'Green' Skyscraper to Take Root in Times Square

Building is equipped with environment-friendly features

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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.

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."

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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.

Managing the energy requirements of the building became easier after the architects used software developed by the Department of Energy. It is filled with the weather conditions for any location for a year. Using the software, Fowle came up with an accurate assessment of the building's energy needs while measuring the trade-offs of using different types of glass and insulation.

Typical of the trade-offs faced by the architect is the issue of clean air. The architects decided to improve the air quality of the building 50 percent more than New York requires. Bringing in more fresh air, however, increases the heating and cooling costs.

Fowle estimates that using green technologies has added 5 to 10 percent to the cost of the project. Many of the changes have a payback, however, on the investment of between three and 24 years. The solar panels, for example, produce a return on investment in 10 years.

The payback concept is apparent at the Audubon building. According to Ken Hamilton, director of services and facilities at Audubon, the building saves about $65,000 per year in utility costs compared with other buildings of the same size.

While Fowle and his team worked on the outside shell, they began talking to the two major tenants, Conde Nast, the publisher and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, one of the city's largest law firms. Fox & Fowle produced a set of environmental guidelines, which included lighting system recommendations and healthier alternatives to conventional carpets, paints, and adhesives. "We're now trying to convince the tenants to comply with the guidelines," says Fowle.

The tenants, for example, could rent their carpeting from firms like Du Pont Company and BASF. When the carpet wears out, the firms take it back and recycle it. "Carpeting is one of the biggest violations of waste," says Fowle who has encouraged companies supplying goods to the building to use recycled packaging and reusable components.

One reason for using green technologies, says Fowle, is improved productivity. "People are not sucking in bad air all day long so they are feeling better."

Despite the Dursts' efforts to make the building clean, they have found there are limits to how far they can go with the tenants. The building will not be totally smoke-free, for example, because one of the tenants likes to smoke cigars. Such smoking offices will have separate ducts leading to an exhaust system.

The building, on Broadway ("The Great White Way") and 42nd Street will stand out for more than environmental reasons. As a part of the Times Square district the owners are required by the city to use flashy lights. Almost one-third of the energy usage, however, goes towards these commercial signs. To save energy, Fowle is considering the use of fiber optics, LED technology - the type of lighting in digital watches - or a new system called fusion lighting, which uses sulfur and microwaves to produce a high-intensity light.

When they are finished with the building in the summer of 1999, Fowle hopes to produce a book on the construction project. Maybe he should call it "Turning the Great White Way Green."

The architects discovered there were few, if any, commercial efforts to build a 'green' building of this scale.

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