News
11.17.2006
Do Green Buildings Live Up to their Promise?

An Internet search on the much-heralded 4 Times Square,
the 1999 project by Fox & Fowle for the Durst Organization, turns up dozens of articles celebrating the buildinggs green systems. Many of these reports brim with statistics documenting environmental and economic savings. But these numbers are not drawn from Con Edison bills or studies by the buildinggs owner or tenant. They come from engineerrs projections and computer simulations. In fact, the measurements that inevitably pepper the press releases of any high-performance building ((consumes 25 percent less energy than a standard building,, reduces water consumption by 30 percent") nearly always circulate before the buildingss completion, and are rarely verified post facto.

In attempting to find hard data about some of New Yorkks landmark green buildingsssuch as the Audubon House, the NRDCCs national headquarters, 4 Times Square, and the various developments of Battery Park Cityywe were surprised that neither the projectss clients, architects, nor developers undertook post- occupancy analyses of any sort.

In fairness, post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) rarely occur for any building, and the idea of testing efficiency is as new as the notion of designing for it. But given the hype, LEED plaques, tax credits, research grants, and payback promises of supposed sustainable buildings, it is surprising that monitoring of any sort is basically nonexistent. Because of the pioneering nature of many of the technologies associated with green building, metrics can make a big difference in facilitating their broader acceptance.

Architect Colin Cathcart recounted that his firm, Kiss + Cathcart, was unable to gain the Department of Housing Preservation and Developmentts approval to install a geothermal system at the Pitt Street Residence, a Common Ground project, because the agency insisted on seeing evidence of the technologyys energy savings. We tried to get data from the Center for Architecture about its system, and also for Historic Front Street [a project by Cook + Fox, with residential units completed a year ago] but nobody has tracked their energy savings,, he said.

Itts a failing of the profession that it doesnnt go back and measure [performance], because you learn from your mistakes,, said
John Krieble, director of sustainable design at the New York City Department of Design and Construction, which is pushing for its projects to undergo POEs.

This is hardly a new idea. In the 1970s, when Sim Van Der Ryn was the state architect for California, he tried get a POE program off the ground, but it never got any traction,, he said. He added, Clients would look at anything that wasnnt working as their fault,, not to mention a wrongheaded investment.

In the case of 4 Times Square, tenant Condd Nast nixed plans for a POE, according to employees at FXFowle, fearing litigation if their old offices proved to have been comparatively unhealthy.

Michael Gubbins, vice president and director of residential management for the Albanese Organization, admits that no system-wide analyses have been conducted at the Solaire, his companyys green residential tower in Battery Park City, but each of its processes, from graywater treatment to air filtration, is closely monitored and upgraded, like computer software,, ensuring
peak functionality.

Mark Watson, founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council and one of the fathers of LEED, explained how only after the NRDC, for whom he worked for 20 years, tested the systems at its new Santa Monica offices did they find the energy systems were performing better than expecteddwhile the ventilation was
far worse. The appropriate corrections have been made and everything now functions as planned.

Our national interest in building science is zero,, he said. We know squat about how any building works, including LEED buildings. If we sent our cars out on the road with the checks we provide buildings, customers wouldnnt stand for it..

Matt Chaban is an editorial intern at AN.

Matt Chaban