Cooper Union Achieves LEED Platinum

Via Crain’s New York: Cooper Union so green it’s platinum <br/>
Newest building at the school that helped give Thomas Edison his engineering chops is a winner in cutting energy use; conservation on a tight budget.

In an ironic twist of fate, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the school that helped teach Thomas Edison the skills he used to harness and transmit vast amounts of energy more than a century ago, is now officially among the leaders in reducing its use.

The East Village-based school’s new building at 41 Cooper Square has become the city’s first academic structure to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest honor: LEED Platinum certification.

The nine-story, 175,000-square-foot, full-block facility was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architecture and the firm of Gruzen Samton. It is one of three academic buildings in the state to receive platinum status, and one of only 38 LEED Platinum higher education and campus projects worldwide, according to U.S. Green Building Council data.

As part of PlaNYC 2030, announced in 2006, Cooper Union became one of a handful of academic institutions to promise Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reduce its carbon footprint. Cooper Union pledged a 30% decrease by 2017. With seven years to go to that date, Cooper Union President George Campbell said his school currently exceeds that goal by 10%.

“We felt that it was our responsibility to make a building that was friendly to the environment,” said Mr. Campbell, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. “It reflected our value system.”

In addition to being good for the environment, the new building also will be good for Cooper Union’s bottom line, Mr. Campbell said. For openers, he said that the school had been determined to avoid any “outrageous” costs that might be associated with producing a greener building. In the end, he said, only about $1.5 million of the $150 million total development cost of the building went toward extra green features. Those lower costs will mean shorter pay-back periods.

A comprehensive analysis of the Cooper Union’s co-generation plant, for instance, showed it would pay for itself in five to seven years by yielding major reductions in energy use.

“When you become 40% more efficient, you reduce energy costs by 40%,” Mr. Campbell said.

The LEED ranking is based off of five measures: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Each structure earns points based on its performance in each of these categories, with platinum-level sites “going above and beyond,” said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Cooper Union Building excelled in water quality, earning five out of five points, Ms. Katz said. It also netted 39 out of a possible 46 points in the sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, and indoor environmental quality categories. The main weakness came in materials and resources—the Cooper Union Building got just six of 13 points.

“The rating system is designed to be holistic; it’s not based on one category,” Ms. Katz said. “It’s looking at the building in a variety of different ways. Some places are going to strategize based on their strengths.”

Among other green features, the building reuses water from its green roof to help fuel its low-flow plumbing devices for a total savings of more than 600,000 gallons of water per year. The deck surface of the roof has a layer of low-maintenance plantings, which acts to help in “rainwater harvesting.”

The building’s most visible green feature is its semi-transparent mesh screen that coats its windows, helping to regulate temperatures during the summer and winter and minimize use of air conditioning and heating.

“We’ve shown that it can be done with effective design and effective use of materials,” Mr. Campbell said. “We hope that others will take heed of this and build their future buildings accordingly.”

Brian Chappatta