The Grand Old Building

It has been pointed out to me that while I am passionate about many things there seems to be a negative, critical nature to many of my enthusiasms. So, with this post, I am starting a new category, “The Art of the Possible”.

Why “The Art…”? I have found over all of these years, that much can be accomplished when you apply both the science of a matter and its art. In my early days as a computer programmer, I felt that programming, while an exact science in its structure, required an artful or creative approach in its application to achieve the best outcomes.

The Empire State Building at 350 Fifth Avenue (corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street) in New York City sits on land that was at one time the John Thompson Farm. In the late 19th century the Waldorf Astoria occupied the site with the amazing building that you see on the right.

While tearing down this magnificent building seems a shameful thing to do, the preservationist movement had not gotten into gear in the 1920’s when the Empire State Building was being planned and the vote was for progress, blah, blah. (Whoops, I am supposed to be positive here!)

In 1930, construction was started on what would become “one of the seven wonders of the modern world” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The 102 story building was completed in 410 days. Check that out Bloomberg. You are at nine years and counting in your attempts to rebuild the World Trade Center. (There I go again…)

Now that the preservation movement is, thankfully, in full bloom, this wonderful, tall building is protected by its National Historic Landmark status.

These old buildings do need to be kept up. Management of the building began a refurbishment project in mid decade 2000 – 2010.

The “Art of the Possible” is demonstrated by their decision to take the building green. This was not a case of just saying the words. They walked the walk, investing over $120 million in the effort.

6,514 windows were refurbished. Refurbished, not replaced. Over ninety-six percent of the original glass and frames were retained. This single component of the project will save over $400,000 per year in energy costs.

By pursuing The Art of the Possible, a process was developed that created super insulating glass units from existing materials. The cost per window was $700 vs. $2,500 for replacement. Following historical tradition, the job was completely done in seven months without disturbing existing tenants. As to impact, sixty percent of NYC’s waste stream comes from construction related debris. In this case, 100% waste was possible; 4% was achieved.

Other components of the project were:

  1. Radiator insulation retrofit
  2. Highly flexible lighting controls for individual tenants
  3. Replace air handlers
  4. Retrofit the chiller plant
  5. A complete upgrade of the building’s control system
  6. Upgrade the ventilation controls
  7. Tenant energy management systems that enabled individual tenants to lower their operating costs

Along with the building management, participants in this grand project included: Johnson Controls, Serious Materials (the windows), the Clinton Climate Initiative, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Jones Lang LaSalle.

The Clinton Climate Initiative? Elsewhere I have stated that Global Warming is a Red Herring and I still believe it is. This project was modeled on saving CO2 emissions. I believe that a focus on doing the “right thing” by preserving limited resources (an 80% reduction in electricity use and 24 million gallons of water saved) combined with the pursuit of sustainable operations (4% vs. 100% waste) would have yielded economic feasibility without the need to focus on carbon footprints and saving New York City from the rising water. For me, smart people not scare mongering will get the job done. The Clinton Climate Initiative brought some really smart and creative folks to this project.

But isn’t it better to build new to get the most green buildings?

The design of buildings built in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century was not influenced by cheap oil and fancy HVAC systems. They were designed to work in a more synchronous way with the natural environment. Preservation is green.

A wonderful additional benefit of this project was the restoration of the Celestial Mural on the ceiling of the lobby. Over forty years ago it was covered up by a dropped ceiling. Now anyone in the lobby can absorb a connection to all of the souls who have passed through that lobby for close to 100 years by just looking up.

Costs down, revenue up; nice. Payback in just a few years; nice.

Want more details? Check THIS out.

How about a video from the guy who manages the building?



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