The green shoots of recovery

Financial Times
September 27, 2003

It is autumn in New York but the future looks green. At least itdoes if you’re peering up at the 27 storeys of the Solaire, a new building on the tip of Manhattan that has pioneered environmentally friendly technology in tall residential buildings.

When the terror attacks of September 11 tore its vicinity apart, prospects for the Solaire – which overlooks ground zero – were bleak. Many of the site’s workers assisted rescue work after the World Trade Center collapsed. New construction seemed unimaginable amid the wreckage and the project was postponed for 10 months.

But today its home, Battery Park City, is vibrant again. Cyclists and joggers crowd the river path and commuters from New Jersey disembark at a ferry landing at the foot of the Solaire.

In one of the most historic parts of New York, the Solaire enshrines the idea that green living and urban living are compatible – and that high-rise living may be embarking on a fresh course. Its arrival after the summer’s blackouts is particularly poignant.

“The typical building in this country could cut its energy use by at least 30 per cent through off-the-shelf energy technologies and practices,” says Christine Ervin, president of the US Green Building Council in Washington. “Every time we take a load off the system, we reduce risks for system-wide failures like (this summer’s) blackouts.”

The luxurious Solaire stands on the edge of Lower Manhattan, and has dazzling views of the Hudson River. Its 293 apartments are airy and bright with wood floors, granite kitchen counters and marble bathrooms. It has a rooftop garden, 24-hour concierge and a palatial gym, as is common in luxury buildings in the area.

What makes the Solaire extraordinary is that every aspect – from the technologies and materials used, to its careful construction – was carried out with sustainability in mind. It is the country’s first green residential high-rise building and claims impressive energy savings.

According to the developers, New Jersey-based Albanese Organisation, it uses 50 per cent less potable water than a comparable non-green building, 30 per cent less electricity (saving the equivalent of 70,000 gallons of petrol per year), and 65 per cent less electricity during summer peak times. Photo voltaic panels produce 5 per cent of the building’s electricity. And sustainability does not need to compromise comfort. The Solaire claims its air and water filters, and use of natural materials, are good for the health. Even asthmatic residents are said to benefit.

The Solaire is the first new residential construction in Lower Manhattan to be completed since September 11. It meets environmental standards suggested by the local authorities and has benefited from a tax credit for green buildings – the first of its kind in the country – brought in by by New York Governor George Pataki three years ago.

The building cost about $120m ( £72m) to build, a 17 per cent premium over a comparable non-green building say the developers. A studio apartment rents for $2,400 a month and a 3-bedroom for $6,000. But Solaire’s Julie Gelfand points out that the building is a prototype and that costs for similar buildings are expected to come down as materials and technologies become more standard. Moreover, tenants should find that their utilities bills are significantly lower, which should offset any rental premium in the long run.

Starting with the plumbing, the building has a water treatment facility in its basement that recycles water from toilets and washing machines (the largest sources of indoor residential water demand) back to toilets and the building’s cooling system. Rainwater is collected and recycled to irrigate its rooftop garden and can store up to 10,000 gallons for times of drought. The water system is estimated to use 9m gallons of water a year less than a similar, non-green building.

Lighting in common areas is controlled by motion sensors and all light bulbs in the building are energy-saving. Tenants can use timed thermostats to switch heating or air conditioning on or off, depending on when someone will be at home. “Low-flow” toilets are installed in every apartment, as well as front-load washing machines that use less then half the water consumed by top-loaders. All appliances are Energy Star – federally certified as saving energy.

Much within the Solaire is made from recycled materials or managed resources. Parquet floors are maple scrap. Cherry kitchen cabinets are made of wood from managed forests. Corridor carpets come from recycled material. At least 60 per cent of construction waste was collected and recycled, and most materials were sourced within 500 miles of the site.

Architects and environmentalists agree that there is plenty of substance – as well as style – at the Solaire.

“The Solaire building is ushering in a new building trend that promotes healthy and environmentally friendly living,” says Ervin. “The willingness of developers to embrace the green concept is gaining momentum. The real estate community is beginning to realise that green attributes may be very attractive to tenants and a way to differentiate their products in a difficult economic climate.”

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