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'Green' Skyscraper to Take Root in Times Square

Building is equipped with environment-friendly features

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 27, 1997


Three generations ago, Rose Durst, an immigrant from Poland, taught her children the value of nature. Today, the Durst family does everything from shipping organic tomatoes to New York to giving generous financial support to environmental organizations.

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The family, which controls a real estate empire, has now embarked on its biggest "green" effort ever - a 48-story, $300 million Times Square skyscraper. Among the aspects of the building: the use of solar panels on the the exterior surface of the building; space-age-designed fuel cells that provide up to one-third of the power requirements; and, recycling chutes that go to a pickup area on the ground floor.

"It's a real service to the next generation of buildings," says Jonathan "Jody" Durst, vice president of operations at the Durst Organization. "We anticipate we are going to have to arrange some type of tour system."

The Durst effort is rare in a commercial building of this size. "It's just beginning to happen," says Kirsten Childs, an architect at the Croxton Collaborative, which specializes in environment-friendly architecture.

In Washington, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to move into 1.2 million square feet of "greener" office space. "It has adopted sustainability as a theme," says Ms. Childs, who is working on the project.

Almost five years ago, the National Audubon Society gutted a 101-year-old, nine-story terra-cotta building in New York. The idea was to pioneer green ways of constructing an office building in an urban setting. Every decision had three criteria: It had to be good for the environment; it had to be commercially available; and, it had to be cost-effective.

The concept of environmental sustainability had interested the Dursts at about the same time. They are finishing a five-year, $25 million refurbishment of their existing buildings. They added energy-efficient lighting, variable speed (more efficient) motors to all their pumps, and advanced chilling (cooling) systems.

Thus, when the Dursts gathered to plan the new 1.6 million-square-foot project in Times Square, it became clear to the architects, New York-based Fox & Fowle, and the construction company, Tishman Construction, that the environmental aspect was a major concern.

The architects, who have been working on the ongoing renewal of the Times Square area, started researching the issues. They discovered few examples of "green" buildings. "We are constantly running into situations that people have never come across because it has hasn't been done on this scale before," says Bruce Fowle, one of the principals.

The Durst building, for example, will use photovoltaic cells or solar panels that makes electricity under the windows. Each panel will be wired to a central system that feeds into a power system for the whole building. This will add 1.5 percent of the building's energy requirements, or about the equivalent of the power needed for nine suburban houses for a year. The panels can be replaced as the technology improves. But, as Mr. Fowle notes, "The technology and capability have not been developed on a building of this scale."

The architects are also using fuel cells to supply about one-third of the energy. These are similar to the cells that provide power to the space shuttles. Natural gas is the fuel.