New York's Got A Glass Stampede, But Is It Green?

110 3rd avenue photo

New York isn't Shanghai, but it also is changing at a phenomenal rate. New York Magazine notes that "In the past fifteen fat years, more than 76,000 new buildings have gone up, more than 44,000 were razed, another 83,000 were radically renovated—a rate of change that evokes those time-lapse nature films in which flowers spring up and wither in a matter of seconds."

Justin Davidson, in The Glass Stampede, gives us an extraordinary series of before-and-after images (check them out after the jump) of all the new, mostly floor-to-ceiling glass buildings, evaluating what was lost and what replaced them. He asks " Does the new see-through city look better or worse than the one it replaced?" and in the case of the one shown above, the answer is no.


T'was ever thus; Davidson quotes poet James Merrill from 1962:

As usual in New York, everything is torn down
Before you have had time to care for it.
Head bowed, at the shrine of noise,
let me try to recall
What building stood here.
Was there a building at all?

1600 broadway photo

The author writes that "Most architecture in any age is crap, and today's crap isn't as bad as yesterday's." In most cases shown, this is true; many of the projects replace empty lots and two story buildings, getting higher and better use out of the lands. In other cases like 1600 Broadway shown above, the loss is tragic and the replacement excreble. (See them all at New York Magazine)

glass facades image

Then there is the question of how these buildings compare and survive when we run out of oil. There certainly is the issue of the amount of glass and the lack of insulation on these new towers. How many of them are getting high-tech insulating glass? How many are going to have to be reclad? See Stop With the Glass Façades Already

ban demolition image

And the issue of the embodied energy of the buildings being removed: "Every brick in building required the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture, and every piece of lumber was cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too." Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition

haworth lobby photo

Haworth's New York Showroom: Green and Gorgeous

But perhaps the biggest concern is the loss of the bigger buildings that could have been rehabilitated, to capture The Untapped Green Within Graying Buildings: as Tilde Herrera of Greener buildings wrote: "Using the existing building inventory goes to the heart of a core sustainability argument: it is often more wasteful to tear down and replace buildings, even if the replacement is green, than it is to improve what's already there."

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