Triple Net-Zero Development Going Up in Albany

That's zero waste, zero water, and zero energy – and it's a first.

The Seventy-Six

Garrison Architects

According to Garrison Architects, The Seventy-Six is the first "triple net-zero (energy, water and waste) housing development in the United States." But the firm's new project in Albany, New York is a lot more than that:

"The development incorporates biophilic design techniques that provide opportunities for residents to grow their own food with a communal greenhouse, urban farming center, wetlands, and an irrigated planter in every housing unit. With hands-on learning opportunities, including a STEM training center, this complex hopes to educate and inspire people to reimagine urban living in a way that will address contemporary issues of climate change and housing equity."

The developer Corey Jones grew up in the neighborhood, "witnessing systemic poverty, inequity, and environmental degradation. By creating affordable housing that incorporates resource independence and encourages residents to engage with the natural world in their urban environment."

Six concepts
Garrison Architects

It's an ambitious project, a "living machine" with zero impact, built to "passive design principles." Some of the interesting features:

  • All energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances generated from state-of-the-art solar, wind, and water installations.
  • Total water consumption reduced to zero through modern water collection and filtering technologies, focused on re-use for toilets and irrigation, and zero landfill contribution. Waste will be recycled, composted, and incinerated onsite.
  • State-of-the-art aquaponics farming that hosts live fish with vegetable gardens and incorporates the complex’s water filtration system into the process.
Zero Waste
Garrison Architects

What with all the fish and an irrigated planter built into every apartment, a communal greenhouse, urban farming center, and wetland, they should have gone for net-zero on food too. The project gets to zero waste through composting, recycling, a little bit of community collection, with 35% of it going waste to energy, I assume off-site.

Net Zero Energy
Garrison Architects

We have long argued over the use of the term "geothermal" when applied to heat pumps, but in this building it makes sense; the ground isn't just acting as a heat sink, but as a storage medium where thermal energy generated in solar thermal collectors in summer is banked and then withdrawn in winter.

Net Zero Water
Garrison Architects

I was pleased to see that they are not really going net-zero water and living off rainwater, but instead are getting 88% percent of their water from municipal supplies. Albany is purported to have the “best tasting water in New York.” Some very green buildings built to the Living Building Challenge, like the Bullitt Center in Seattle and the Kendela building in Atlanta, try to go truly net-zero and filter and treat their rainwater. But as a former EPA director explains about Albany's water source, "within the environmental regulatory arena there's a term called 'source water protection' which means you protect it at the source as opposed to spending massive amounts of money trying to filter out contaminants after there are levels of contamination in it." If you have a good water source it is better to use it than to try and filter it yourself.

transformable apartment
Garrison Architects

Garrison Architects are originally known to Treehugger as pioneers in modular design, and they continue using that technology here. But this unit plan is also showing something we have admired before in Vancouver with transformable apartments; a studio apartment is connected to the main apartment, which can provide intergenerational housing or even extra income.

Plaza from above
Garrison Architects

The project recently won a major award from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); Garrison writes:

"NYSERDA’s recognition reaffirms the mission of Garrison Architects to design innovative buildings which show that architecture does not need to be compromised when utilizing modern techniques for sustainability. Modular construction methods increase resource efficiency; green energy sources balance operational carbon emissions; and biophilic design features incorporate the inherent beauty of nature into our buildings. The Seventy-Six provides a unique opportunity to apply these techniques to regenerate the communal health of a neighborhood that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places."
Garrison Architects

This is what architecture is supposed to do. It's not only a serious attempt at "triple net-zero" but serves an important societal function. South End Development says "this award-winning project revitalizes the community of the historic South End. The Seventy-Six complex explores new boundaries in sustainable development while being environmentally conscious and economically and socially considerate." It does that and more.

Garrison Architects
View Article Sources
  1. "Our Mission." Garrison Architects.

  2. Stevens, Scott. "Albany Drinking Water Voted Top 5 in the Country.", 2011.

  3. Lucas, Dave. "Albany Water Commissioner: Dealing With The Pandemic." WAMC, 2020.

  4. "The Seventy-Six." South End Development.