Back to the Future: Greening Historic Buildings – April 21, 2004

April 21, 2004

John Krieble and Laurie Kerr, of the Office of Sustainable Design (OSD) at NYC’s Department of Design and Construction, discussed the close relationship between sustainability and preservation. The speakers focused on two historic buildings that are also OSD pilot green renovation projects. One, the ACS Bellevue by McKim, Meade, and White, is on the National Historic Register. The other, the old Lion House at the Bronx Zoo, is a New York City Landmark, which will achieve at least LEED Silver and perhaps Gold.

The New York City Department of Design and Construction is “bringing together the two most powerful movements in architecture of the past generation: preservation and sustainability,” according to John Krieble and Laurie Kerr at DDC. DDC is a city’s mayoral agency in charge of much of the city’s architecture including all building types that the city owns, excluding schools, hospitals, and water treatment plants. The agency has a $1 billion capital construction budget, one-third of the city’s structure budget.

In 1997, DDC added the Office of Sustainable Design, a consortium of professionals, and created the High Performance Building Guidelines. DDC has used the guidelines for 21 pilot projects at this point, worth $800 million of construction. DDC then further studies the lessons learned from these pilot projects are used to implement agency wide practices that improve the environmental sensitivity of buildings at no extra cost. (More information on the guidelines can be found at DDC’s home page.)

John Krieble and Laurie Kerr highlighted four reasons the City should green historic buildings.

  • 1. Most buildings in NYC are old and therefore to have an impact on the built environment, older buildings must be included. New building comprise only one to two percent of the building stock. Most of DDC’s work is renovation. The shells of buildings can lost longer than 300 years, while other building materials will change over time.
  • 2. Using older and historic buildings, as opposed to construction new buildings, reduces environmental impacts. Over 60 percent of NY’s solid waste is from construction and demolition (C&D) waste, which is greater than in most places due to the old building stock. The City now ships its waste to Pennsylvania and Virginia. The fewer the buildings that are torn down, the less C&D waste is routed to landfills.
  • 3. Older buildings tend to be higher quality buildings, due to aesthetics and intelligence of design. The detailing that adorns these buildings is too expensive to do today. The high value of construction is hard to repeat, as well. They were built by Old World, skilled craftsman from Europe.
  • 4. Historic buildings have embodied knowledge. These buildings preceded the era of artificial light and mechanical cooling. We can learn from these buildings how to keep buildings cool and use the sun for lighting. The shape of the buildings, U, T, and L-shaped buildings, enables natural light to penetrate the narrow floors. Artificial lighting consumes between 30-50 percent of a building’s energy. Improving natural light penetration could significantly reduce this consumption.

The presenters went into great detail about two of their green historic building projects with the audience: ACS Bellevue in Manhattan and the Lions House in the Bronx.

The ACS Bellevue, located at 29th and 1st Avenue, was once a morgue. It was built with narrow floor plans for extensive daylighting deep into the floors. In addition to daylighting, the renovation to adaptively reuse the building as a new children’s center had many sustainable features. By using an existing building, the development is not consuming the embodied energy from new resources. It preserves the aesthetics and historic value of the building while avoiding demolition debris and impacts related to construction. The renovation included the use of low VOC paints to avoid negatively impacting indoor air quality and hard floors to reduce the accumulation of dust, mold, and the toxic off-gassing of carpets. Other measures include open offices at perimeter for daylight penetration, modular electric chillers, carbon dioxide sensors, and a closed loop recovery system heated by steam.

The Lions House at the Bronx Zoo was built in 1903. This heavily ornamented building was part of a group of buildings at Astor Court, built between 1899 and 1920 that epitomized the Daniel Burnhham’s City Beautiful Movement. The present renovation will allow the building to be used for a Madagascar exhibit. The renovated Lion’s Den is expected to result in a 54 percent energy savings and attain a silver or gold LEED rating.

Speaker Bios:

John Krieble is a NYS registered architect. He has been practicing in New York City for twenty-five years as an Associate at Ehrenkrantz/Eckstut, Architects and Planners and on the staff of several other NYC firms including Robert Stern, Architects, and Croxton Collaborative, Architects. As Director of the Office of Sustainable Design and Construction at the NYC Department of Design and Construction, he is currently responsible for the ongoing development and implementation of the agency’s high performance building program. His unit is involved in advancing DDC sustainable design initiatives through involvement in over 20 pilot projects and development of a number of research initiatives.

John has a B.A. from Princeton University in and a Masters degree from Columbia University, both in Architecture and Urban Planning.

Laurie Kerr is a NYS registered architect who works for the Office of Sustainable Design in New York City’s Department of Design and Construction. Her responsibilities include implementing environmental strategies on half a dozen sustainable projects and coordinating research projects aimed at defining sustainable practices that will be cost effective for the city.

Laurie also writes on architectural topics for various publications, most recently for The Wall Street Journal and Slate. Prior to taking her position with the City of New York, Laurie worked for almost twenty years in private practice, first as an Associate at the firm of Robert AM Stern Architects, and later as a principal of her own practice, which focused primarily on residential architecture.

Laurie has an undergraduate degree in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale College, a Master’s of Science in Applied Physics from Cornell University, and a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University.

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