NYC’s Green Temperature, LEED and New York Times Tower

The latest issue of The Architect’s Newspaper has a fantastic feature article entitled How Green is the Big Apple? In it, Cathy Lang Ho, editor of TAN, has put together a comprehensive compilation of information about New York City-related sustainability issues. It’s a great snapshot of where green building stands in NYC- from Local Law [...]

The latest issue of The Architect’s Newspaper has a fantastic feature article entitled How Green is the Big Apple? In it, Cathy Lang Ho, editor of TAN, has put together a comprehensive compilation of information about New York City-related sustainability issues. It’s a great snapshot of where green building stands in NYC- from Local Law 86, coming into effect in January- to an overview of some high-profile green projects, including One Bryant Park and the Stuyvesant Cove Environmental Center. The article is extremely well-done and definitely worth checking out- though not all of the sections are available online.

In one section, Lang Ho was able to interview David Thurm, senior VP and chief information officer for the New York Times, about his company’s new headquarters building going up on 8th Avenue. Designed by Renzo Piano with FXFOWLE to perform at an extremely high level, the building will be at the vanguard of sustainability.However, it did not seek LEED certification, and I thought it was interesting that this only came up in passing during Lang Ho’s interview. Thurm observed that

“[a] lot of the ideas for the building stemmed from our commitment to being a good employer and a good corporate citizen. We didn’t come to the project and say “We want to be this level of LEED” or “We want to be green because of what it would represent in the marketplace.” It was more organic. We were thinking about how to make a great environment for our employees and a beautiful building for the city. A lot of the green aspects melded with that goal.”

A 2005 article by Matthew Schuerman from the excellent NoLandGrab blog details the Times’ decision not to pursue LEED certification, noting that officials at neither the Times nor Forest City Ratner (its co-developer) would comment. However, “MaryAnn Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City, said in a statement, ‘With respect to the New York Times building, we consulted and incorporated LEED specifications wherever possible throughout the building. However, we wanted the architect to drive the design rather than design to LEED specifications.’”

The architect, on the other hand, was happy to discuss it.

“It is probably the equivalent of a silver or a gold rating,” said Mr. Fowle, co-founder and senior principal of Fox & Fowle Architects [now FXFOWLE], who is designing the 52-story tower with Italian architect Renzo Piano. “They have decided it is time-consuming and costly, and they are doing so many things that are right and correct, and some of the prerequisites are not that meaningful.”

To help the newspaper-developer duo make its decision, Mr. Fowle’s firm drew up a chart showing the relative costs and merits of achieving certification under the five-year-old program, called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or, in industry jargon, LEED). Mr. Fowle called the costs “substantial,” although he would not name a specific price.

I dislike Forest City for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the awful Atlantic Yards project and Bruce Ratner’s theft of my beloved New Jersey Nets as the centerpiece of his eminent domain-fueled mega-development. I would like to think that the penny-pinching Bruce saw the premium for LEED and opted not to pursue certification solely on that basis. If that was the case, USGBC could at least chalk it up to a cheap, narrow-minded developer who will never be a champion of green building and isn’t worth the organization’s time or efforts.

However, it must be somewhat of a black eye for USGBC that this project- which absolutely dominates the skyline of Manhattan’s West Side right now- will not become LEED certified. It is true that owner-occupied buildings, such as the Hearst Tower, for example, give owners/developers greater incentive to care about the quality of their building systems. As a partly speculative office building, the New York Times Tower presented Forest City with the opportunity to make a dramatic statement about LEED with respect to speculative commercial office towers. Instead, Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center was the first such building to receive LEED certification, to much public and critical acclaim. The New York Times Tower will undoubtedly be a great building from both architectural and sustainability points of view, but in my opinion Forest City and the New York Times lost out on a great opportunity, at a minimum from a marketing point of view, by not choosing to employ LEED.

I find LEED’s potential to drive the construction market in an atmosphere as intense as New York’s to be absolutely fascinating. I’m anxiously awaiting the further news about LEED Version 3.0 that we were promised by USGBC at Greenbuild to materialize, and I’m curious to see whether it addresses the concerns as articulated above by FXFOWLE, which are representative of many design professionals across the industry. Regardless, the restructuring of LEED will undoubtedly be an extremely important and oft-discussed topic as we move forward into 2007.

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