JPMorgan Chase says it cares about sustainability, and is demolishing what is essentially a six year old skyscraper

Union Carbide Building
© Union Carbide Building/ ESTO

270 Park Avenue was totally gutted and renovated to LEED Platinum in 2011. The paint is barely dry.

We recently covered the impending demolition of 270 Park Avenue in New York, formerly known as the Union Carbide Building. It is an important building architecturally, but also historically as what is perhaps the biggest building ever designed by a woman architect, Natalie de Blois of Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

It also is the tallest building ever proposed for demolition. In the earlier post, I quoted Alexandra Lange of Curbed, who wrote that "renovation is always a better use of resources than demolition and replacement." Architect and writer Lance Hosey took issue with that point, noting that studies have shown that "the mid-century modern glass tower, a staple of American urban environments, often cannot be adapted to out-perform a new, more efficient building." This is unfortunately often true. These buildings are very expensive to upgrade and to make efficient, and it can cost more to do so than to demolish and replace.

But at 270 Park Avenue, this has already been done. The building was totally renovated in 2011 to very high standards; According to the press release proudly posted by JPMorgan Chase at the time:

JPMorgan Chase announced today that it has achieved the highest possible rating, LEED® Platinum, from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for the renovation of its global headquarters at 270 Park Avenue in Manhattan, making it the world’s largest renovation project to achieve Platinum status.

The renovation will allow the 50-story building to cut its electricity consumption in half compared to pre-renovation levels. In addition, the building will save more than 1 million gallons of water a year by installing new, highly efficient systems and an innovative draining and filtering system.

“This was the largest ‘green’ renovation of a headquarters building in the world, and we completed it while operating in the building,” said Frank Bisignano, JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Administrative Officer and CEO of Mortgage Banking. “We are extremely proud of the improvements made at 270 Park, which will substantially cut consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving LEED Platinum status is not just a source of pride, it is very sound business.”

So let's talk sound business practice here. This building was gutted down to the structure in the renovation, doing ten floors at a time. That kind of work in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, probably more so than it probably cost to build it in the first place. Really, when it comes to the expensive stuff that wears out, like mechanicals and electricals and finishes, this building isn't 57 years old; it's six years old. It is barely out of warranty, let alone fully depreciated. It is not sound business to leave all that depreciation allowance on the table. It is not sound business to demolish a six year old building.

JPMorgan Chase has a big sustainability strategy promising transparency and operational sustainability. CEO Jamie Dimon promises:

Business must play a leadership role in creating solutions that protect the environment and grow the economy. This global investment leverages the firm’s resources and our people’s expertise to make our operations more energy efficient and provide clients with the resources they need to develop more sustainable products and services.

sustainablilty© JP Morgan Chase

They make a big splash about going 100 percent renewable, facilitating clean financing, and "JPMorgan Chase’s leadership and history of advancing sustainability in our business and operations." But if Mr. Dimon's people did the math on sustainability and calculated the embodied energy and carbon in the six-year-old building they are throwing away, and the same for the square footage that they are rebuilding, it would probably add up to more than every other step they are taking in their 75 million square feet of property. If they really were transparent, it would expose their entire sustainability exercise as hypocrisy.

When it comes down to it, 270 Park Avenue is an important building architecturally. It is important to the history of women in architecture. It is essentially 6 years old.

Anyone who cares about sustainability, which JPMorgan Chase apparently says it does, should be appalled.

JPMorgan Chase says it cares about sustainability, and is demolishing what is essentially a six year old skyscraper
270 Park Avenue was totally gutted and renovated to LEED Platinum in 2011. The paint is barely dry.

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