The Greenest Building In New York May Well Be A Public Toilet

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Frederick Law Olmstead designed New York's Riverside Park in 1875. The infamous Robert Moses ran a highway through it in 1935, but didn't kill it; "Today, the mature trees and sweeping lawns of the park tend to disguise the transport-oriented nature of the park’s construction." Occupying part of the park is the Riverside Tennis Club, which is in need of new washrooms to replace their current porta-potties. They hired Rick Cook of Cook + Fox to design them, and are building the bogs to the Living Building Challenge standard, perhaps the toughest green standard there is.

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The site has minimal electric power and no sewer. Building in cherished parks is also very sensitive and controversial, although this project is apparently displacing a surface parking lot.

The Living Building Challenge Standard is tough, but the hardest part of it is all about water, a big problem in a building that is mainly bathrooms. The standard is so tough that in most places it isn't even legal: most building codes demand connections to fresh water and sewer, where the LBC aims to be net zero water, capturing it from rain and discharging it on site "for management through acceptable natural time-scale surface flow, groundwater recharge, agricultural use or adjacent building needs."

The Living Building Challenge envisions a future whereby all buildings, infrastructure, and communities are configured based on the carrying capacity of the site: harvesting sufficient water to meet the needs of a given population while respecting the natural hydrology of the land, the water needs of the ecosystem it inhabits, and those of its neighbors. Indeed, water can be used and purified and then used again - and the
cycle repeats.

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Not an easy thing to do. Here the proposal is to construct a small building, mostly underground, with our favorite Clivus Multrum composting toilets and a small maintenance facility on top; to support it all, instead of the usual plugging into the usual power and pipes, it is connected to a system of natural management:

a wildflower meadow, incorporating a raingarden for storm water management, is scattered with tree-like structures supporting photovoltaic panels for on-site power generation. The meadow could be fertilized with use of compost from the composting toilet system designed as part of the new facilities, making use of this nutrient-rich resource, and minimizing the need for off-site waste disposal from the project.

I am relieved that they used the words "could be" instead of "would be" when they discuss the use of the compost from the toilets in the garden. I would have thought that a) the toilets would generate a whole lot more compost than that garden could possibly cope with, and b) the stuff should probably sit for a couple of months so that there is nothing biologically active in it.

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But it is a wonderful demonstration project in a highly visible location; truly, as they write, "This Green Outlook public facility will have a long-lasting impact on the future of green building in New York and across the country." More at The Green Outlook. Thanks, tipster Pat

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Tags: Composting Toilets | New York City | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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