Audubon Headquarters Goes `Green'
ONCE known mostly for its devotion to birds, the National Audubon Society is broadening its environmental leadership. The organization's new $24-million head- quarters in New York, dedicated Dec. 3, was built as an environmental model for architects, planners, and designers around the world.Skip to next paragraph
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Nearly every product that went into renovating the 101-year-old terra-cotta building was examined in terms of its impact on the world. "We wanted to prove that you could indeed create a structure that is far more efficient than current codes could require and show that [environmental] sustainability is achievable at far greater than today's norm," says Peter Berle, the president of the society.
Although Audubon made all its decisions for environmental reasons, the building also had to make economic sense. "Every decision had to stand up to three criteria," explains Christie Williams, Audubon's headquarters project manager. "It had to be good for the environment, you had to be able to buy the material commercially, and it had to be cost-effective."
Audubon and Croxton Collaborative, the project architectural firm, performed an environmental analysis of everything that went into the structure. Questions asked included:
* How was the product made?
* Where did the raw materials come from?
* What would happen to the material when it was ready to be replaced?
"We looked at the building from a cradle-to-grave standpoint, which we think is a real change in methodology," Mr. Williams says.
Sometimes the environmental search was difficult. For example, the reception desk is made of mahogany. Because tropical ecosystems where the trees grow are dwindling, Audubon wanted to be sure the wood came from companies that use "sustainable" harvesting methods. In other words, trees are cut at basically the same rate that they grow.
Kirsten Childs, director of interior design at Croxton, says she found some companies that claimed the wood they were selling came from "sustainable yield forest." But the companies would not say all the mahogany they sold was garnered by that method. "We had a great deal of difficulty getting the wood and making sure it was [actually] used [to make the furniture]," says Ms. Childs.
Audubon also wanted to restrict the purchase of items made with chemicals or anything that might harm the atmosphere, like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). So it is using a natural-gas, heat-transfer system for its air-conditioning system, instead of freon.
There are trade-offs in forsaking CFCs. For example, Audubon does not get spectacular insulation results with its alternative, which is made from sea water and magnesium silicate. The insulation is installed as a thick liquid, which dries to a solid about 3-1/2 inches thick. It gives an R-14 (R is a measurement of thermal resistance) heating value, which insulation specialists say is not spectacular. The fiberglass insulation in the roof is about a foot thick. It gives an R-36 heating value - again reaso nable but not great protection.
Audubon also wanted to be sure that most of the substances in the building could be recycled or would be biodegradable. Instead of petroleum-based padding under the undyed wool carpet, Audubon used a recyclable jute and animal-hair mat held together by recycled paper.