Study: Scrap Middle-Age Building Stock

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013

Cue the wrecking ball: Mid-century modern buildings can’t be retrofitted to be as energy efficient as we want or need them to be, a new study concludes.

So, rather than retrofit or even maintain the tens of millions of square feet of commercial office space built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, tear it down and replace it with energy-efficient new construction, advises "Midcentury (Un)Modern: An Environmental Analysis of the 1953-1978 Manhattan Office Building," by the consulting firm Terrapin Bright Green LLC.

The report was sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the architecture firm CookFox, and the Real Estate Board of New York.

Old Façade Technology

The report specifically focused on the subset of Manhattan office buildings constructed with the first generation of glass curtain walls.

Considered innovative at the time, the single-glazed glass curtain walls used on these buildings no longer pass muster, the report noted.

Lever House curtain wall
Seth Tisue / Wikimedia Commons

Buildings featuring the first generation of glass curtain walls were a target of the report.

Most of the buildings make “poor candidates” for façade retrofits, as their structures cannot bear the weight of a modern, double-glazed curtain wall, much less a triple-glazed or double-wall system, according to Terrapin Bright Green.

Accommodating Modern Tenants

Another drawback: This generation of buildings are generally incapable of accommodating “Class A”-type tenants’ space planning, the report said. Columns are spaced tightly, ceilings tend to be low, and handicap accessibility is inadequate by current standards.

Moreover, the buildings feature inefficient HVAC systems, “analogous to driving a car with the accelerator pushed to the floor and controlling one’s speed with the brakes,” the report said.

Some of the office buildings from this era should be preserved “purely for their architectural merit,” the report said, but most have been rendered “obsolete” by changes in the marketplace.

Based in New York, Terrapin is a consulting and strategic planning group that focuses on environmental strategy, policy, and related opportunities, according to its website.

New York City is the first major U.S. jurisdiction that has disclosed private-sector building energy data from a mandatory benchmarking policy.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Cladding; Curtain wall extrusions and cladding; Energy efficiency; Glass; Glass coatings; Green building; Green design

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