Archive for October 9th, 2010

October 9, 2010

Another ‘death ray’ glare building


Buildings are supposed to protect us, not attack us. But to hear a Chicago lawyer and others tell it, the new Vdara hotel in Las Vegas, designed by New York architect Rafael Vinoly, is bouncing “death ray” reflections off its facade, scorching people’s hair and even melting plastic cups.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has the story, which reminds me of the same phenomenon at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

In certain spots, standing on the sidewalk outside that building was like being cooked in a toaster oven. The problem, which later drew widespread attention when residents of nearby apartments complained that were having to draw their shades and turn on their air-conditioning, was eventually fixed.—death-ray–scorched-hair-103777559.html

October 9, 2010

How the Empire State Building Is Pioneering the Future of Energy Efficiency

Greening the world’s most iconic skyscraper

The Empire State’s State Iconic but aging, the Empire State was an energy suck. Now its undergoing an energy overhaul that will cut its energy consumption by nearly 40 percent. Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia

he Empire State Building, arguably the world’s most famous office tower, is 1,472 vertical feet of historic American real estate. It also contains 2.8 million square feet of office space, constructed to the energy efficiency standards of the early 1930s. So when Anthony Malkin took over management of the building several years ago, he also inherited an $11 million annual energy bill and a problem: How could he turn the iconic but aging building into a 21st-century office tower?

Now, a sweeping $13.4 million energy retrofit is slashing the Empire State Building’s energy consumption by nearly 40 percent and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years while trimming $4.4 million from annual energy costs. We took a firsthand look at what such a massive and meaningful project looks like, starting in a nondescript corner of the fifth floor where the Empire State Building is turning two-decade-old glass into future dollars.

It’s here that 100 double-pane windows per day are ripped from their aging frames, put through a rigorous cleaning process, treated with a thin UV-resistant film, and pumped full of pressurized argon and krypton gasses that improve their insulation values. By the time the retrofit is complete, all 6,514 windows will have been refurbished at a cost more than $1,600 per window less expensive than replacing them would be.

The window rehab – and other projects like it – reduces the energy load on the building, which in turn allows the engineers behind the retrofit to find efficiencies elsewhere. It’s all part of an 8-point plan that will eventually reduce the building’s energy consumption by 38.4 percent and its expenses by a few million dollars each year. With a footprint the size of the Empire State Building’s, that’s game-changing not just for the building, but also for the city and the world.

“Eighty percent of the energy consumed in New York City is consumed by buildings,” says Malkin, who is president of Malkin Holdings, part-owner of the Empire State Building. “Not by cars, not by buses, not by taxis, not by subways, not by trains. Even more interestingly, 20 percent of the buildings consume 80 percent of that energy. So 64 percent of all energy consumed in New York City is consumed by 20 percent of the buildings. That really took me by surprise.”

The Empire State Building fell into that energy-sucking 20 percent, so perhaps it was no surprise that the Clinton Climate Initiative took an interest in the building. In 2007, a representative for CCI approached Malkin seeking a building in which to demonstrate the foundation’s green retrofit program. Malkin was in the midst of a massive renovation project spanning his company’s entire portfolio, so he offered up a building at Broadway and 35th street in Midtown Manhattan.

The CCI pressed for something bigger. If it could turn the world-renowned Empire State into a model for efficiency, the whole world would take notice. At the time, the Empire State Building consumed the same amount of energy as 40,000 single-family homes, a figure that is unfortunately not unique; 43 percent of office space in New York City was constructed before the end of World War II, much of it comprising that 20 percent of buildings consuming the majority of the city’s energy. Greening the Empire State Building and skyscrapers like it wouldn’t just benefit real estate owners and their tenants; it would significantly move the dial on the entire city’s energy consumption.

Malkin agreed for reasons both altruistic and self-interested. “This is all about making money,” Malkin says bluntly of the retrofit. “To me, the whole concept of ‘green’ is a misnomer. The world is getting greenwashed. If you can’t prove it economically, it doesn’t matter.”

Malkin and the CCI set out to prove not only that enhanced energy efficiency is a cost-effective means of controlling expenses, but to create an economically feasible model that can be implemented by any building anywhere.

“If we succeeded only at the Empire State Building, we failed,” Malkin says. “It had to be broadly adoptable and malleable, and it had to be quantitative.”


To create a cost-effective retrofit regimen, the project would have to be carefully managed. Malkin and the Empire State Building brought in technology and management experts from Johnson Controls and real estate consultants Jones Lang Lasalle, as well as the green-thinkers at the Rocky Mountain Institute, to craft a suite of technologies that not only incrementally reduce energy consumption but that have a multiplying effect on one another that generates further efficiency.

For Paul Rode, business development director for building efficiency at Johnson Controls, this synergistic effect was crucial. The retrofit team considered more than 60 off-the-shelf technologies and practices. They came up with eight initiatives that together were more effective than the sum of their parts. “If we take any one of these items out, the overall reduction values of the others change disproportionately,” he says.

The technology package attacks the problem from three sides. First, the team found ways to reduce the existing load on the building’s infrastructure by rehabbing the windows, installing better insulation behind the more than 6,500 radiators in the building and outfitting offices with occupancy sensors, better lighting controls, and layouts that maximize natural daylight. They also improved the efficiency of existing systems, retrofitting (rather than replacing) the chiller plant and replacing old air handling equipment with fewer and more efficient units.

The third component entails smartly controlling energy use. New York City’s tallest building is now home to America’s largest wireless control system. Carbon dioxide sensors throughout the building determine exactly how much outside air needs to be brought into the building at a given time, cutting down on unnecessary circulation, and occupancy sensors allow the building to better allocate air and manage lighting. And the Empire State’s wireless thermostat sensors, unlike the hard-wired variety, can be moved around an office space to ensure they are placed where the temperature is average (rather than, say, tucked behind the copier or coffee machine where they record a falsely warm ambient temperature).

The same occupancy sensors that manage air allocation and lighting also tell the building’s management which offices are leaving the lights or the coffee maker on when no one is around. Offices are individually metered – and billed – and metering information is archived and provided to tenants online so they can see when and how they are using the most energy. That kind of meaningful information helps tenants manage thier behaviors to trim their own energy use – and expense. The Empire State Building’s management is a partner in the entire process, helping each tenant figure out how it can reduce its load on the building.

“Tenants are drawn to us because tenants’ largest three expenses are salary, rent, and utilities,” Malkin says. “The ability to control expense is extremely important. The work that we are doing is not just from the perspective of our own building systems, but we’ve created a suite of services to help tenants achieve things that give them tremendous payback for their own spaces, their own investments.”

As for Malkin’s investment, he’s paying out $13.4 million incrementally for the retrofit, an investment that should save him $4.4 million per year. That means his capital investment in green tech will pay for itself in just three years, two years ahead of schedule. And by creating a competitive advantage for tenants, the building creates a monetary incentive for tenants to be conscious of their own energy consumption. Which, as Malkin is quick to point out, is how you really initiate change.

“It’s not just about doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing,” he says. “It’s about making money by doing the right thing.”

The Empire State Building’s Exterior

In all, the Empire State Building contains more than 6,500 windows, almost all of which have a radiator unit installed directly underneath. Most of the double-pane glass was well more than a decade old, and all that carved exterior “stonework” beneath each window is actually aluminum installed to reduce the cost of expensive masonry when the building was constructed in 1931. That’s right: the radiator units are separated from wintry outdoor conditions by conductive aluminum.

Every night, 100 windows are pulled from their frames somewhere in the Empire State Building and brought to a rehab shop on the fifth floor. They are replaced by the 100 windows pulled down the night before and rehabbed earlier that day. Each window is completely stripped from its framing, producing two panes of dirty, aging glass.

Don’t call it greenwashing. Each pane goes through a rigorous three-step cleaning process, including a trip through a car-wash-like machine that restores it to a like-new state. Some of the glass has accumulated defects and must be discarded – much of it is between 15 and 17 years old – but overall the Empire State Building is recovering roughly 90 percent of its old glass.

Each two-pane set is fitted with a spacer that creates ample space between them. After they are sealed up, krypton and argon gasses are pumped into the space in between. The heavy molecules don’t create the same kind of heat exchange between panes that regular ambient air would, drastically improving each window’s insulation value.

Each window also gets coated with a thin Mylar film that and is then baked in an oven that stretches the UV-retarding material tightly against the glass, removing any visible imperfections. The film goes on with a purple hue but after the heat treatment appears clear.





October 9, 2010

Gehry on New Gehry Building- Beekman tower


[BEEKMAN_cov2]A new 76-floor tower designed by Frank Gehry soars over skyline.

The gleaming new Beekman tower designed by architect Frank Gehry won’t be open for renters until early next year. But reviews are beginning to pour in of the 76-story skyscraper—New York’s tallest residential building—that already has become a major presence on the downtown skyline.

Most of the reviews of the tower and its distinctive, crinkly metal facade have been good.

While some architects privately describe the design as “forced” and “exaggerated,” the consensus is that it’s a welcome addition that complements the nearby Woolworth Building and Municipal Building, which were built nearly a century earlier.

“Here is Gehry relatively restrained, his usual geometrical gymnastics tempered by more traditional skyscraping aspirations,” says the new AIA Guide to New York City.

For Mr. Gehry, the tower marks only his second major work in New York—after his IAC/InterActiveCorp headquarters building overlooking the Hudson River—and it is by far the most significant local contribution of the 81-year-old Pritzker Prize-winner.

His earlier designs for major signature projects, like a new Guggenheim museum over the East River and a Nets Arena at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, never got off the drawing boards.

In an interview he discussed the new tower, which is going to be marketed by its developer, Forest City Ratner Cos., as “New York by Gehry at Eight Spruce Street.” Here are excerpts:

The recently completed Beekman building marks architect Frank Gehry’s second major work in New York. Here’s a look at some of his signature structures from around the world.

WSJ: How did you come up with the design concept for the tower?

Frank Gehry: I walked the streets a lot and looked at what was built in the past. I was looking for what the essence of New York was. Step-backs are a distinguishing feature of New York skyscrapers.

So I decided to work with that. I also saw a lot of modernist mistakes like putting glass at the corner of towers. It sort of weakens the form of the building. In the best buildings the corners are solid. There’s a strength to that.

WSJ: Many of your best known projects are almost sculptures themselves that house museums or performing arts halls. How does your design of this one reflect its residential use?

FG: Since it was a residential tower, I wanted to do something that there aren’t many of in New York, which is have apartments with bay windows. If you walk to a normal facade, you can push your nose against the window and you can see in either direction a little bit.

If it’s a bay window, you feel like you’re walking into space.

But if you have a bay window at the same place in the floor plan in every floor you get a vertical projection that’s lined up all the way to the top, which would have been a harsh move. I wanted to soften that like a fabric.

WSJ: Is that why you selected the look and texture of the facade?

FG: I’ve been fascinated with the studies of fabric by great artists through time—like Michelangelo, Leonardo. Apparently in their spare time they always drew fabric. You find a lot of those drawings in their archives.

I probably rationalize this but there’s probably a primate sense that when you’re in your mother’s arms as a baby: the folds in their clothes become very intimately associated with comfort and warmth. So those folds are functional.

WSJ: How did your design take into account its neighbors like the Woolworth Building?

FG: I am a contexualist. I pay a lot of attention to where I’m doing things. And I have a mind-set not to talk down to people or places. People have been telling me this is a New York building. I don’t think you would build that building anywhere else.

With its stair-steps, it has a New York persona. I think I’ve nailed that part of it. That was intentional. I think it talks to the Woolworth Building. I like the juxtaposition. It sure as hell doesn’t talk down to it. It holds its own.

WSJ: You’re well known for using computer-assisted design techniques. How were they utilized in this project?

FG: That’s what made it possible. According to my client, the premium for our work, the architecture in this building was zero.

There was no added cost over his normal pro forma for a building of this topic. We had an economic pro forma. We lived within it and we got a premium aesthetic and a premium function within the same price as a normal building.

That was possible because the precision of the tools I used to define the building and cut back on change orders and waste.

WSJ: It must feel satisfying to see this tower completed after some of your other projects here, like the Guggenheim and Atlantic Yards, didn’t come to fruition.

FG: The Atlantic Yards was the same client [Forest City Ratner] and there was a business decision to change and make it a much smaller building.

It wasn’t like everyone says that my building was more expensive. That wasn’t it. My building was within the parameters of their program and not more expensive. I’m very careful about that.

The Guggenheim over the water was never real. It was always kind of a dream.

WSJ: Has it been frustrating that these projects didn’t move forward?

FG: There are a lot of good architects that have never done anything in New York. So I’m blessed.

The other good thing about this is that my father was born in New York. He lived in Hell’s Kitchen and was very poor. Emotionally I think of him. And I wish he were here to see it.



October 9, 2010

US Courthouse / Thomas Phifer

dbox_TPP_SLC_lookup © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.17 Sun Study © Thomas Phiferdbox_TPP_SLC_detailground_B_CROP_ © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.dbox_TPP_SLC_detail_man © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.

We had the opportunity to interview Thomas Phifer yesterday in his amazing studio on Varick Street (we’ll be sharing the video with you soon!) and he was excited to tell us about the new annex for the US Courthouse the firm is currently working on.   Situated in , the courthouse design not only provides a functional structure, but also draws upon Phifer’s attention to nature, specifically the site’s changing seasons and sun conditions.   The courthouse respects the monumental presence of the justice system but that monumentality is balanced by the structure’s acknowledgement of its surroundings.  ” It embodies both American idealism and practicality. It feels like it belongs to the people, and consequently inspires and reminds all that it stands for,” added Phifer.

More images and more about the courthouse after the break.

Conceptually, the project fuses past and present in the arrangement of the major volumes of the complex, such as the original building, a new annex, and an atrium connecting the two.   Programmatically, the courtrooms and chambers, public waiting areas and offices, and private spaces for the administration of justice are distributed between the original courthouse and the new annex.

The glass atrium that connects the original building to the new annex adds a new public space to the facility that is flooded with natural light and is full of activity and exchange.  The atrium provides the actual and spiritual center of the courthouse complex, physically connecting people for functional reasons as well as attracting the public.

“Thus it is balance. In this way, the design concepts locate a metaphor for the practice of justice. Democratic law, by and for the people, is the single most important source of equilibrium in our society. The design intent for the new courthouse complex seeks that equilibrium and celebrates it,” added Phifer.

SLC-site Site Plan © Thomas PhiferSLC-elevation Elevation © Thomas PhiferSITE-ELEVATION_SOUTH-copy South Elevation © Thomas PhiferPLAN_SITE Plan © Thomas PhiferSLC-typical Plan © Thomas Phifer9703-4-D-43-0609 © Thomas Phifer9703-4-D-42-0609 © Thomas Phifer9703-4-D-041-0609 © Thomas Phifer9703-4-D-040-0609 © Thomas Phifer14 © Thomas Phifer13 © Thomas Phifer12 © Thomas Phifer11 © Thomas Phiferdbox_TPP_SLC_lobby_day_B_CROP © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.dbox_TPP_SLC_lobby_B_CROP © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.dbox_TPP_SLC_detailground_B_CROP2 © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.dbox_TPP_SLC_detail_man_CROP © Thomas Phifer.  Rendering by dbox.