Jul 30, 201309:57 AMPoint of View

Broken Promises

Broken Promises

Courtesy Bank of America

 The New Republic’s Sam Roudman today had a devastating piece on the CookFox Architects-designed Bank of America (BOA) building in New York, a project that was widely acclaimed as one of the greenest skyscrapers in the world when it opened in 2010. The building garnered a lot of press (including coverage by us), achieved LEED Platinum certification, and even managed to snare Al Gore as an office tenant.

According to data released by the city of New York, the building has not only failed to live up to environmental promises but, Roudman reports, “produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating.”

How exactly did the Bank of America go from green building darling to energy hog in three years? The BOA’s energy metrics failed to take into account how the building would actually be used: the trading floors, with their ubiquitous computers, are “on” twenty-four seven, burning obscene amounts of energy. This is a colossal oversight, given the nature of the building (traders generally operate with a minimum of three video screens in front of them). But it also painfully underscores the shortcomings of the LEED process.

 Bank of America (and by extension CookFox Architects pursued LEED certification under the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s Core and Shell program, an initiative created for real estate developers that provided an easier pathway to Platinum certification, but three years later didn’t account for building use.   

Prior to the building’s opening, Rick Cook (who was unavailable to comment on the New Republic story) made much of the tenant education program his firm had created for BOA. The architects knew even then that the building wouldn’t perform properly unless it was used properly. Clearly that hasn’t happened here.  “You can show people good food but you can’t make them eat it,” said Serge Appel, the project architect for the building, who admitted to being “discouraged” by the report.

In the end, these numbers call into question the usefulness of LEED. Right now certification is little more than a promise, a pledge that once the building is completed and the USGBC has affixed a plaque to its façade doesn’t require any additional follow up, doesn’t require its designers and developers to prove their claims. That must change, otherwise the program risks becoming irrelevant.

Old to new | New to old
Jul 31, 2013 07:23 pm
 Posted by  tshowo

Here is the problem of measurements that focus on inputs instead of outcomes (performance). Maybe the USGBC should add "Game" to "Shell and Core." Still, despite obvious shortcomings, give the USGBC credit for being among the first to sound the alarm and propose meaningful strategies for resource stewardship in design and construction.

Aug 6, 2013 07:00 pm
 Posted by  ggwood

The LEED program always has been, in my opinion, a ruse thrown to the public and our naïve representatives in place of real energy management. Buildings don’t use energy. The people inside them use it. True, building materials do have an impact on the heating and cooling efficiency of a high-rise tower, and energy delivery systems can be efficient or inefficient. But the giant share of energy usage for a building like the New York Bank of America tower comes from the demolition and construction of the building itself, and this energy consumption and greenhouse gas contribution isn’t even included in the calculation.

Let’s have Scott Horst of the U.S. Green Building Council go back and add this math into his LEED numbers. Add all the truck deliveries, all the energy consumed fabricating the new “energy efficient” building materials, all the auto trips by the contractors and workers. Add in all the energy used in demolishing, trucking away and discarding or recycling the old building materials. My bet is that it would take more than thirty years to recapture those energy components in a platinum project. The Empire State Building would easily walk away with honors.

If this calculation were done on a level playing field and building remodeling was given the proper credit for saving the usual old-building-tear-down and new-building-construction, new buildings would never earn the highest LEED scores—they would all go to the smaller office-rehabs that we find on the main streets in many of our less visible cities. Of course, Al Gore probably would not find this sort of math appropriate for his sustainability business headquarters.

So Mr. Roudman, lets take up Scott Horst’s challenge. Let’s get real accurate and see what is really happening behind those emerald green curtains in the LEED city. Is it an expensive scam run by Mr. OZ?

Geoff Wood is a development
and rehab Consultant located in
San Francisco

Aug 8, 2013 08:14 am
 Posted by  durst

The data released by the city has nothing to do with a building's performance. One Bryant Park is the most environmentally responsible building in NYC precisely because it concentrates dense energy users and manufactures 80% of that energy use in a process that is twice as efficient as utility generated electricity.

However, the Platinum rating is not only concerned with energy efficiency. 1BP saves 10 million gallons of water every year, it was built using mostly recycled material that is not harmful to the environment, and it creates healthy environment for the occupants allowing them to lead more productive lives. It is unfortunate that people who have no idea what they are talking about are given a forum to do so.

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