New NYC High-Rise Is World's Most Eco-Responsible

Eleanor Stables
for National Geographic News
April 22, 2003

In high-energy New York City, the Solaire is a building permanently on power-save mode. When final construction ends later this fall, the 27- story building, located just a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, will stand as the world's most environmentally responsible residential high-rise.

The Solaire will use 35 percent less energy than a conventional structure of similar size and purpose. At least 40 percent of its components were manufactured within 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the job site, which adds the benefit of reduced transportation pollution. Even building materials incorporate recycled content.

The 293-apartment complex will generate about five percent of its own electricity through photovoltaic solar panels. Developers say natural gas used for its air-conditioning and heating system will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help avoid summertime electricity price spikes.

"I don't think any other high-rise building exists that has implemented as many [sustainable] measures as we have. We're really hitting all of them," said project manager Martin Dettling.

The waterfront building will clean and regenerate water onsite, enabling it to use one-third less potable water than a conventional high-rise. Apartments will use separate water lines to flush toilets with treated wastewater piped up from a basement treatment plant. Rainwater collected in 10,000-gallon (45,000-liter) cistern will irrigate a new park and the building's rooftop garden. The garden will help reduce the building's heat loss.

Construction on the Solaire resumed last July following a 10-month delay during the cleanup of Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Dust and smoke from the twin towers' collapse were a lingering health issue. In the Solaire, each apartment's air will be purified and humidified.

"It's sure to create a precedent for others," said Christine Ervin, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that promotes and rates "green," or environmentally sustainable, buildings. The Solaire will be the first residential high-rise certified by the USGBC.

The project is just one of many green buildings rising across the United States. They range from a North Carolina elementary school to a Ford Motor Company regional headquarters in California.

A Building Revolution

In March 2000, USGBC rolled out voluntary national standards known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for rating green building compliance. Since then, 44 sites have been certified and over 600 registered showing their intent to apply for LEED certification.

Rob Watson, co-chair of the LEED steering committee and senior scientist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said LEED and the green building ethos is reaching a "critical mass" this year and is on the public's radar screen.

USGBC estimates that developers representing three percent of new commercial construction register their properties for LEED certification. "That's a remarkable penetration rate for three years for a brand new, voluntary system," said Ervin.

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