W57 - Bjarke Ingels' First North American Project


Image Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

For a long-time, many green buildings have been accused of being nothing more than boring boxes full of expensive gadgets and gizmos. For the new Durst Fetner residential project on the Westside of Manhattan, dubbed W57, boring is not a factor. For the project's architect, Bjarke Ingels of BIG, extensive play with aesthetics is his trademark. Is it green? Currently, signs point to YES. Does it lean heavily on expensive technologies to make it green? That's less clear.


Image Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

W57 is a 600-unit residential building on West 57th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues in New York City. Designed by the renowned Danish architecture firm BIG headed by Bjarke Ingels, it is the first North American project for the company. During a recent TEDxEast event, Ingels described the project as an attempt to mix the European concept of courtyard with the iconic American skyscraper. The architectonic slope of the edifice allows for occupants to experience an enclosed central garden area as well as expansive views of the Hudson River and surrounding cityscape. The form has successfully developed a solar envelope form that provides looks to allow maximum daylight to a majority of apartments. Solar enveloping is not a common attribute for architectural projects in NYC. The density of the streetscape and height of neighboring buildings prevent this kind of climatic connectivity to be widespread.


Image Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

According to a representative from Durst Fetner, the project will achieve either a LEED Gold or Platinum rating. It is their policy to strive for higher levels of certification. The rating isn't clear yet because it is still in early stages of development. The approval process will take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete - during which, the building will continue to be fleshed out. Community boards and residents seem to like the creative and bold approach. This will make moving forward easier, but not without some bumps along the way.

The goal for Durst Fetner is a residential structure that is sustainable, inspiring and integrated to the location and context. By looking at the current design, it does seem to be hitting those marks. However, during conversations by phone and email with both Durst Fetner and BIG, no quantitative evidence is yet available to show how integrated sustainability is incorporated. Speaking for experience, the slip between qualitative and quantitative results vary greatly without using building information models and computational analysis to determine solar thermal exposure, water reduction measurements, daylight harvesting and other opportunities.


Image Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

To achieve a LEED rating, these measurements will evidently be calculated. That said, it is unclear if or how BIG or Durst Fetner uses such tools in the early stages of design. Energy evaluations, even at the early stages, can prove to be a huge bonus for reducing the need for more expensive gadgets and can reduce construction costs. Certain software packages could even help discover how the morphology of the building can better exploit the native climate and site context for the benefit of the architecture, community and environment.

That said, W57, if built, could make the typical boring green box buildings endanger of being seen as, well, even more boring. If the cost of W57 is extremely high, it might do very little for dispelling the myth that green buildings cost more than conventional projects. More will be revealed as it moves forward. BIG welcome to America!

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