Henry Street's Headquarters to Be City's First Green Landmarked Building

Project Designed to Demonstrate How Historic Buildings Can Improve Efficiency

April 13, 2011 -

Henry Street's Renee Epps and David Garza speak with Ken Lustbader of the J.M. Kaplan Fund

Can old landmarked buildings, perceived by many as energy hogs, be taught new tricks to make them more energy efficient?

That's the goal of a demonstration project announced today by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) at a press conference held at Henry Street Settlement.

MAS selected Henry Street's landmarked headquarters for the project, which is designed to show that the city's most treasured buildings can improve their energy efficiency without compromising their historic character or spending a lot of money.

Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Henry Street's three c. 1830s federal-style row houses, were among the first buildings designated as landmarks in the mid-1960s by the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission. The buildings are also National Historic Landmarks, the nation's highest-ranking historic buildings (less than 2,500 historic places in the United States bear this national distinction). The buildings are ideal for the project because of their age, relative lack of alterations and, in terms of size, configuration and ubiquity in New York City.

When the project is completed and to prompt similar buildings to become more energy efficient, MAS and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission will publish a how-to manual. Both projects are supported by a challenge grant from The J.M. Kaplan Fund.

The goal is that with modest investment, the Settlement will realize at least a 25 percent reduction in energy usage, and lower costs to operate its headquarters.

"Henry Street has a history of 'firsts' and we are thrilled that we are the first in this important project," said David Garza, Executive Director of Henry Street. "Any opportunity we have to lower our operating costs is most welcome, because it will enable us to spend more dollars on our programs which directly benefit our clients, some of New York's most vulnerable residents."

"Roughly 55 percent of New York's building stock is more than 70 years old, and any serious efforts to build a more sustainable city must include solutions for making these older buildings more efficient" said MAS President Vin Cipolla, noting that the operation of all buildings is responsible for approximately 75 percent of the City's greenhouse gas emissions. "This project really is a challenge to show that if you can improve the energy efficiency of a landmark at a modest cost, you can improve many of our city's older buildings."

Robert B. Tierney, Chairman of the Landmark Preservation Commission, said, "As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's groundbreaking PlaNYC initiative, the Landmarks Preservation Commission formed a 'Green Team' two years ago to identify green strategies that have minimal impact on the historic fabric of the City's landmarks.

"What we found confirmed what we knew, that there are many simple, inexpensive strategies for 'greening' historic buildings," said Tierney. "By partnering with MAS, we hope to educate owners of landmarked structures on the ways in which they can make their buildings more energy efficient and help the City reduce its carbon footprint."

MAS is working with the Pratt Center for Community Development, which will be the project's consultant, guiding and managing the energy retrofit. In addition, Li/Saltzman Architects and Thornton Tomasetti are providing pro bono consultant services.

The project's first phase will explore inexpensive measures that will have no impact on the landmark building's architecture, like thermostatic and lighting control, retro commissioning, and weatherization. Later phases will explore ways to make more substantial cuts in energy usage and the use of renewable energy sources like solar panels. This summer, a group of experts in architecture, engineering, green building and mechanical systems will gather in a weekend charrette (an intensive design workshop) to develop creative solutions.