 15 percent of Multnomah County’s target     Elizabeth McNamara is an assistant editor for Preservation.
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Preservation and Sustainability

The restoration of historic buildings in Charleston, SC, shows how sustainability and preservation issues can be solved. By Ralph C. Muldrow, RA Historic Charleston, SC, has weathered more than its share of traumas since its founding in 1670. The city has survived numerous fires, frequent hurricanes, bombardments, a major earthquake and a hot, humid climate. Like many southern cities, Charleston experienced burgeoning growth in the post-World War II era, not only because of the Naval Yard as an employer but also, importantly, because of the new availability of air conditioning that facilitated growth throughout the South, although at the price of increased energy use. All along the way, Charleston's ethos has been intertwined with the veneration of the past, especially the architecture. The seal of the city has a Latin phrase that translates, "She guards her buildings, manners and laws." Charleston created the first historic district in America in 1931, and continues to stringently guard the buildings of the old and historic district. Protecting the historic buildings is a sustainable practice, utilizing the 'embodied energy' that it took in terms of materials and labor to build and maintain this sought-after historic city. Of course, the buildings do present a range of styles, but the pervasive typology is that of the single house. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the single house was the dominant typology. The plan has the narrow end facing the street with a false door which leads to a real front door half way down the side of the house. This was greatly augmented by about 1800 when the false door became the entryway to a long, often double-height side porch, called a 'piazza' in Charleston. We find this floor plan recurring from the Georgian period, through the Adam (Federal) Style, the Greek Revival Style, Victorian styles, etc., but in all of these exotic garbs the floor plan, fenestration and formality remain constant, with only a few elements giving the house a discernable 'style.' The distinct urbanism created by the repetition of the single house is a very sustainable model in and of itself. The survival of the underlying form of the single house over large areas of the city is an embedded 'sustainable' urban form. These older blocks provide a syncopated rhythm to the street, with the sustained intervals of house, piazza, garden, house, piazza, garden, etc. Post-Bellum Charleston was not a prosperous place. The local saying was, "too poor to paint, to proud to whitewash." Yet these weathered remainders of times gone by largely remained standing. Thus in the 1920s there was a phenomenon now called 'the Charleston Renaissance,' wherein the crumbled stucco and naked wood siding of the day became a tourism magnet. Spurring this movement were the evocative etchings of Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, the lyricism of "Porgy and Bess," and even the African-American derived dance, "The Charleston," with its raw energy. It was in that era that many gardens were designed for the single houses – beautiful parterres with shaped boxwoods and trellises. This glorious layer veils the truth about these back yards, which historically usually functioned as 'urban plantations,' with cows and hogs and chickens raised at the homes. This 'weathered city' utilized her unique, long-standing architectural layout of houses turned longways into their sites to create a shelter appropriate to the climate. The piazzas all face south and west, which allows them to catch prevailing breezes and allows for the shading of windows when the sun is high in the summer. And in winter the sunbeams drench the house with much needed warmth. There is a 'louver effect' in which the houses themselves provide shade to the neighboring house and/or garden, just as the louvers of a vent shade each other. The side garden also functioned as a firebreak. The formal fenestration allows for numerous windows on the south and west sides of the house (facing the prevailing breeze) which feed the few windows (mostly in the staircase) of the north-facing side, allowing for cooling breezes through the single room depth of the house. And despite earnest attempts by the government throughout Charleston's history to require the use of brick for fire resistance, many houses are wood frame, clapboarded houses built originally with no insulation to allow cooling air movement within their walls. Even the chimney stacks, which facilitate air movement, aided in cooling the single house in the summer. Case Studies For the purposes of this study, "sustainability" will be defined as an approach to construction that strives for efficiency in its use of energy, water and other resources. It is also an approach that favors occupant health and improved employee productivity, and it strives to reduce waste, pollution and environmental degradation. Green products are those that further the cause of sustainability through recycling and low environmental impacts. Even green products may cause some friction with sustainable building. For example, should one buy a 'green' adhesive product from California? Or should you instead purchase a normal adhesive locally, saving the carbon footprint associated with the transportation of the product, and promoting the economic health of the community? Should you buy the adhesive product at a national chain store like Home Depot for a slightly lower price than the locally owned building supply store, or should you pay the extra money to sustain the viability of a local company? Now add to the equation a host of preservation issues involved in a building rehabilitation project and other questions arise. The preservation approach to a significant historic building would be to save as much of the extant fabric as possible, or to agree on a period of significance to aim for in the course of making rehabilitation decisions. Which priority trumps the other? This inevitably differs from one project to the next. Preservation approaches include issues that are less quantifiable but just as important in their own right. For instance, aesthetic considerations may not be optimizing energy use but may instead be highly important for the perpetuation of a building, avoiding demolition, which negates all of the embodied energy in such a structure. The same goes for significance. For instance, a plain cinderblock structure may be an iconic talisman for the civil rights movement. Should we load up the roof with photovoltaic panels to lower the use of electricity, or will that be an unacceptable incursion on the historic structure? #93 and #97 Broad Street Some current construction projects in Charleston are grappling with marrying sustainability with preservation – two important but sometimes differing agendas for the betterment of society. A high profile case in point is the two-building project at #93 and #97 Broad Street. The first building, #93 Broad Street, was constructed ca.1800, while #97 was built in 1835. The goals for the much altered and deteriorated buildings were that they may be used as offices and that they will be historically correct and constructed sustainably with 'green' products. In addition, appropriate reconstructions should be based on historic photos (rather than expanding over every last square footage on the site). The two buildings were extremely deteriorated and had been unoccupied for many years. One example of sustainability and preservation is exemplified by the mechanical systems. Instead of one or two large condensers, #93 Broad has been fitted out with six condenser units, all with a SEER rating of '16.' They are mounted on heavy timber dunnage with rubber blocks to dampen the inevitable vibrations. A filtering system dehumidifies the sultry summer Charleston air and cleans it as well. This number of condensers allows for them all to operate at about 60 percent of their full strength so as not to wear out easily. This also allows for a number of different zones in the building that can then be adjusted as necessary for specific needs instead of cooling the entire building needlessly. Many other sustainability items have been addressed with the target being LEED Silver certification. Meeting preservation requirements as well has been a challenge. The windows, for instance, have all been repaired instead of being replaced, including matching glass panes where the original ones are missing. This painstaking work is appropriate for such prominent historic structures, and it fulfills sustainability goals concerning 'embodied energy,' respecting the reuse of the windows instead of sending them to a landfill. The original windows were made from slow-growth wood, which is much sturdier than most wood today. The sills were replaced with solid mahogany – a wood that resists decay naturally. They are connected to the jamb with mortise-and-tenon connections. Yet with all of that going for them in the preservation process, a purely sustainable approach might encourage the provision of new windows with higher R-values, to save energy. One way to meet both goals would be to apply interior storm windows. The historic brick was another issue. An important part of reusing and re-pointing historic brick is the understanding that early bricks were softer than later 19th-century machine-made bricks. Conservation practice emphasizes the need for lime-based mortar which would have been used initially, rather than the Portland cement-based mortar. The latter is harder than the soft bricks and can lead to spalling. The use of lime mortar, however, is not a 'fix all' in every case, and it carries with it a higher need for maintenance in our present day market where labor is very expensive. (The hands that built the brick walls worked for lower wages and probably included slaves). The solution was to use salvaged bricks from a ruined 19th-century addition, with equal amounts of Portland cement and lime in the sand aggregate. The use of Portland cement will significantly extend the life of the mortar with these harder, machine-made bricks. Insulation is obviously an important component of the energy-saving approach advocated by LEED. #93 Broad has a new rear addition which is a replica of the earlier addition that was a ruin. In the new addition Charleston-based Meadors Construction used spray foam insulation on the back of the roof sheathing. In the historic section, rigid insulation was used to create airspace to allow airflow through the rafter plenums. Closed-cell spray insulation was used to provide a redundant layer of waterproof material and to prevent mold. The roofing is standing-seam copper on plywood sheathing with insulation as described above. Copper has a long life expectancy and is historically accurate, but it costs significantly more than an asphalt shingled roof and comes from distant sources, possibly even from China. Sustainability precepts would recommend that materials be local or at least from within a 300-mile radius, minimizing the fossil fuel costs to transport the material. Instead the copper has a big 'carbon footprint' due to the transportation factor. However, preservation precepts call for the historically correct roofing material, and it could be argued that the copper roofing is a 'sustainable' product because of its long life. Green products used in the rehabilitation of these severely damaged historic buildings included a fire-rated water-resistant sheathing made by National Gypsum Company, the use of stainless-steel screws to strongly secure the framing in perpetuity, lumber purchased from local forests, low-flush toilets, hot water on demand (to keep from having a hot water heater going all of the time), electrical elements such as lights are on a clock or a timer, insulated ductwork and numerous others. The exterior walls are thick brick coated with true lime stucco and painted with mineral pigment paint which allows for vapor to exit the wall. In terms of the sitework, a silt fence contains run-off of pollutants from the construction site. Metal scraps were recycled and plaster was sent out to be crushed and reused. This high-profile site may serve as a model for others. Conclusion: As these case studies indicate, sustainability and preservation don't always go hand-in-hand, but knowledgeably made decisions allow us to utilize new technologies and materials to allow sustainability goals for historic structures. Perhaps a new LEED category for historic structures should be created. The Charleston single house has built-in sustainable characteristics out of necessity. We can learn from the sustainable aspects of historic buildings and we can then augment their sustainability with emerging 'green' technologies. TB  
Ralph C. Muldrow, RA, is the Simons Chair Professor of Architecture and Preservation at the College of Charleston. He has degrees in architecture and preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and undergraduate degrees from the University of Virginia. He has worked at a number of preservation architecture firms including John Milner Associates. He teaches architectural design and architectural history and has lectured widely on architectural and preservation topics.
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Park Avenue Armory

Herzog & de Meuron
Pattern Language: In an ongoing restoration and renovation of a New York City landmark, the architects bring subtlety and boldness to the process.

By Suzanne Stephens

Certain modern architects view the restoration of historic buildings like an archaeological dig that exhumes alterations over time and places the resulting evidence on display. Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron (with Platt Byard Dovell White as executive architect) approached the restoration of the Park Avenue Armory between 66th and 67th Streets in New York in this manner. The architects also introduce an intriguing process where their own interventions add a new layer to their exposure of the sediments of history.

The Armory, a Gothic Revival brick fortress designed by Charles Clinton in 1880 for the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard, required repair work on the exterior along with requisite infrastructural and code-compliant upgrades. In addition to the revitalization of a 55,000-square-foot drill hall, the team confronted an array of 18 period rooms originally fitted out by legendary designers, architects, and decorators such as Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, Stanford White, and the Herter Brothers. Some of the art-encrusted rooms used by the affluent volunteers to the National Guard remain almost intact; others were shabbily altered. In 2006, the nonprofit Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, with Rebecca Robertson as president and executive director, leased the five-story structure from the state to create an adventurous arts venue for dance, theater, and art performances, plus exhibitions, along with artists-in-residence studios. (And it will still continue to house 100 homeless women in its upper reaches.) The $200 million restoration—of which $84 million has been spent—is expected to be completed in five years.

While the Conservancy wanted to keep the lushness of the late-19th-century architecture and design, Robertson feared the stiffness and embalmed quality of meticulous period restorations. She turned to Herzog & de Meuron, impressed by the firm's inventive deployment of materials, surfaces, and craft in its work. “Seeing the copper-clad Signal Box in Basel [1995] was crucial,” she says. In the fall of 2011, two period rooms by Herzog & de Meuron opened to the public. As partner Ascan Mergenthaler explains, the team worked with each room's basic identity, choosing not to eliminate all traces of later modifications. The idea was to show the evolution of the rooms “as a wash of time,” in Robertson's words. The tortuous task involved delayering (manually or chemically stripping recent accretions from the surfaces) as well as overprinting (see below), which simulates abstractly underlying patterns—in addition to cleaning and restoration. With the second floor's Renaissance Revival room for Company D, designed in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus, the team restored the original mahogany woodwork, plus a herringbone parquet floor that replaced the 1880 one.

Originally, the ceilings and walls were stenciled, but later had been covered by Adamesque plaster scrollwork and painted, with other areas concealed by plasterboard. Where areas were damaged by the removal of the scrollwork and other scars of use, the team glazed the surface with a reddish field color discovered to be typical of the background's metallic paints. The stenciling under the plasterboard remained intact in the delayering. In the next part of the process, the architects printed a new pattern on top of the original circular stenciling to create an integrated tracery that picked up the background's copper tones. The stenciled, laser-cut pattern appears distinct from the original stenciling owing to its abstraction of basic geometric shapes, but retains the size and proportions of existing patterns, albeit emphasized with a metallic shimmer. The architects also designed a chandelier similar in proportion to the original gaslit one, but this time with copper arms and tinted-glass globes over halogen lamps. New copper chain-link curtains add a gleam to the room while shielding glare from the windows (aided by window coverings).

All of this subtle surgery creates an evocative space for small dinners and receptions and requires more than one keen glance to know that a modern architect was there. Another room on the second floor, for Company E, also decorated in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus in the Renaissance Revival style, offers an easier setting in which to detect the presence of the modern architect. A new gridded bronze lighting fixture dominates the space. Here, too, Herzog & de Meuron removed the Tudor Revival plaster strapwork and wallpaper, added in 1892, to reveal the earlier stenciling, and repaired damaged spots with plaster in a copper field color matching the surroundings. Since the room will be used for small theatrical and musical performances, the team wanted a lighting fixture that could be raised and lowered. While the modern fixture seems ungainly in comparison with the firm's more nuanced gestures, it fits in with the raw, austere look of the cleaned oak paneling. One of Herzog & de Meuron's more daring future proposals concerns the Colonel's Reception Room on the south side of the first floor, originally designed by the Herter Brothers. Its French black walnut paneling has remained reasonably intact, yet almost everything above a certain datum is too far gone to be delayered. So the architects suggest covering upper woodwork—which had been added later—plus walls and ceiling with a removable white paint. Since the space is planned to be used as a conductor's suite and for other events, the mixed time warp arguably would provide an arresting backdrop. Nearby they envision converting a room into a copper-lined “megavator” to take heavy loads to the second floor, and for a moving performance space.

Not every move is as provocative: Herzog & de Meuron is making few visible interventions in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, now the arena for a number of theatrical and dance productions. Nevertheless, the firm hopes to strip the lower parts of the hall to reveal the full arc of the room's barrel-vaulted cast-iron trusses. Then on the first floor, the Field and Staff Room, also designed by Pottier & Stymus, replete with taxidermied animal heads, will be redone as a bar, with a new copper ceiling, chandelier, and fittings. The architects' proposal for the mostly intact library on the other side of the main corridor involves taking the room originally designed by Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, with a young Stanford White as consultant, back to its 1880 decorative scheme, lost in part after its conversion to a trophy gallery.

For its new use as an archive for the history of the Armory, Herzog & de Meuron plans to repaint the ceiling where the original panels are too far gone, and reinstate bookshelves. The restoration should complement the intact Veterans Room next door, also executed by Tiffany, White, et al. The architects' efforts so far have generated a refulgent ambience with a warm coppery glow, a burnished gleam in the walls and ceilings, and a lustrous sheen of the wood paneling. As Jorge Otero-Pailos states (page 42), Herzog & de Meuron's work specializes in echoing the original, transformed by time.

The ingenious approach shows that today's modern architects can still capture a sense of the new, while enhancing and revivifying the old.

Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

Executive Architect: Platt Byard Dovell White

Location: 643 Park Avenue, New York, USA

Completion Date: (partial) October 2011

Gross square footage: 190,000 square feet

Cost: $84 million to date

By Katie Frasier

This article originally appeared in ENR Mountain States.

During the past several years, the green building trend has soared, with an increase in government incentives and availability of affordable supplies driving a huge growth of U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified buildings. With the LEED program ambitiously hoping to certify one million commercial buildings by 2020, it’s no surprise that this trend has come under some scrutiny. And while most great rewards often have a price, in this case it could be at the expense of the safety of construction workers on the job.  

When Matthew Hallowell, assistant professor in the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, became aware of a study that found evidence of a nearly 50 percent increase of injury rate had occurred in LEED-certified projects over traditional construction, he found himself wondering about the cause. “That original work was the catalyst,” Hallowell says. “What we proposed to do was a comprehensive analysis where we looked credit by credit at the construction and design for this type of building and how that compared to what we traditionally do. LEED is growing very quickly, but prior to this, no one had paid much attention to the safety involved.”

The team’s greatest challenge in conducting the study, titled “Identification of Safety Risks for High-Performance Sustainable Construction Projects,” was gathering empirical data rather than opinion-based anecdotes. To do this, Hallowell says the student researcher conducted site visits, observed construction processes, obtained and analyzed project documentation and reviewed job-hazard analyses and injury reports—in addition to conducting interviews at multiple organizational levels. With the information gathered, Hallowell and his team of researchers were able to identify 14 LEED credentials that may create heightened risks to construction workers.

Most notable risks include a perceived 41% higher risk associated with installing sustainable roofing, a perceived 37% increase in risk from installing PV panels for on-site renewable energy, a perceived 36% additional risk of cuts, abrasions and lacerations from construction waste management and perceived 32% heightened risk of falls from installing skylights and atriums to meet the daylight and views credit.

“I was very surprised when I read the conclusions,” says Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED Technical Development at USGBC. “LEED buildings are substantively different than non-LEED buildings and while there are risks in all construction, we did not expect green-building construction would have higher incidence of accidents. I don’t know that a lot of people would have held an opinion that was different than mine prior to this report.” The fact that the LEED rating system had yet to identify how to improve workers’ safety was something the USGBC had already been working closely with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for several months to evaluate.

“We understood there were opportunities to learn from the safety community and help take their expertise to understand where we could create LEED credit language that inherently values the mitigation of risks to the constructors,” says Owens. “Still, it’s helpful and important that people are studying these issues and identifying opportunities to get better.” One question that arose from these studies was whether a building could truly be considered sustainable if the health and safety of its constructors were at risk. “Worker safety and health must be considered as an integral component of sustainable building design, construction and operation,” says Hallowell.

He reasons that adding LEED credentials based on safety measures would be beneficial to maintaining worker safety. But Owens notes that rather than putting in place a credential that recognizes regulations contractors should already be complying with, LEED officials are looking to evolve the rating system as a whole. “Right now we’re trying to understand where the leverage points are within the rating system for opportunities that will allow us to make it better,” says Owens. “If we can become better informed about risks involved, we can improve the requirements of the rating systems and enhance safety. This study is an initial step in that direction.” Whether the findings of this study have surprised or validated opinions of individuals around the industry, Owens asserts that the information is useful for everyone to consider. “I really hope that people will be looking at this study and learning from it.

That’s certainly what we’ll be doing.”

Examples of Identifying and Reducing Risks

In addition to identifying the increased risks in building for LEED certification, Hallowell and his team followed up with a study (due to publish in February) that found suggested mitigations for the added risks. It’s important to note that though these are listed under the LEED credential the construction methods meet, many of these risks are not unique to green building. Prevention efforts can also be applied to construction of traditional buildings that might incorporate one or more of these elements.

LEED Credit: Brownfield Redevelopment

Identified Risk: Extensive earthwork operations create a higher risk of falling or collapsing and hazards from the disposal of contaminants. Suggested Mitigation: Workers could use impermeable plastic liners in the beds of heavy equipment and thoroughly wash all equipment at the end of each workday to reduce contamination.  

LEED Credit: Stormwater Quality Control

Identified Risk: Workers have an increased risk of falling from increased excavation and trenching.

Suggested Mitigation: Designing detention ponds with gradual slopes to avoid steep embankments may help reduce risk of falling. Contractors could plan concurrent tasks away from the excavation. LEED Credit: Heat Island Effect—Roof Identified Risk: White roofing options can be heavier and slipperier than traditional black roofing material, which increases the risk for overexertion and falls. The bright material can interrupt line of sight and increase the risk of slips and falls during installation.

Suggested Mitigation: Tan or light gray membranes could be used to decrease reflectivity, or contractors could require tinted eyewear. Rubber walkpads could be provided for added traction, and contractors could purchase a greater number of smaller rolls to avoid overexertion from weight.

LEED Credit: Innovative Wastewater Technologies

Identified Risk: Risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals comes from construction a dual waste water system from installing additional piping.

Suggested Mitigation: Contractors might require non-polyester gloves and respiratory protection and employ extensive quality-control measures.

LEED Credit: Optimize Energy Performance

Identified Risk: An increased risk of falling comes from a more ladder time installing added wires and controls, and double caulking.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers could incorporate prefabricated panels of the exterior skin system, framing, structure and vapor barrier, and contractors could caulk from the building’s interior before installing finishing materials. LEED Credit:

On-Site Renewable Energy

Identified Risk: Falls and overexertion are more likely from installing heavy PV panels, usually on the roof.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers could place PV panels closer to the ground or keep them as far from the edge of the roof as possible. Higher parapets and designed tie-off points may also lessen the risk of falling.



LEED Credit: Enhanced Commissioning

Identified Risk: The presence of commissioners distracts workers, increasing risk of falls and injuries.

Suggested Mitigation: Commissioning agents could receive a site-specific orientation and be provided with personal protective equipment. Agents could be required to pass an OSHA safety course.

LEED Credit: Construction Waste Management

Identified Risk: “Dumpster diving” to retrieve mistakenly trashed recyclable materials increases risk of sprains and cuts.

Suggested Mitigation: Suggested solutions include utilizing a third-party, local waste management company to sort the recyclable material offsite, using multiple, smaller waste receptacles around the construction site, or creating an industry-wide, color-coded labeling system to differentiate recycling from trash.

LEED Credit: Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring

Identified Risk: Time spent at heights to wire and mount the permanent monitoring system increases risk of falls.

Suggested Mitigation: This risk may be eliminated by incorporating the monitoring equipment into the prefabrication process.

LEED Credit: Construction IAQ Management Plan Identified Risk: A higher risk of falls and overexertion occurs from increased ladder time maintaining ductwork.

Suggested Mitigation: Using different materials for the prefabricated “caps” on the ends of the duct, such as a universal magnetic cap, may make installation less awkward and therefore quicker and easier. Also suggested was the off-site fabrication of ductwork for longer sections to decrease time spent on the ladder.



LEED Credit: Low-Emitting Materials—Adhesives/Sealants

Identified Risk: Oftentimes, “rework” is needed due to the lower quality low-emitting adhesives and sealants used. The added time spent at heights, performing overhead work and exposure to construction dust creates a heightened risk for workers.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers and contractors could work together to find available products that meet Rule #1168 while also standing up to expected temperatures and compatibility to other construction materials used. This would eliminate the need for added “rework.”

LEED Credit: Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control

Identified Risk: Workers have a heightened risk to fall hazards due to overhead work and working at heights during piping and ductwork installation.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers could install HVAC systems under the floor so they’re easier to install and maintain.

LEED Credit: Controllability of Systems—Lighting

Identified Risk: Complex wiring associated with occupancy sensors and timing controls increase risk of electrical shock to workers. Additional time spent wiring these systems at heights increases the risk of falls.

Suggested Mitigation: Some elements of the systems could potentially be prefabricated, decreasing time spent working with the wires onsite. Designers might locate sensors at reachable heights rather than on ceilings to eliminate time spent of ladders.

LEED Credit: Daylight and Views: Daylight 75% of Spaces

Identified Risk: Large skylights, windows or atriums increase time spent working near large, exposed openings at great heights.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers could create a courtyard to meet the requirements or minimize the depth of the building as an alternative to atriums and skylights. If these elements are included, additional precautions could be taken, such as blocking off areas below overhead work, using equipment such as man lifts and scissor lifts when possible and using tie-offs and barriers near exposed openings.

Katie Frasier is a freelance construction writer and social media specialist in charge of promoting jobsite safety. She has a background in magazine journalism and has previously written for a number of national publications. Reach her at  www.workboots.com or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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