How to waste energy, New York Style

Heatherwick building
© 515 West 18th Street/ Related Companies

New York City is such a paragon of green goodness; as I write this, the Mayor is preparing to sue big oil companies for their role in climate change. But nobody seems to be really serious about green building. The latest demonstration of how one can design to waste energy is Thomas Heatherwick's latest condo design that mucks up either side of the High Line in Chelsea. According to Dezeen,

Newly released renderings show windows made of glass panels that slant at the top, bottom and sides to create the curved shaped that appears to bulge between the masonry walls – resembling insect eyes.


The problem with those insect eyes is summed up in a tweet that I cannot improve on. I thought Herzog and De Meuron's tower at 56 Leonard, with all its jogs and floor to ceiling glass, was "almost an intellectual exercise in how much extra surface area can you design into a building." But this is worse, an exercise in figuring out how to do build a window that does everything possible to maximize heat loss and air leakage.

Every time you break a window up into smaller panes, there are spacer bars that separate the double glazing but that act as thermal bridges. The mullions are thermal bridges. Every pane is sealed with a gasket that is a possible source of leaking. Bulging it out on an angle complicates the joint and becomes a possible leak. It is just every single thing you shouldn't do in a window, in a design that is repeated endlessly. And wow, does it screw up the high line, a bunch of insect eyes staring at you as you walk.

Rendering 515 west© 515 West 18th Street/ Related Companies

Now it should be noted that Heatherwick is not an architect, so we should always spread the blame around; in this case, the architect of record, according to the permit application, is SLCE Architects, which "believes in providing sophisticated design which adheres to the client’s program, remains sensitive to the site’s context and ultimately results in a successful building with regard to functionality, time constraints and budget." They do not mention anything about sustainability or environment.

But if the Mayor was serious about climate change and sustainability, he might consider a few changes in the building regulations to prevent this kind of thing.

How to waste energy, New York Style
It is almost like an intellectual exercise in how to maximize surface area and air leakage

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