Building a Hyper-Efficient NYC

Photos courtesy of A2M.

What do an embassy in the Congo and a school in Brussels have in common? Much more than you might think! Despite the vast differences in c­limate and function, they are both successful low-carbon buildings of the future that utilize passive strategies and off-the-shelf modeling tools. They are also both stylish and functional buildings that cost less to build than standard, relatively high-carbon buildings. Finally, they are both examples being taught in the Hyper-Efficient Buildings Workshop at the Center for Architecture, developed by AIA New York and Urban Green. The first two-day workshop in June sold out, but if you missed it, you have a few other chances: it will be repeated on August 29 and 30, on November 7 and 8, and if there’s enough demand, again in December.Photos courtesy of A2M.

The class was developed in response to New York’s Local Law 31, which requires new municipal projects to break the barrier on low-carbon buildings by using 50 percent less energy compared to either the energy code or existing buildings in the city’s portfolio. Such radical reductions will be necessary for New York City to achieve its goal of cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

These requirements are likely to present a significant challenge to New York’s architecture and engineering community, which has rarely had to meet such stringent standards—much less across a range of building types, like museums, garages and homeless shelters.

To help New York’s design community over the hump, AIANY and Urban Green imported the top experts from the city of Brussels—a world leader in hyper-efficient design that requires most new buildings to achieve extreme, near passive house levels of energy use. Even among Brussels’ community of experts, architecture firm A2M stands out for their range of successful designs; a fluent, practical design philosophy; and their interest in training others. Sebastian Moreno-Vacca and Julie Willem, Partners at A2M, along with their New York partner Julie Torres Moscovitz, lead much of the workshop.

The findings are now part of the Hyper-Efficient Buildings Workshop, which presents pragmatic approaches to passive house practices, strategies for designing in a hot climate, and methods for keeping costs down. The first day concludes with an interactive session where attendees create wall sections out of paper cutouts called Condetti; the finale on the second day is a hands-on modeling session applying thermal imaging tools.     

Not everything in the workshop is imported, since New York’s architects need help utilizing cutting edge European strategies in the context of real-world New York issues: interspersed throughout the program are local examples of hyper-efficient buildings and sessions led by New York-based experts. Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, Chief Architect at NYC’s Department of Design and Construction presents several DDC studies. Dan Nall, principal at Syska Hennesey and a pioneer in the New York sustainability movement, compliments the A2M presentations (which concentrate on the envelope) by covering the lighting, plug loads and cooling loads related to internal gains. And Maria Karpman, a technical expert who has been comparing various modeling tools for NYSERDA, delves into what the numbers churned out by models really mean. Full disclosure: I introduce the workshop by setting the context, but my introduction is mercifully brief.

Photo courtesy of AIA-NY.

About the authors

Laurie Kerr
Laurie Kerr, FAIA, LEED AP is the Director of Policy at Urban Green Council.