Saving It: Bruce Fowle, Principal of FXFowle @ ICFF 2007

From the 2007 Metropolis Conference: Design Entrepreneurs: Rethinking Energy
May 21, 2007

Bruce Fowle: FXFowle is part of the team that is expanding the Javits Center. It’s an ongoing process that we’ve been involved with for a year and a half. There are budgetary situations and we’ve had a change of governor in Albany so we’re going through a lot of reevaluation. But I can tell you what the goals are and what we are hoping to do insofar as making the building as sustainable as possible.

When the request for proposals came out for this project they were clearly looking for people with a lot of convention experience, a superstar on the international level, and a lot of know how. We formulated a team, starting with Epstein Group out of Chicago who had done the McCormick Center and then decided that we should invite Richard Rogers, who is a particularly green, socially conscious architect, to join us. We also have Flack + Kurtz as the engineers, Leslie Roberts and Associates as the structural engineers, Ken Smith is doing the landscaping and we have VJ Associates doing the cost estimating. We won the job.

FXFowle has been pioneering green architecture since 1995 when we started the Condé Nast Building, which was the first green skyscraper in the country. It is still one of the most talked about green skyscrapers. A disappointment for all of us was how long it took for the marketplace to catch on and start doing this as a matter of course, but it is finally happening here in New York.

A few other projects we’re working on right now include a building for a software company out of Philadelphia called SAP that is going for platinum-rating. We did the preliminary design work for the Second Avenue subway and that is also going to be very green. Just how much gets into the final budget is hard to say at this point. But we thoroughly analyzed all green aspects of that project. The Helena is the first voluntarily green high-rise residential building, certainly in New York, maybe in the country at this scale and it is gold rated. The school of management for Syracuse University, is not LEED rated but has many green features to it. We do a lot of planning work which is transportation oriented, primarily in trying to make planning as green as possible. There is another subway project out in Queens with photovoltaics. And then there’s a new project for the Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo.

You’ve all experienced the entrance sequence at the Javits Center where you have to get here by taking a taxi or a bus. It’s not very convenient and has a lot of disadvantages. The Javits Center was designed ahead of its time, which is to say, it’s an all-glass building but the glass performance was not as great as it could be today, so it’s very dark. The service access is limited and very poor. It’s actually the eighteenth largest convention center in the country. For New York to be that far down the totem pole for convention center size is not a good thing. That is the main impetus to try to enlarge it.

There are some wonderful views of the river from the building and from the river of the building, but unfortunately it’s very hard to get those. There are only a couple of places in the building where you can actually enjoy the view. We’re trying to establish more synergy between the waterfront and the convention center. There is a lot of sky lighting in the entry part but when you get down into the main exhibition halls there’s absolutely no daylight. This is an industry problem because the industry is not excited about natural light, although some of the new convention centers in Boston and Pittsburgh actually do use a lot of natural light. You can always put shades to black it out when necessary.

The space we’re in now has a very low ceiling space by convention center standards. When you get upstairs with the loftier spaces it’s much higher. The most successful part of the Javits Center is probably the main entrance hall. The problem is that about 50 percent of the energy that goes into this building is in the lighting and it’s not necessarily the base building lighting but all the exhibition lighting. The lighting provided by the decorators in the industry and the lighting used my most exhibitors is very high-energy consuming. Half the energy goes into lighting. The other half is in heating and cooling.

Take a look at the existing area photograph. You can see where the highway runs across and where the Hudson River Park is being expanded. There are a number of issues in terms of urban design that we are faced with here. All of these streets are blocked. There’s been a lot of pressure to put the convention center over the rail yards.

Instead of being the black opaque façade that you see from all angles, we’re trying to enliven and animate the Javits Center. We want to bring vitality to the street and make Eleventh Avenue an important and vibrant thruway. In the master plan approved by the city a couple years ago, there is a plan to put a green swath through here. There will be all new high-rise development on both sides of the avenue. The master plan for the rail yards has just been released. It will include a major cultural center and high-rise development, as well as a lot of open land for park space.

The original idea was that we would expand the Javits Center to the north from 38th Street to 40th Street. There’s a big bus garage there which is very difficult to relocate because we have to have a bus garage somewhere. It’s a “not in my backyard” issue and there’s very little opportunity to change that. Some other buildings are in demolition right now. The idea was to create some parks and try to convert the area into residential and commercial buildings that will provide some equity for the development corporation as well as to enhance the 34th Street corridor.

Trucks are a major problem. There’s a staging area for trucks that come in from all over the country. Those that don’t fit end up parked out on these streets, sometimes idling all night long. The drivers will sleep in the trucks. For an area that’s trying to be developed as a major new center of commerce in the city, it’s just not good. So one of the programmatic issues we’re dealing with is to try to get the trucks off the street and provide a truck marshalling area.

We’re also proposing a new hotel and all these sites will eventually become high-rise buildings contributing to a very high-density area.

The original idea was to add about 360,000 square feet of exhibition space and about 200,000 square feet of meeting room space, which would bring the total exhibition space up to about a million square feet. That puts us in the big-time. One of the problems we have right now in the convention center is that the percentage of meeting room area to the exhibition hall is very small. It needs to be about 30 percent.

We’re trying to create open land, which is a mandate from the city. It’s also part of the environmental impact statement. There’s a new number 7 line subway that’s going to start here which is an essential part of this project. You will be able to take the subway here and not have to take a bus or a cab. When you leave tonight you’re going to find it’s not always easy to get a cab because it’s just not an area where the cabs hang out.

If you look at the proposed façade, you can see the magnitude of the expansion. It’s about two million square feet of expansion over all. The problem is that because of funding and programmatic needs, and the huge escalation of costs, we are now reevaluating all of this. We’re focused on adding something entirely new on the north end. Part of the problem is we have to maintain the existing facility. Every square foot that’s here now has to be operational through the construction period. We can relocate to new construction but we have to do it in phases and with a 10 percent escalation every year.

We also have a problem with Local Law 86, which is the new green mandate for city-funded projects. They have requirements that are different from the state, which are called Executive Order 111. We’re trying to sort out who controls what aspects and which one we have to follow because this is both a state and a city project.

We have to deal with the condition of the existing building. The roof leaks like a sieve. Mechanical systems are terrible and antiquated. Whether we deal with the existing basis on a permanent basis or a temporary basis is all very much in question. Convention industry standards, their lighting standards for example, are basically nonexistent in terms of being sustainable.

We are aiming for LEED Silver. We believe it’s all possible but in the current state of flux it’s very difficult to get a grip on exactly where we’re going to get these points. Energy is the primary issue. The system is extremely poor as it exists today. By centralizing the system, we expect to reduce the existing energy consumption by about 60 to 65 percent, which is good. That’s primarily with a central system of high-efficiency boilers and chillers, heat transfer mechanisms, premium efficient motors, variable flow, and high-efficiency at reduced capacity.

If we can get the lighting industry, or the exhibition industry, to take it to the next step, we can be saving a lot more energy. We are also providing for future photovoltaics. There’s just no way under the current budget situation that we could imagine actually installing photovoltaics at the moment. I think we’re all waiting for that technology to make itself more profitable, with a shorter payback. The idea is to provide a roofscape that can handle a significant amount of photovoltaic cells.

We had looked at ice storage, we had looked at geo-thermal, at least. a lot of these systems just don’t pay off because the system is either too big or because they buy energy at a different scale. It’s not like you or I would buy it for our house, they buy it at a large package rate. Saving energy to make thermal storage at night, for example, does not really save energy, but it saves cost normally. It is not really effective in this case.

We know that we can make the exterior more efficient by replacing the glass as it is right now. But we also know that the existing mullion system is not thermally broken and it’s not going to be that much better if we can change that glass when we have all of the metal radiating through. We’re still working on that, and we’re talking about external canopies for the glass, screen walls and so forth.

Susan S. Szensasy, editor in chief, Metropolis: It’s interesting to see the retrofit, not just the addition. When you look at this building, it is in hopeless shape; coming at it in certain angles, that film is peeling, and then the inefficiency must be tremendous. The mayor has this incredible NYC 2030 plan, which asks to bring buildings up to high performance standards. Is the Javits Center going to be one of those that retrofits? Will it become an example for the city to think about how our building stock can be updated and can be more energy efficient?

Fowle: We hope so. The 2030 plan which Susan refers to is Mayor Bloomberg’s new proposal. It’s got 127 initiatives. It’s really wonderfully worked out and includes aspects like how close anybody in the city should be to a park, how close you should be to a school, how close where you work or live is to public transportation, and so forth. I think the number 7 subway line expansion is a major step. Adding the green space will be a major step. And the proximity of the river of course, and adding some permeability between the city and the river is very important. We wish we could do more of that.

As far as the existing building is concerned, we have yet to determine whether this is going to mean starting a new building with the ultimate plan to demolish the existing one, or to rebuild it, or whether we do a sort of stopgap solution, so it’s difficult to say. If it’s a stopgap solution, we have to convince the public that that’s what it is and that ultimately this will be a green, very much in keeping with the 2030 plan.

Szenasy: You have a dynamite team in place—FXFowle, Richard Rogers, Ken Smith—and all of the people that you gathered are incredibly skilled in these areas. Is there a plan for that team to figure out an education program for the people who run the convention center? To make sure that the lighting begins to be energy efficient and that they don’t put something really offensive in there? You’ve designed this amazing skin and you’ve retrofitted, you’ve created this new world, and then if they don’t do the right thing they’ll still be losing 50 percent of the energy in the lighting.

Fowle: I can’t say there’s a plan but there is the desire. The problem is that there is a whole industry that takes care of convention centers all around the country. They’re the people who get your convention center set up. Frankly their interest does not appear to be making things greener. Their margins are very tight. They’re more concerned with issues like how fast they can get in and out of the convention center, where their people stay, where the trucks sit, and how accessible all of their supplies are. They supply the panels, lighting, the hook up, the booths, etc. We are once removed from that because our client is what’s called the Convention Center Development Corporation, which is a branch of the Empire State Development Corporation. And then the convention center operations group is really another group and we are trying to create a synergy between the two. The people who do the set up work are once removed from them, so it’s really difficult for us to get to them. The ultimate goal would be to write guidelines and set standards that people can try to aspire to and really try to change the industry.

Szenasy: I do hope that happens because what we’re seeing right now is that the architects and the engineers come up with these great systems and then the users override the systems. It’s been really difficult for the past few years. People are used to a certain amount of light and if they’re not educated enough in what you’re trying to do they’re going to override you and then you’ve done all this great design for nothing.

Fowle: Yes, I think creating awareness within an industry is probably the first thing that needs to be done. I think they probably don’t realize that their lighting is consuming half the energy of the entire building.

Szenasy: I didn’t realize that. That’s huge.

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