We’ve written about his firm’s LEED Platinum offices in Chelsea previously, and of course on multiple occasions about its Bank of America Tower, so gbNYC was thrilled to have the opportunity to recently chat with Rick Cook of Cook + Fox Architects about another of his firm’s green projects- The Lucida- which is currently seeking LEED certification on the corner of East 85th Street and Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side. The project touts itself as the first residential condominium project in the neighborhood to seek a LEED rating, which is an important first given that The Brompton and The Laurel have since joined the local green chase. Mr. Cook spoke to us about specific green features at The Lucida- from its hybrid wall window system to blast-furnace concrete transfer slab- and also offered thoughts on his firm’s office space and the LEED system generally.
gbNYC: Can you give us a brief description of The Lucida project?
RC: The Lucida presented our firm with the unique opportunity to create a design that fronts a full block along Lexington Avenue between 85th and 86th Street. We’d worked with the developer Extell before, and at the time we designed The Lucida we were learning a great deal about green buildings in New York City through the Bank of America Tower project. Much of what we were able to do at The Lucida wasn’t sexy- for example, the sensitive way in which the site was handled and the amount of construction debris that we were able to direct towards recycling. Even though they’re invisible to pedestrians that might be strolling past the project, these types of efforts are really good things for the city in general. That’s where the LEED designation is so critical- it indicates to the public that something truly positive is taking place, even if it’s not necessarily apparent at first blush.
gbNYC: Bank of America Tower is obviously a commercial building- what were some of the specific challenges that designing green in the residential context presented?
RC: People feel good when they’re connected to nature. Our firm is very interested in the impact of daylight and the connection to the environment that it can provide both tenants and residents in commercial and residential spaces. More specifically at The Lucida, our firm wanted to explore how a family could live in New York City and still experience that type of connection. Accordingly, we were able to provide a high degree of daylight in every unit thanks to multiple exposures- this is critically important for family living. The building itself is organized with two separate cores- each with two elevators and two sets of stairs- so even the building’s middle units that would otherwise be single exposure are, here, actually floor-through, allowing for more than one source of light penetration.
gbNYC: Could you speak a little bit about the building’s window system?
RC: The window system is composed of a hybrid wall that allows for a much more playful demonstration of the fenestration, as you can see through the pattern of mullions on the building’s exterior. We didn’t want the project to be a simple glass box but instead something vibrant and with its own composition. The panels have a custom silk-screen frit, which is the white, opaque ceramic dot that’s silk-screened onto the glass. The frit dramatically improves the solar heat gain coefficient of the glass, but at the same time preserves a clear view out from the interior of the building. All of the glass is clear, low-iron, and coated with a high-performance low-E coating. Lower iron content means clearer glass; as you increase that content, glass will take on a blue-green hue that we didn’t want at The Lucida. Part of the look of the building is the fact that people are living inside of it- we wanted that element to be apparent when it’s viewed from the street.
gbNYC: Any other specific green features you’d like to point out for us?
RC: We’ve got a five-foot thick concrete mat slab that transfers the building’s load from its upper residential floors to the retail base- as you can imagine, that accounts for a tremendous amount of concrete. My partner, Bob Fox, helped write the Battery Park City green guidelines under which some of the first projects in Manhattan used fly-ash or blast-furnace concrete, which requires far less CO2 to manufacture. The cost of this type of concrete, and the level of special expertise required to procure and set it, has dropped significantly since those initial projects downtown. At The Lucida, we were able to specify 50 percent blast-furnace concrete- five percent more than at Bank of America Tower. As the construction industry continues to become more familiar with green building techniques, projects and materials are becoming more efficient and advanced, which is obviously a positive for green building in general.
gbNYC: Cook + Fox’ offices in Chelsea are certified LEED Platinum under the LEED for Commercial Interiors system. Is there anything specific that your firm learned through that experience which you’ve been able to incorporate on other green projects?
RC: We didn’t necessarily learn anything specific, but that effort was completely consistent with what we’re now doing at Bank of America and The Lucida. Our office space makes everyone feel good, from the green roof, to filtered fresh air, and extensive daylighting- I believe that all of this is extremely important. The green roof at our offices has been a huge anecdotal home run- it’s the single most expensive technology that we incorporated and its payback period is probably the longest, but we’d spend the money on it again in a second because of all its intangibles, even though the economics of it are hard to qualify. Sustainable building isn’t about denial- it’s about giving folks a higher quality of life while simultaneously trying to do something positive in a socially responsible manner.
gbNYC: Any general comments on the LEED system in the context of Cook + Fox projects that have opted to pursue a rating from USGBC?
RC: The more that LEED is used, the more it’s being perfected, and that’s USGBC’s ultimate goal for the system. Beyond that, it’s a fairly new tool, and as it matures, it will continue to improve. USGBC itself has been incredibly helpful in assisting the volunteers who are driving the rating system’s refinement. For us, there’s no question that it’s the best rating system that’s out there. Personally, though, I think that we need a stronger incentive- whether within LEED itself or through some other mechanism- to encourage more developments in urban areas that are serviced by mass transit and offer increased density- like The Lucida. As it was originally conceived, and persists to this day, LEED was set up so as not to penalize suburban greenfield development. The rejoinder is that a Platinum building in a suburban office park might use far more energy over its lifetime than a conventional tower in Midtown. I’m a big fan of LEED, but when you look at the compelling need to address climate change, high-density urban development, in so many ways, is the answer.
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