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The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Historic Buildings May Be Greener Than You Think

    Green - Energy, the Environment and the Bottom Line

    Historic Buildings May Be Greener Than You Think

    By JOANNA M. FOSTER

    The Henry Street Settlement headquarters on the Lower East Side is undergoing a green retrofit.

    The Henry Street Settlement headquarters on the Lower East Side is undergoing a green retrofit. Henry Street Settlement The Henry Street Settlement headquarters on the Lower East Side is undergoing a green retrofit.

    Green: Living

    In New York City, a conflict has long been perceived between historic preservation and urban sustainability goals. Older buildings are often seen as outdated energy hogs that can’t pull their weight, efficiency-wise, in a city that is expected to add a million new residents by 2030. About 55 percent of the city’s 838,337 buildings were constructed before 1940, half a century before the notion of green LEED building certification was even dreamed up. Estimating that the building sector is responsible for 75 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, PlaNYC 2030, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s sustainability plan for New York, made improving the performance of older buildings a top priority. To help get the process started, the Municipal Art Society announced last week that it is working on a “greening” manual for owners of historic buildings protected by landmark status that will be available online at no cost this fall.

    “Greening New York City’s Landmarks: A Guide for Property Owners” is a collaboration between the society, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the architects Cook + Fox and the environmental consulting firm Terrapin. Some 29,000 buildings in New York City are now protected through designations by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Despite prevailing conceptions, said Lisa Kersavage, the senior director for preservation and sustainability at the society, many historic buildings actually already incorporate energy-efficient design features — a legacy of having been built before the advent of cheap energy and modern mechanical systems. In those days, natural ventilation and light and the collection of water in cisterns were standard in quality construction. The greening process is often more about optimizing existing elements, like ensuring that cross-ventilation isn’t inadvertently blocked, than about radical retrofits.

    Many of the improvements suggested in the manual won’t even require a building permit or any special permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission but could reduce energy use by 20 to 25 percent, planners say. “Since so many rooftops in the city are flat, we’ve even been getting approval for solar panels for landmark buildings,” Ms. Kersavage said. If you can’t see it, it can’t disturb the aesthetic.” (One tricky renovation, however, is adding insulation to older buildings, which can effectively alter the internal dew point and lead to structural damage. Energy efficiency improvements that damage the long-term resilience of the building are rarely a worthwhile tradeoff.) On another preservationist front, a report released this week by the Preservation Green Lab pointed out that it can take up to 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to make up for the carbon dioxide expended during its construction. One might also keep in mind that New York City already generates 10 million tons of construction and demolition waste annually — 60 percent of its total waste stream.

    “Retaining and repairing existing buildings, rather than just starting all over again, is by far the smartest approach,” Ms. Kersavage said. The Municipal Art Society is currently working on a historic retrofit demonstration project at the Henry Street Settlement headquarters on the Lower East Side.

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  • A cast-iron structure is restored with traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques.

    THE ARCHITECT'S NEWSPAPER

    A cast-iron structure is restored with traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques.
     Jack Kucy
    Scott Henson Architect with Gilsanz Murray Steficek Local Law 11/98 is a New York City statute mandating that any building of more than six stories must have its facade inspected once every five years. Scott Henson of Scott Henson Architect was undertaking just such an inspection on the historic 1892 Cleverdon & Putzel–designed Banner Building in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood when he discovered something rather disturbing. The structure’s cast iron face—both its decorative elements, many of which had fallen off over the years, as well as its structural supports and bracing—was severely corroded. The condition was even worse on the top two floors, an 1898 addition that featured sheet metal decorative elements, which had deteriorated to the point that, in places, a person could press their fingers through them. Making matters even shabbier, the sandstone pilasters that framed the facade’s cast iron bands had worn down to a faded memory and the original single-paned wood windows had decayed beyond repair. The building owner and the project team, which included structural engineering firm Gilsanz Murray Steficek and historical research firm Office for Metropolitan History, agreed that the only way to proceed was to restore the facade by making every effort to adhere to its original materials and traditional means of construction.
       
    The restoration team relied on a combination of traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques. The cast iron and sheet metal facade was removed, repaired or re-fabricated, and replaced with new structural connections.
     
    One of the chief causes of the facade’s decline, aside from time itself, was severe water leakage, which had caused the original structural imbeds connecting the cast iron and sheet metal elements to the masonry backing wall to rust to a critical state. The team removed all of the metal elements and inspected them carefully. This analysis revealed that about 80 percent of the cast iron could be reconditioned and replaced on the building. This involved stripping the elements of the ten or so layers of paint that had been applied over the years and patching the odd non-fatal crack with Belzona Supermetal epoxy. Those elements that were beyond repair, or missing, were recast by Robinson Iron in Alabama using samples of the original facade to create new molds. The sheet metal was in worse shape. Approximately half the elements, including egg and dart frieze, scroll moldings, rosettes, and medallion reliefs, needed to be re-fabricated, a job tackled by CCR Sheet Metal in Brooklyn.
    J. Scott Howell
         
    Once all of the elements had been reproduced or repaired, they were painted patina green (the owner’s preference) and returned to the site, ready for installation. The team designed new structural supports for this purpose: structural stainless-steel bolts that pass all the way through the masonry backing wall and connect to plates on either side, holding the wall in compression. The sheet metal was attached and soldered together, and the cast iron was attached and caulked, making the whole assembly watertight and ready for another 100-plus years of life. The team also hired an artisan who was able to discern the original decorative character of the sandstone pilasters and re-create them with a sandstone patching material from Cathedral Stone. Replacing the 54 windows required a similarly close historical analysis of the existing conditions. The windows included pulley double-hung varieties and single pivoting sashes with transoms. J. Padin in New Jersey re-fabricated them based on the original historical profiles and materials. Here, however, 21st-century technology was also employed to improve the building’s insulation with high-performance glazing. As a final touch, the team also replaced the 1970s storefront. With little documentation available, Henson based a new design on what remained at street level as well as on clues implied by the fenestration above. The result is something of a rarity in Manhattan: a vintage cast iron building that retains its historic character from top to toe.
    Aaron Seward
      
     
    Sources
    Sheet Metal CCR Sheet Metal Cast Iron Robinson Iron Historic Wood Windows J. Padin 973-642-0550 Sandstone Cathedral Stone
     

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