When you think of sustainable buildings, maybe you think of brand new developments, with the latest green technologies embedded in the concept and design. That was my unreflective notion, anyway. To me, model sustainable buildings are almost synonymous with architectural innovation. I think of modern visions like the Bahrain World Trade Center
, or Siemens' Crystal Building
But when I went out to photograph sustainable buildings in New York, I had to completely rethink my ideas.
One looks for a number of things when assessing the degree to which a building is environmentally friendly or sustainable -- and it is indeed a matter of degree. Two important factors go together: the efficient use of energy and other resources (like water) and the reduction of pollution and waste. Energy use can be "greened" by turning to natural sources like solar, wind, and hydro power. But efficiency can also be achieved by design elements that reduce the use of energy, whatever the source.
Green construction should also be a positive for residents or users, providing a safe, healthy environment for working or living; and it should minimally impact the ecosystem around it.
But one simple way to grade a building on its sustainability is to check for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This certification, I discovered, is not a binary matter. It's not simply a matter of having or not having a LEED certificate. Building projects accumulate points to achieve basic certification or enhanced certification at the silver, gold, or platinum level.
Certainly, critics have suggested that -- in the US, at least -- certification is all too easy to achieve, opening the way to tax breaks and other incentives. But LEED still seems a good place to begin an inquiry. And when I looked for LEED certificates in New York's buildings, I was surprised at what I found.
Maybe we'll look at the outer boroughs for a followup, but in the meantime, please let us know if you have any favorite green buildings -- in New York or elsewhere.
Click the image below to start the slideshow.
Cooper Union New Academic Building
This is what I'd expected -- a dramatic, modernist intervention on the old Bowery, just across the street from the original Cooper Union, which opened in 1858 and is still in use. Platinum certified.
— Kim Davis , Editor-in-Chief, UBM Future Cities