Worldwide Lessons

What NYC can learn from five peer cities.

Frankfurt and other German cities are renowned for their commitment to quality construction and engineering. London is filled with historic and diverse buildings. Singapore is famous for its direct regulation of behavior. Sydney and the rest of Australia attempted to put a price on carbon. San Francisco is a legislative testing ground. What can we learn from these cities? Are there design, policy and construction techniques that make sense in the heat of Singapore or the cold of Frankfurt that can translate to New York’s climate?

New York City is the largest city in the world to mandate carbon reductions of 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. We evaluated energy codes and building industry practice in Frankfurt, London, San Francisco, Singapore, and Sydney to suggest ways to advance New York City’s efforts toward this and other sustainability goals. Key trends among the peer cities show that:

  1. Energy codes based solely on performance result in building stakeholders making decisions that lead to greater energy efficiency. Learn about code implementation and requirements with our interactive graphs below.
  2. Building labeling communicates operational energy consumption and involves the public in efficiency improvements.
  3. Joint classroom and on-the-job education for construction workers raises the overall quality of building construction.

Read Russell Unger's Op-ed in Crain's New York for more on Worldwide Lessons.
To see Atelier Ten's research behind Worldwide Lessons, download the technical report.

All cities studied here have set goals to reduce emissions, and some are outpacing New York City. Frankfurt and London have been tracking emissions for decades and were early adopters of carbon reduction goals, which is critical given the time required to see changes in citywide emissions. The United Kingdom signed on to the Kyoto protocol in 1990 and passed its Climate Change Act in 2008. Singapore instituted a government-led building-rating program in 2005 called Green Mark. San Francisco has been tracking its emissions in an inventory since 1990. Frankfurt implemented its building energy code in 1977 along with the rest of Germany, with a performance-based metric added to its code in 2002.

Insulation helps keep buildings warm in winter, so cities in cooler climates generally have more stringent insulation requirements. London and Frankfurt have the most stringent requirements, with San Francisco, New York City, and Sydney significantly less so. Compared to its peers, New York City’s insulation requirements are lower than one would expect based on the local climate.

Windows allow sunlight in and typically conduct about five times more heat than walls, which adds to both heating and cooling requirements. Not surprisingly, cities in warmer and sunnier climates generally impose stringent requirements on windows. To measure the heat gain from incoming sunlight, glazing is evaluated based on its solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). This number ranges from zero to one and indicates roughly the proportion of solar energy allowed to pass through the window. The graph above shows the proportion of radiation that is blocked by a code-compliant window compared to the annual sunlight exposure for each city. London lives up to its cloudy reputation, so its windows allow the most light and heat to enter. Singapore is also cloudy, but requires windows to block more sunlight than London. San Francisco and Sydney have the most stringent requirements, with Frankfurt, and London significantly lower in their required performance. New York falls in the middle.