Saturday, March 24, 2007

How Green Is Demolition?

Forest City Ratner put out a press release last week announcing the pending demolition of the Ward Bakery, as if this would somehow be good for the environment. This historic building is one of the most significant architectural buildings on the site, and should be recycled and reused as a component in the overall development. But instead, it is being demolished to make an enormous at-grade parking lot that will be in place for decades, according to the designers.

So how is the demolition of this important building good for the environment? Turns out that since “at least 75% of the demolition debris is expected to be recycled”, the demolition is good news, helping the overall project qualify for LEED certification. LEED certification is one measure of sustainable and environmentally sensitive design. According to Mr. Ratner, the developers are “seeking out every possible way to make Atlantic Yards as eco-friendly and environmentally responsible as possible”.

Oh c’mon. Demolishing this building to make a giant parking lot is as “eco-friendly” as driving a Hummer to the supermarket to buy air-freighted “organic” food. Besides running counter to well-known concepts of embedded energy, as explained in Norman Oder’s
blog recently, confusing demolition with a sustainable strategy is very clearly counter to the intent of the LEED guidelines.

LEED assigns points for various green initiatives in a project, and awards levels of certification according to how many points a project obtains. The Atlantic Yards project, according to the press release, is apparently trying for a “Certified” level, which is obtained by achieving 26 to 32 LEED points. The next level, Silver, had been mentioned
earlier, but requires projects to achieve 33 to 38 points. Gold is awarded for 39 to 51 points, and Platinum for 52 to 69 points. Not surprisingly, a “Certified” level is very easily obtained by most projects. The City’s Local Law 86, signed by Mayor Bloomberg on October 3rd, 2005, requires all projects with any City funding with an estimated construction cost of over $2 million to design for a Silver level, as a minimum.

One way to increase the number of LEED points available to the project would be by maintaining existing buildings in place. The LEED rating system is far from perfect, but it is very explicit in encouraging the reuse of buildings in place, rather than expending energy to take them apart. According to the
LEED guidelines for Credits MR 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, the intent of these credits is to “Extend the life cycle of existing building stock, conserve resources, retain cultural resources, reduce waste and reduce environmental impacts of new buildings as they relate to materials manufacturing and transport.” If the project was really as “eco-friendly and environmentally responsible as possible”, it would reuse the significant existing buildings.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Useless Space