The Bank of America Tower & LEED’s Broken Promises

The Bank of America NYC tower’s LEED Platinum rating apparently isn’t. What’s going on?

The New Republic’s Sam Roudman today had a devastating piece on the CookFox Architects-designed Bank of America (BOA) building in New York, a project that was widely acclaimed as one of the greenest skyscrapers in the world when it opened in 2010. The building garnered a lot of press (including coverage by us), achieved LEED Platinum certification, and even managed to snare Al Gore as an office tenant.

According to data released by the city of New York, the building has not only failed to live up to environmental promises but, Roudman reports, “produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating.”

How exactly did the Bank of America go from green building darling to energy hog in three years? The BOA’s energy metrics failed to take into account how the building would actually be used: the trading floors, with their ubiquitous computers, are “on” twenty-four seven, burning obscene amounts of energy. This is a colossal oversight, given the nature of the building (traders generally operate with a minimum of three video screens in front of them). But it also painfully underscores the shortcomings of the LEED process.

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Bank of America (and by extension CookFox Architects pursued LEED certification under the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s Core and Shell program, an initiative created for real estate developers that provided an easier pathway to Platinum certification, but three years later didn’t account for building use.

Prior to the building’s opening, Rick Cook (who was unavailable to comment on the New Republic story) made much of the tenant education program his firm had created for BOA. The architects knew even then that the building wouldn’t perform properly unless it was used properly. Clearly that hasn’t happened here.  “You can show people good food but you can’t make them eat it,” said Serge Appel, the project architect for the building, who admitted to being “discouraged” by the report.

In the end, these numbers call into question the usefulness of LEED. Right now certification is little more than a promise, a pledge that once the building is completed and the USGBC has affixed a plaque to its façade doesn’t require any additional follow up, doesn’t require its designers and developers to prove their claims. That must change, otherwise the program risks becoming irrelevant.

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