The Solaire

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New York, New York architectural firm designer year

Cesar Pelli & Associates Architects Rafael Pelli 2002

While the Manhattan skyline is full of instantly recognizable icons, the days when the Big Apple stood at the forward edge of architecture are largely in the past. The tallest skyscrapers are now rising in Asia, and the latest technical engineering innovations are more likely to be realized in Europe. Until the redevelopment at Ground Zero prompted a recent surge of public interest in architecture and urban design, bottomline pressures and preservation struggles tended to dominate discussions about architecture in New York City.

^ Facing west across the Hudson River at the southern tip of Manhattan, the Solaire has embedded photovoltaic panels that capture sunlight throughout the day and even at dusk, above, as it bounces off the water.

An exception to that rule is Battery Park City, one ofNew York's most progressive urban planning ventures in the past three decades. Built ong2 acres of landfill created by excavating the World Trade Center sitein the 1960s, the mixed-use development hugging the southwestern edge of Manhattan has functioned as a laboratory for a new approach to urban living, one that combines proximity to culture and commerce with amenities available to few New Yorkers—harbor views, a marina, and finely landscaped parks embellished with public art. One of its boldest experiments was establishing, in 2000, a set of environmental guidelines requiring all new housing tobe "appreciably ahead of current standards and practices for development." The Solaire, a 27-story apartment building at the southern tip of the development, is the first residential tower in New York to systematically embrace sustainable design and the first to comprehensively satisfy Battery Park City's green guidelines.

"I think of the Solaire as a great big guinea pig," enthuses project architect Rafael Pelli, a principal at Cesar Pelli & Associates. "It will educate an industry across abig sector, and education is a huge part of bringing sustainable building practices into the mainstream."

Pelli, who grew up watching his father, architect Cesar Pelli, design the master plan and several buildings for Battery Park City, and his mother, landscape architect Diana Balmori, create parks and urban gardens, developed an early interest in sustainable design. After joining his father's New Haven, Connecticut-based practice in 1989, he opened the firm's New York City office in 2000. The Solaire commission also came in 2000, following the announcement of the new guidelines.

From the start, one of the biggest challenges for Pelli and his team was translating what they knew as general principles of sustainable building methods into specific design decisions. "There is a huge gap between the technology that exists and what is actually available from manufacturers," says Pelli. For example, the photovoltaic cells that fit the budget came only in blue, not the originally specified charcoal color. Ultimately, Pelli embraced the blue tiles; their lively, light-reflecting surfaces create a stippled quality that works well with the building's taut-skin facade. Other decisions were dictated by the team's self-imposed commitment to working with local manufacturers—half of all materials used in the construction were procured locally and another fifth had tobe manufactured within 500 miles.

Pelli's team went to great lengths to make the right environmental choices at every stage. Materials and systems were tested and designs revised accordingly. A plan for bamboo flooring was scrapped when the adhesive backing was determined to be toxic. New insulation was added after an elaborate wall model—built full-scale and testedina wind tunnel at the developer's expense—indicated that one extra layer of sealant couldmake ahuge difference interms of limiting air infiltration. "It turned out tobea simple solution—one guy with a goop gun goes in and the whole thing is taken care of," Pelli says. "But without those studies we would never have known it was necessary."

Incorporating a long list of sustainable technologies, the Solaire surpasses all current environmental guidelines in effect in New York. It is 35 percent more efficient than the State Energy Code requires. The tower generates 5 percent of its energy with the help of 3,400 square feet of

Two pesticide-free terrace gardens planted with native grasses provide a private retreat for the residents and a means of natural insulation for the building.

^ With 3,400 square feet of photovoltaic panels, among other energy conserving elements, the Solaire uses 67 percent less electricity during peak hours than comparable buildings.

^ All the interior surface materials and paints—in both the public spaces and the individual apartments—contain no off-gassing chemicals.

^ With 3,400 square feet of photovoltaic panels, among other energy conserving elements, the Solaire uses 67 percent less electricity during peak hours than comparable buildings.

^ All the interior surface materials and paints—in both the public spaces and the individual apartments—contain no off-gassing chemicals.

photovoltaics integrated into its western facade. Most of the electricity is harvested in the summer months, when power plants struggle to keep up with the city's air-conditioning demands. Natural gas absorption chillers, high-efficiency lights and appliances, acoustic and ceramic tiles, window treatments, and interior surfaces were all selected for their energy efficiency, low toxicity, or high percentage of recycled content.

In the lobby, daylight sensors regulate artificial light levels in response to changes in natural light levels. In public stairwells and corridors, lamps are triggered by motion sensors. And inside the apartments, master switches encourage tenants to turn off all lights before walking out the door.

All of the apartments, which average 1,000 square feet, are outfitted with low-emission glass that allows sunlight to pass through while preventing heat loss as well as low-VOC paint, recyded-content carpeting, and water-sparing plumbing fixtures and toilets. A blackwater plant in the basement purifies and recycles wastewater to flush toilets, circulate in the evaporative cooling tower, and irrigate the landscaping. Rooftop plantings provide protective shade in the summer and insulation in the winter. A storm water retention tank connected to the "green roof" collects the water for later use.

The cooling, heating, and ventilation systems were designed to benefit both the environment and the tower's occupants. In fact, the building's indoor air quality is superior to the outside air. Windows open to allow in the harbor breeze while a centralized air system filters, humidifies, or dehumidifies depending on the season. Air conditioning runs on natural gas rather than electricity and uses water instead of ozone-depleting coolants. Efficiency-enhancing features include an exchanger that recovers heat from the air and uses it to create hot water.

High-tech sustainable solutions do come at a cost, especially when there are new regulations and no precedents to follow. The Solaire's construction ran about 8 percent above the costs of neighboring Battery Park buildings, which are already on the high end for New York. But for the developer, the up-front investment in efficiency pays off in tax credits and lower operating costs in the long run. The benefits to the residents' quality of life are harder to quantify, though no less significant. For the city, the Solaire's success has generated a new awareness ofhow sustainability can be effectively incorporated into the urban fabric—avalue that speaks for itself.

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