The Solaire - New York City’s First LEED Certified Residential Tower

Douglas P. Casper

April 2008

The Solaire, because of what it the building represents and what it has achieved can be considered to be an “instant landmark.” The building is the first residential structure to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The Solaire also received the Top Ten Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE). To date, there are only nine building in New York City that are LEED Certified. There are 146 projects in NYC that have been registered with the United States Green Building Council. Certification, however, is a long and arduous process. The Solaire is the second NYC building to receive Gold status. The Solaire was developed by Russell C. Albanese, President, and Martin S. Dettling, Vice President of the Albanese Organization, Inc. – the Garden City, Long Island owner/developer who is committed to building Green buildings. Martin S. Dettling served as the project manager for the Solaire and serves as the chair of the NY Chapter of the USGBC. He has been active in promoting the benefits of a building such as the Solaire to groups of architects and engineers.

Albanese and their architect, Cesar Pelli, have subsequently designed two other apartment towers at Battery Park City: the Verdesian and Site 3. Albanese rents the units, rather then acting as the developer and loosing ownership rights. This way, they can control the future of the building and ensure that it is properly monitored and that the highest quality standards are maintained.

Albanese was chosen through a design competition offered by the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), an organization that developed guidelines that ensure that all construction built within the confines of its lower Manhattan domain are of the highest quality from both an aesthetic as well as environmental and sustainable standpoint. Timothy S. Carey, the BPCA’s Chairman at the time the guidelines were developed, went on the become President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Power Authority and presided over a renovation of their 17-story administrative office building, located in White Plains, NY. This facility draws the distinction of being the first LEED Gold-EB building, a new category initially offered by the USGBC in 2004 for achieving certification for renovation projects.

There are currently nine building at Battery Park City which are considered to be Green, including Site 3 and Parcel 19B, a maintenance facility which has joined the lofty ranks of the LEED Certified buildings in New York City. Incidentally, of the nine LEED Certified buildings in NYC: two are Platinum (the highest ranking), six are Gold, and one is Silver. This represents higher ranking levels than are achieved throughout the country, possibly due to the high profile of the NYC projects and their enlightened designers and developers.

Cesar Pelli, Principle, Cesar Pelli & Associates and David W. Hess, RA Senior Associate, Cesar Pelli & Associates Architects spearheaded the architectural design team that brought together all of the elements needed for as successful Green building projects and led a talented project team that included some of the top experts in the field of sustainable design. Their success is demonstrated not only by the awards received, but by the high level of interest on the part of the design community, as well as the general public.

The building was an outgrowth of Battery Park City’s rigorous design guidelines which, for example, require a two story stone base (in this case slate from Virginia) and a special treatment of the top two stories of the building, as well. The exterior skin of the building itself was the subject of extensive study. Energy modeling was performed to help arrive at the best design for the exterior wall. In addition, photovoltaic panels were incorporated into the façade. One feature of the exterior wall is that all points where air could penetrate into the building were sealed. Unitized exterior wall construction, a process that involves factory fabricating large precast concrete panels, with brick veneer was considered, but determined to be infeasible, due to site constraints and, thus, rejected.

The building is a LEED™ Gold Certified building, achieving 41 Credits under LEED-NC, Version 2.0. It is a 357,000 square foot multi-unit residential building, 27 stories tall, with 293 units. It is located on the east bank of the Hudson River, street address; 20 River Terrace. The building design rated $540,000.00 in NYSERDA tax credits for using energy efficient equipment. It gained three LEED points for reducing energy use by 30% and actually, was able to reduce energy use by 35%.

One of the LEED™ credits that are available is an Indoor Environmental Quality credit given for using carbon dioxide monitoring equipment. This CO2 monitoring is difficult to implement in an apartment building because it needs a separate monitor in each unit. The architect was able to obtain a Credit Interpretation ruling from the Green Building Council which allowed them to waive the need for having monitors in each room but, instead, only having them in central air system, which is actually sent to the individual units, anyway.

Another LEED™ point was gained for using gas absorption chillers – which are much more energy efficient than electric chillers. The Credit awarded was EA (Energy & Atmosphere) Credit 4 – Ozone Protection. The LEED Reference Guide explains that the purpose of the credit is to reduce the use of HCFCs and Halon in buildings H.V.A.C and refrigeration systems, thus helping to preserve the Ozone Layer of the upper atmosphere. The building’s overall H.V.A.C. system is 35% more efficient than standard H.V.A.C. systems in use, today. This tremendous reduction earned five LEED™ points for EA Credit 1 – Optimize Energy Performance.

The solar array employed on this project is extensive and provides 33 KW of power. This array consisted of the south and west elevations of the upper roof penthouse structure, which is about 30 feet high and is all photovoltaic panels. The balances of the photovoltaic panels are on the west elevation of the glass façade. Sophisticated computerized monitoring systems are utilized in the mechanical equipment room to monitor actual electrical production, on a “real-time” basis. The photovoltaic monitoring equipment is available for viewing in the HVAC control room for groups touring the building.

Green roofs are commonly described as either low-profile (“Extensive”) or high-profile (“Intensive”). Extensive green roofs include only 2”-6” of planting media and support short ground cover vegetation, such as Sedums and require minimal maintenance. Intensive green roofs have more soil media, 6” – 36” depth, support a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees and require irrigation and maintenance.

The added weight to the roof (for an “Extensive” application) is minimal (15-20 lbs./square foot). Rough cost should be $15.00-20.00/square foot (plantings and soil material only). The advantages of a green roof, from an environmental standpoint, are: 1) that the roof ‘s rain water can be stored and utilized by the plants, while excess runoff can be collected in cisterns and used for irrigation and other similar uses, 2) the roof reduces the “Heat-Island Effect” of buildings contributing heat, and 3) plants will remove pollutants.

In the case of this facility, both the upper roof and lower roofs are green. The upper roof is not open to tenants and is an extensive solution with Sedums, walkway pavers and photovoltaic lights placed directly on the roof for nighttime pathway lighting.

The lower roof is a large area, approximately 60 feet X 80 feet, and is an intensive solution. The soil depth ranges from 6” to 18” and there are planted areas with flowers, shrubs and even bamboo plants. (Bamboo is considered to be a rapidly renewable resource because it can be harvested in 10-12 years time.) The roof system itself is a hot rubber fluid-applied roof. The roof drains have special covers on them to protect them from soil getting in and they are connected to a storm water retention system which reuses the water for landscape irrigation.

The wastewater treatment system for the Solaire is impressive. It is a Syncro Flo system that processes 250,000 gallons of wastewater per day. It is located in an approximately 30’ X 50’ room and costs about $1,000,000. On-site wastewater treatment is typically done for building complexes but, rarely, for a single building. The system earns LEED Credit 2.2 for Water Efficiency. The sludge is filtered off and piped to a New York City wastewater treatment plant.

The individual units incorporate a number of “Green” features. All appliances are Energy Star rated, including the Bosch Axis washers and driers. The environmental comfort level of the apartments is impressive. Because the exterior skin is so well sealed to reduce air infiltration- the units are very quiet; very little “street-noise” makes its way up to the individual apartments. The casement windows are very well sealed to enhance this effect.

Other features include: Seven day programmable thermostats, recycled content medium density fiberboard (MDF) used in the kitchen cabinets, formaldehyde-free wood (used throughout the project), and cherry wood veneer cabinets.

The building has a program for recycling refuse (however, it only has one refuse chute per floor). There are two bike storage spaces provided in basement racks for each apartment.

The Solaire is impressive as the first LEED™ certified high-rise apartment building in the U.S. It was the first apartment building to incorporate a number of green features. It should be viewed as a learning exercise for future green apartment buildings.