The Bank of America tower boasts all sorts of green details: an automated system to dim lights in daylight. A grey water collection system. A foundation partially made from waste materials. Must be a pretty energy-efficient building, eh? Nope!
In a fascinating look at the pitfalls of green certification systems, The New Republic's Sam Roudman reports that the three-year-old BoA tower, which Al Gore once endorsed as a triumph of environmental architecture, actually uses more energy than the 80-year-old Empire State Building:
According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York -- and one with a lower LEED rating. It's not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change.
Roudman's gripes focus around LEED, the prevalent rating system for gauging environmental performance in American buildings. The LEED system assigns "points" for designing in details like showers for employees who bike to work and materials with low carbon footprints, then bases their LEED status on the checklist. The problem is that all this happens before the building is occupied -- so it's based on design elements, rather than actual usage. And as Roudman points out, every tenant will use electricity in a different way -- so it's impossible to say whether a building is truly energy efficient before it's occupied. The problem isn't that BoA's tower is wasteful -- it's that the activities inside consume huge amounts of electricity.
That's why many architects and environmental advocates are arguing that America should adopt a different standard, like the performance-based Living Building Challenge. In the meantime, let's enjoy the irony of all the green hoopla made over a building that's a bigger energy glutton than a skyscraper built decades before the concept of green architecture even existed. [The New Republic]
Picture: Eric Kilby