Climate Change, Construction, Emerging Professionals (EP), Homes, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Event Recap:
Affordable, Storm-Proof Homes for Breezy Point

No Comments Posted on 14 March 2014 by Cecil Scheib

Rendering from Team LARC’s winning R3build design

Matilda Curley lived 95 years and survived Superstorm Sandy’s destruction of her house in Breezy Point. She passed away earlier this year, with her home and many others yet to be rebuilt. But her grandchildren were at Urban Green’s Spring Member Reception, where the finalist projects of the R3build Design Competition were on display. Australian duo Rayne Fouche and Larissa Searle were announced as First Place winners in front of an overflowing crowd. Read more about the winning design in the NY Daily News.

Through R3build, Urban Green’s Emerging Professionals invited students and young designers from around the world to provide template ideas for homes that are resilient, sustainable, and affordable. These ideas will now be freely available for use in Breezy Point and elsewhere.

Watch a video from Rayne and Larissa on their design here.

Construction, Green Codes, Greening Codes, Removing Barriers, Products & Materials

It’s Time for Green Concrete, says NYC’s New Building Code

No Comments Posted on 06 January 2014 by Cecil Scheib

Long in the making, New York City’s updated building code was enacted just before the final buzzer on December 30, 2013. While the bill was over 2,400 pages long, there’s an easily overlooked provision (literally, a footnote) that will help NYC reduce its carbon emissions from concrete.

Cement, a key ingredient of concrete, produces its own weight in CO2 and is a giant contributor to global warming. It helps if concrete incorporates recycled ingredients in place of new cement, but there’s a limit set by the building code. The new code will increase by 40% the amount of fly ash or other recycled materials allowed in concrete exposed to de-icing chemicals (like sidewalks). This was recommended by the Green Codes Task Force as “Reduce CO2 Emissions From Specialized Concrete”.

This means concrete with the same strength but less carbon pollution. The next step: getting the 50,000 cubic yards of concrete used each year subject to this law to increase their recycled content.

Congrats to the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and Department of Buildings for completing this triennial building code update. We look forward to more sustainable sidewalks along with the many other benefits of the new code!

Construction, GPRO

NYSERDA to Fund Training for 2,700 GPRO Students

No Comments Posted on 11 December 2013 by Sarah Palmisano

Urban Green is eligible to receive nearly $600,000 from NYSERDA over the next two years to offset training costs for 2,700 students across New York State. GPRO courses will be discounted by 70% in 2014 and 60% in 2015.

With this funding, we will train 550 building operators to improve building efficiency and reduce waste; we will show 865 property managers and 670 construction managers how to improve indoor air quality and prevent pollution; we will teach 212 HVACR technicians about the role of mechanical systems in green building; and we will help 340 plumbers and 80 subcontractors understand how their direct actions on job sites affect the sustainability of the projects they are working on.

These workers will create healthier, more sustainable, and energy-efficient buildings across the state, in addition to increasing their job marketability due to growing demands for green building.

First come first served! If your company or organization is interested in offering discounted GPRO training for your employees, please let us know as soon as possible by contacting Sarah at If you are an individual interested in GPRO training, please let us know by filling out this form, as discounted public classes will also be available.

Climate Change, Commercial Buildings, Construction, Energy, NYC Local Laws, Planning, Products & Materials, Residential Buildings, Resiliency

Greenbuild Speaker Highlights

No Comments Posted on 13 November 2013 by Ariana Vito

Headed to Greenbuild next week? Sign up to hear Urban Green staff, board members, Task Force members, and supporters speak at educational sessions throughout the week.

Developing Resilience Action Plans for Cities
Russell Unger, Urban Green Council
November 19, 2:30-3:30pm 

“Green Regs & Ham” – A Greenbuild Policy Breakfast
Russell Unger, Urban Green Council
November 20, 7:00-10:00am 

Bring the Outside Inside: Using the Outdoors to Create Indoor Comfort
Daniel Nall, Thornton Tomasetti
November 22, 8:00-9:00am 

Creating Resilient Communities: Building (and Rebuilding) Affordable Housing Projects to Endure the Impact of Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events
Pat Sapinsley, Build Efficiently, LLC
November 19, 4:00-5:30pm

EBOMing Your Portfolio: Process Mastery to Inspire Innovation
Yetsuh Frank, Green Light New York
November 22, 9:30-10:30am 

Evaluating New York City’s Energy Benchmarking Policy
John Lee, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability
Jonathon Flaherty, Tishman Speyer
November 21, 3:30-5:30pm 

Highrise Residential Trends and Strategies for Success
Adrian Tuluca, Vidaris Inc
November 21, 9:30-10:30pm 

Insights on Multifamily Benchmarking from EPA & Fannie Mae
Michael Zatz, US Environmental Protection Agency
November 20, 2:00-3:00pm 

International Summit Opening Plenary – Collaboration and Commerce: Environmental Architecture of the Future
Shanta Tucker, Atelier Ten
November 19, 9:00-10:00am 

LEED v4 Tools: Finding Products (and your Footing) in LEED v4
Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen, Inc.
November 21, 11:30-12:30pm 

Let There Be Daylight: Deploying Advanced Daylight Controls
Richard Yancey, Green Light New York
November 22, 8:00-9:00am 

Linking NYC Energy Database to Tenant Contribution to Economy
Steven Baumgartner, Buro Happold
November 20, 3:30-4:30pm 

Midcentury (Un)Modern: The1958-73 Office Building
Bob Fox, Terrapin Bright Green
November 22, 8:00-9:00am 

Motivating Green Building Around the World
John Mandyck, Carrier Corporation
November 21, 9:30-10:30am 

New York City in 2050: Two Views
Marc Zuluaga, Steven Winter Associates
Dick Leigh, Urban Green Council
Laurie Kerr, Natural Resources Defense Council
November 21, 8:00-9:00am 

Resiliency in the Eye of the Storm: Lessons from Sandy
Aine Brazil, Thornton Tomasetti
Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute
November 20, 3:30-4:30pm 

Stories from the Field: Lend Lease as an Integrated Solutions Partner
James Stawniczy, Lend Lease US Construction LMB Inc.
November 20, 1:00-2:00pm 

Transforming Buildings Through Product Innovation
Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen, Inc.
November 21, 9:30-10:30am 

Valuing Green: Working with Tenants, Appraisers, and Lenders to Capture the Value of Green Buildings
Charlotte Matthews, Related Companies
November 22, 9:30-10:30am

Ventilate Multifamily Buildings Successfully in Eight Steps!
Maureen Mahle, Steven Winter Associates
November 21, 9:30-10:30am

Building Envelope, Construction, Energy, Homes

Salon Summary:
Westchester Goes Green

No Comments Posted on 25 October 2013 by Tiffany Broyles Yost

Westchester County showed off its green chops on Thursday at the inaugural event planned by the newly formed Westchester and Rockland Programs Committee. New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson welcomed the packed house.  He encouraged the architects, engineers, developers, and others in the room to keep working to improve the sustainability of buildings because they play a significant role in the health of our cities. He noted GreeNR, New Rochelle’s Sustainability Plan as one way the city is trying to improve infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions.

Deborah Newborn (Sustainability Coordinator, Office of the Mayor, City of New Rochelle) spoke next to share the planning process and strategies used in GreeNR. Deborah noted the key steps in creating a sustainability plan:

- Know your current status – determine your carbon emissions so you can set goals.

- Identify common goals – you must set clear goals.

- Engage local citizens – talk to residents and businesses.

- Be specific – determine methods and metrics to measure progress.

- Stay flexible – make sure your plan can adapt and adjust as needed.

These steps were followed in the Hastings on Hudson plan described by Christina Griffin (Principal, Christina Griffin Architect P.C.) as well but Christina went on to talk about specific buildings capitalizing on this new plan. Her firm has been working on several “net-zero” home additions. By following the new energy code and providing much needed insulation to historic buildings, they’ve been able to add significant square footage to homes without increasing the overall energy consumption (which also saves money!).  She also showed a LEED Platinum home and other high performance projects.

These projects are in good company as we heard from Steve Abbattista (Principal, OLA Consulting Engineers) who provided an overview of more than ten LEED certified projects in the area. These projects ranged from an aviation center to commercial office space and residences.  Steve noted that most clients are asking for ways to limit upfront costs while saving on long-term operations. Energy and water efficiency along with simple thoughtful approaches, like massive ceiling fans in the airplane hanger and simple air sealing of windows and doors, goes a long way to providing short paybacks.

From what we saw on Thursday, it’s clear there are a lot of green policy shifts and projects happening north of New York City. Residents are taking an active role in the greening of Westchester and Rockland Counties and it’s great to see that enthusiasm emanate throughout the room at our kickoff event.  I can’t wait to see what the Westchester and Rockland Programs Committee plans next.

Building Envelope, Climate Change, Construction, Energy, LEED, Residential Buildings

Salon Summary:
Walking the Talk at Choate

No Comments Posted on 09 October 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Plumbing magnate Herbert Kohler cast his bread upon the waters when he funded a LEED Platinum environmental center at his boarding school alma mater. Choate has made the most of this opportunity, building a combined dorm, dining hall, and laboratory that teaches about the environment in more ways than one. The audience at Urban Green’s sold-out When Buildings Teach got the inside scoop from the project team on October 3.

The Kohler Environmental Center is exemplary in its use of a low-cost, low-capital input approach adopted long before construction began. Choate sat down with the design team to carefully consider – and influence – occupant behavior and target comfort levels. When planning for a net-zero building, a single degree of extra summer cooling can mean tens of thousands of dollars of solar panels. Preventing this unneeded capital expenditure required long discussions about details normally considered too small for the architect, engineer, and energy modeler to get involved with. This included whether students could cope with 78F instead of 77F temperatures during the summer, how often faculty members would use clothes dryers in their apartments, and if students could reasonably be persuaded to forgo plasma TVs in favor of laptops.

Most building designs assume the worst of future occupants, and design HVAC, lighting, and electric services to match this dystopian (though perhaps realistic) consumption scenario. By setting more modest goals for occupant comfort, the designers were able to downsize equipment – and that meant fewer solar panels. While Choate benefits from knowing more about its future student and faculty “tenants” that a typical residential developer, the design team did two key replicable things:

  • Education. Choate teaches each student about how to use the green features of their building, including an energy dashboard that can compare the usage of individual dorm rooms. As the building owner and operator, the school has committed to deep tenant engagement about how to help their building perform sustainably – a big commitment given they’ll always have new teenage tenants every year.
  • Careful design. Orientation and window placement ensure that even laboratory areas can be operated without artificial light during daytime hours. Building massing minimizes cooling needs (there is a hope that in some summers, the AC will never be turned on). There are even buried concrete earth ducts to pre-temper conditioning air, precisely sized to reduced HVAC needs while avoiding mold-encouraging condensation.

The building incorporates some traditional (and expensive) green features – ground source heat pumps and acres of solar panels to serve the goal of a net zero building; high tech showerheads (more about those in a bit); and sugar maple wood paneling where you can see where holes were drilled for taps. More importantly, onsite Choate faculty member Joe Scanio is committed to seeing the 31,325 square foot facility meet its goals, semi-obsessively checking its 400+ sensors to ensure it is operating according to plan. By doing so, Scanio fills a common gap in green building – verifying environmental performance after occupancy.

Audience discussion was lively, possibly sparked by the presenters’ refreshing openness about challenges they faced during design. Emilie Hagen (Atelier Ten), Kevin Smith (RAMSA), Craig Razza (Kohler Ronan), and Scanio spoke of Choate’s ambivalence about building on a greenfield (in an area where farmland is scarce), before deciding that the academic benefits of doing so outweighed the environmental costs. I’m sure the student residents who watched from their windows as a hawk captured a rabbit would agree! Razza also brought up the challenges the team faced in maintaining a research-grade greenhouse without combustion; in the end, a biodiesel boiler was supplied.

But what about those high-tech showerheads? Funding from a fixture manufacturer has its distinct benefits. After polling design team members and client representatives about their shower habits, Herbert Kohler realized that while most people can live with a very low-flow showerhead, they do need occasional blasts of higher volume flow (for instance, to rinse thick hair). According to the panelists, Kohler directed his engineers to invent a new showerhead on the spot – in this case, a low flow unit with a high-flow override that can temporarily provide more water flow while a button is held down. They are installed and working at Choate, where users report satisfaction from the chance to briefly enjoy more water, while using it only a small fraction of the time. If these hit the market in the future, we’ll thank RAMSA, Atelier Ten, Kohler Ronan, and Choate for being willing to go outside the box in terms of tenant education and engagement.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Construction, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Sea Change: “The water went where we never expected it to go”

No Comments Posted on 30 September 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Janno Lieber, Urban Green Council 2013 Fall Conference "Sea Change"

Janno Lieber

This post was live-blogged from Urban Green Council’s 2013 Fall Conference, Sea Change. See previous event posts on the Cities Panel and the Keynote Address.

It may be a long time before NYC sees a storm surge as high as that brought by Superstorm Sandy, whereas the next storm may bring stronger winds than those yet seen, says Aine Brazil of Thornton Tomasetti. But Janno Lieber of World Trade Center Properties says insurers are still reacting to the last event instead of looking forward. How can NYC realistically prepare its buildings for future risks without losing sight of fighting climate change?

For Brazil, Sandy was a wake-up call: “The water went where we never expected it to go.” She was heavily involved in the Building Resiliency Task Force that invited stakeholders to consider the minimum standard city buildings must meet to be resilient. The challenge, she says, is to incorporate “things that are financial benefits for developers and not just mandates by government,” and perhaps a rating system akin to LEED for resiliency might help.

Lieber agreed that the private sector is key in making buildings more resilient, but we don’t have enough experience to create a meaningful rating system for resiliency, he said. Instead, there needs to be incentives for developers to do things like moving systems out of harm’s way. With the right tools, he believes the private sector can be very responsive – and perhaps easier to change than the public power infrastructure, which he calls our “mega-vulnerability”.

Lieber says there is not a conflict between the resiliency of our buildings and infrastructure and their sustainability. In fact, they must go together: “The essence of sustainability in our city is the buildings on top of mass transit.” Claire Weisz, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, agreed. “It’s become clear that both sustainability and resiliency are about systems that go beyond buildings.” Vulnerable areas at the shore have the potential to protect infrastructure and serve sustainability functions to boot.

Weisz raised the example of the vulnerable Con Ed East River transformer facility that failed spectacularly during Sandy. It’s also the site of a notorious “pinch point” for pedestrians and cyclists on the East River Greenway. Both of these problems could be fixed at the same time with a levee that protects the site while acting as a path for sustainable, human-powered transit to “fly over” the site, said Weisz.

Alan Brake of The Architect’s Newspaper and panel moderator queried Weisz as to whether this was realistic. It can be, says Weisz, if city policymakers and residents both understand on a “visceral level” that we all share a limited amount of air, water and land resources. Lieber’s slide of the Hudson pouring into construction sites on West Street during Sandy brought this point home. After the terrible effects of Sandy, everyone got a step closer to this understanding.


Construction, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Sea Change: Four Rules Nonprofits Should Follow to Rebuild

No Comments Posted on 30 September 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Cameron Sinclair at Urban Green Council's Sea Change 2013 Fall Conference

Cameron Sinclair

This post was live-blogged from Urban Green Council’s 2013 Fall Conference, Sea Change.

Architecture for Humanity has been named a 100 Resilient City partner by the Clinton Global Initiative. Stay tuned to hear more from Nancy Kete, from the Rockfeller Foundation, about 100 Resilient Cities.

Commuting on PATH, Cameron Sinclair saw that the post-Sandy New Jersey seacoast looked like Ground Zero for climate change. But as an architect (and until April 2014, chief CEO – “chief eternal optimist’) for Architecture for Humanity, he saw possibility, not despair. In his view, these natural disasters can be a chance to focus on opportunity, rather than responsibility, when it comes to climate issues.

Architecture for Humanity is based in San Francisco, but born in New York, and is historically the “last responder” after a crisis. With reconstruction experience in New York/New Jersey, New Orleans, Haiti, Japan, and elsewhere, Sinclair said there is a strict timeline responders must conform to in order to be effective after a disaster. Nonprofits who want to help have:

  • Four days to announce their intention to help, so as not to miss press attention. Apparently, not only do you need Anderson Cooper to show up, but the tightness of his tshirt may determine how much money you can raise! Sinclair said this with tongue firmly in cheek, but it remains true that press coverage is essential to raising funds.
  • Four weeks to obtain the funds. A warning – if you use social media to raise funds from schoolkids, as Sinclair did, you’ll receive plenty of messages to your Facebook page saying “I gave you $50, what did you do with it?”
  • Four months to mobilize and begin work. Getting local stakeholders involved, including governments and clients, is essential.
  • Four years to work through actually using the money. Sinclair partnered with Snooki for his efforts in New Jersey, but you may not have to.

Sinclair made it clear that timelines are tight after disasters, and that being pre-emptive can be a better approach than being reactive. But when nonprofits aid in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts after a crises, these rules will help.


Building Envelope, Construction

Salon Summary:
Can You Expect Much More from Your Façade? Maybe So!

No Comments Posted on 28 August 2013 by Tiffany Broyles Yost

The researchers at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) expect a whole lot from their facades. And you should too, they say. At our recent sold-out Salon, they showed building envelopes that do more than keep the heat in or out. These facades generate power, make the building more comfortable, and look great.

At CASE, they start with a simple principle: look to nature to change the way cities use energy, water, and resources. “We want to reshape enclosures to better use the environment,” says Matt Gindlesparger (RPI/CASE). Matt says building envelopes today act as a barrier to the outside. He argues that façades that can “capture, transform, and store” outside resources are more valuable than those that block them.

Jason Vollen (CASE) has rethought the role of the common brick. His “brick” (see photo) shades the building, slows heat gain, and regulates internal temperatures. A water loop hidden in each unit moves heat from outside to inside, or vice versa, depending on the need.

Demetrios Comodromos (Method Design Architecture + Urbanism, CASE) presented another façade unit imbedded with a gray-water treatment system. It also shades the building, provides daylight, and reduces the building’s peak energy use! Another CASE project features special glass that tracks the sun to admit more or less daylight to the interior, without increasing solar heat gain.

Still, there are construction roadblocks to overcome. Finding the right client and working with the unions to install systems that require multiple trades are two challenges in New York. In some emerging markets, the concerns are different.

CASE does extensive prototype development and laboratory testing to bring proven innovative systems to market.  The walls they describe are dynamic and adapt to daily or seasonal changes. If you ask more of a wall — as speaker after speaker urged us to do — you have to show it meets those expectations.

CASE’s work  inspires. Changing the expectations of developers and designers is the first step to improved facades that incorporate these new technologies. So be sure to expect more because you can push that envelope much further!


Building Envelope, Construction, Emerging Professionals (EP)

Green Building Tour Recap
The New School University Center – Exposed!

No Comments Posted on 22 August 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Urban Green hosted a tour of The New School’s University Center, led by Director of Facilities Management, Thomas Whalen, and Senior Design Architect, Jon Cicconi (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). As a design institution, the school took a unique approach to showing the “bones” of the building. And since it’s still under construction, we got a great look at what’s under building’s skin.

The Center has an exposed design aesthetic throughout. Classrooms will have exposed concrete ceilings – including conduit and paint marks – between their acoustic panels. Interior windows let students view the cafeteria from the lobby and the stairwells from the classrooms. A stairwell pressurization duct, which would normally be hidden from view in a shaft buried in the heart of the building, will be exposed and turned into a brass-clad work of art. And structural support beams are evident throughout.

Thomas Whalen explained some of the construction challenges faced by the project. For example, LED light fixtures will be used throughout. But due to long lead times, the entire building – even the currently occupied residential portion – uses fluorescent fixtures, all of which will have to be replaced when the prodigal LEDs arrive. I’d suggest contacting Thomas around January for a great deal on some secondhand fluorescent lighting fixtures!

Aiming for LEED Gold, the building will have many green features besides LED lighting. Tour participants stared in awe at the 14 ice storage tanks in the basement, which allow the building to run its cooling plant at night, making ice when electrical rates are cheap. During the day, the electrical cooling plant can be turned off and the building can be cooled using the ice. This saves on expensive daytime electricity, and can help the overloaded NYC grid survive summers. Gas-fired cogeneration at the top of the building will provide electricity and domestic hot water. And, we were told that lighting in dorm corridors, normally on 24 hours a day at most schools, will be bi-level and dimmed at night. That can add up to major savings over 365 days of the year.

Thanks to The New School, SOM, and Urban Green’s Emerging Professionals for hosting the tour.


© 2013 Urban Green Blog.