Gallery: INTERVIEW: Serge Appel Talks to Inhabitat About One Bryant Par...


New York City’s 1 Bryant Park building (also known as the Bank of America building) is the greenest skyscraper in the world and Inhabitat was fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with lead architect on the project Serge Appel of Cook+Fox Architects, who helped it reach that illustrious distinction. The glossy glass structure towering over Midtown Manhattan racks up the green points with rainwater cachement and reuse, greywater recycling, recycled and sustainable building materials, energy efficient building systems, and high performance glass which maximizes daylighting and minimizes solar heat gain and loss. Read on for our interview with lead architect on the project, Serge Appel to learn more about the design of this fascinating green building.

Inhabitat: One Bryant Park is the first LEED platinum “skyscraper”; what is your favorite LEED aspect of the project? Aside from LEED, what was the most interesting or exciting part of the project for you?

Appel: For me, the best part of this project isn’t a single element or technology but rather the chance to work with an incredible team of dedicated professionals all driven by the same goal. Having the backing of the Bank of America and the Durst Organization has made a tremendous difference in setting the bar high in terms of sustainable design. On top of that, each consultant on the team is top notch and fully engaged with the project.

Inhabitat: What was your least favorite or the most difficult thing about the project?

Appel: Certainly the most difficult part of this project has been the intense and detailed coordination required for such a large and complex building. The vast majority of that has far less to do with the green elements than with the requirements of a major banking institution being built in the middle of midtown Manhattan post 9/11.

Inhabitat: Architecture has delayed gratification in terms of realization when compared with other design fields. One Bryant Park has been under construction for four years now. To what extent are you involved in the process? What is it like to work on a project that takes six years from first sketch to completed structure?

Appel: I’m still involved daily in almost all aspects of the project, from the spire detailing to quality control on the installation of the curtain wall. Even after several years, there’s always something exciting and new right around the corner – not to mention that One Bryant Park is not your ordinary office building. Even still, staying personally motivated and keeping a team of people working over many years requires a strong sense of ownership and responsibility, as well as a fair amount of patience. Fortunately, projects this large are always broken down into smaller pieces, each with its own bit of gratification.

Architect Tobias Heller & interviewer Jill Danyelle on the roof of One Bryant Park

Inhabitat: Can you explain how the big ice cubes in the basement will work?

Appel: They’re not exactly giant ice cubes, but the thermal storage system basically works like a “battery” for cooling. In the basement, there are 44 10-foot high, cylindrical tanks with water and a cooling coil inside. At night, when electrical production from the co-generation plant exceeds the building’s needs, we use that excess to run the chilling equipment to freeze the water in the tanks. During the day, the ice melts and provides cooling to the building. This shifts some of the electrical load from daytime to nighttime, which reduces the impact on an already stressed NYC electric grid.

Section rendering of One Bryant Park

Inhabitat: How about those waterless urinals?

Appel: Waterless urinals are pretty straightforward; from the point of view of the user, there is no real difference. We have them in our own office, which we moved into last year and is also LEED Platinum – the first in New York. Instead of flushing, the urinals have a special drain fitted with a cartridge full of a liquid less dense than urine, which “floats” on top and seals out odors. Like all urinals, they have to be regularly maintained and cleaned and the cartridge has to be changed on occasion.

Looking up at One Bryant park under construction

Inhabitat: People are still wondering if “green” is just a trend. Where it often costs more to produce green products, in terms of buildings, the energy savings seem to actually make building green more cost-effective in the long run. Were there any environmental aspects of the design that needed to be compromised due to cost?

Appel: Building green is not a trend, at least not in our minds. The idea of building green really is about building smarter, higher performing buildings which are considerate of the people who live or work in them. Like any other aspect of the building, the benefits need to be weighed against the costs. There were several items which just couldn’t be justified today. When we started the project, we were sure that there would be building-integrated photovoltaics, but the more we looked at the amount of electricity generated, the less it made sense. We also looked seriously at including a wind turbine – in fact, the building originally had two spires, one architectural and one for the wind turbine. We even set up an anemometer on top of the adjacent 4 Times Square and took a full year of wind measurements. What we discovered is that while there is sufficient “quantity” of wind, it isn’t consistent enough to make the power generated worthwhile, at least not at the current state of the technology.

Inhabitat: Maybe this is a question for Jordan Barowitz over at the Durst Organization, the developers of the project, but do you know to what extent being LEED platinum has been a selling point for the building, which I believe is almost completely leased?

Appel: The building is almost fully leased, and from what we have heard being green has made a significant difference. We are designing one of the tenant floors at the moment for fashion designer Elie Tahari LTD, and the green elements of this building were very important to them.

+ Cook + Fox Architects

+ The Durst Organization


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  1. iZerreg March 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    The National Geographic series ‘Megastructures’ did a special on One Bryant Park titled ‘Ultimate Skyscraper NYC’. In it, they project the annual maintenance costs of this building to be 50% less than a structure built the usual way, meaning “without green technology”; but of equal size and similar location/climate. They also mention a $60,000,000 price tag for the additional green features that ultimately did make it into the final structure.
    As for your question about the urinals? During the article, architect Serge Appel was asked about them and gave this answer “Instead of flushing, the urinals have a special drain fitted with a cartridge full of a liquid less dense than urine, which “floats” on top and seals out odors. Like all urinals, they have to be regularly maintained and cleaned and the cartridge has to be changed on occasion.” There you have it. No smell, regular (daily) cleaning, which takes care of the splashing just as it does with a flushable urinal.

  2. Steve N. Lee October 3, 2008 at 2:56 am

    I like the ‘ice cubes’ idea. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it’s great it’s been incorporated into such a big construction project. I’m a little surprised at the news on solar and especially on wind power.

    Waterless urinals? I’ve seen them mentioned in other articles, but… men are notorious for splashing it about! If there’s no water to rinse down the full length of the urinal, merely some form of collection unit in the bottom, how often does it have to be cleaned to avoid smelling?

    The news on rain water and grey water is great – both sadly neglected areas usually when it comes to new builds.

    It is great to see a building that is being built to such exacting green standards. I sincerely hope it inspires others to follow suit.

    However, the one question I wanted answered, having read the previous article on this building, is on cost. It’s hinted at here but no actual figures are given. I’d like to have seen some stats on how much this building actually cost, plus the expected savings from its green technology, compared to how much a comparably sized skyscraper would cost without all the green technology. Basically, is this one cheaper in the long run? If so, then where is the argument for all buildings not to be built like this? If it’s more expensive, then what government initiatives could be implemented to offset some of those costs for the sake of the environment?

    Steve N. Lee
    author of eco-blog
    and suspense thriller ‘What if…?’

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