Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How an omission in the LEED formula helped FCR and doomed the Ward Bakery

So it's not just critics with hindsight who think LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which aims to produce "green buildings" by assigning points scants the value of preserving existing buildings such as the Ward Bakery and their "embodied energy," the energy that went into building materials and construction.

(Photo by Tracy Collins)

It's a developer of LEED himself. "I happened to be on a retreat with a founder of LEED," commented planner John Shapiro at the annual conference of the Historic Districts Council last Saturday. The founder, Shapiro said, explained that a committee of the U.S. Green Buildings Council "intentionally downplayed historic preservation, because if they put it in the formula [for LEED], it would blow everything away and architects would ignore it."

(He later identified the speaker as architect Bill Reed, an early committee member.)

Had the cost and value of embodied energy been factored in, it might have changed the equation the Empire State Development Corporation calculated when it asserted that the cost of development at the Ward Bakery site would be an additional $30 per square foot.

A "big glitch"

The preservation issue came up in a 6/1/05 Architectural Record article headlined How Is LEED Faring After Five Years in Use?. The article identified "two big glitches":
In its laudable desire to create a national rating protocol that could be easily understood and applied by all, USGBC developed a simple, universal system in which one goal, or credit, receives one point. From this seemingly reasonable structure, however, comes what appears to be two of the most fundamental criticisms of the current LEED framework: its bioregional insensitivity and its relatively tenuous connection to life-cycle analysis.

In truth, many sustainable design strategies are regional in character. They must take into account local climate, geography, resources, wildlife, and habitat....

Life-cycle analysis, or LCA, refers to the scientific discipline of measuring the material resources and energy consumed, and the environmental impact created, by a particular product throughout its life. By comparing this data for alternative products, designers could--at least in theory--select the materials and components that cause the least environmental damage. But LEED's one-point-per-credit structure doesn't encourage this more sophisticated analysis. Stein and Reiss continue, "... when designing renovation projects, developers can save more material resources by reusing 75 percent of an existing building's structure and shell ... than by incorporating at least 5 percent of salvaged or reused building materials, but both strategies earn one point in the LEED rating."

1 comment:

  1. When the Atlantic Yards megadevolvement is scaled back and otherwise rethought it will not include the block with the Ward Bakery Building for several reasons. If the Ward Bakery Building is demolished the goal should be to see a replica of it eventually replace it. What I am advocating is admittedly driven by sentiment, a love of landmarks and history and a sense of justice. Unfortunately, though rebuilding Ward will be good for the neighborhood and neighborhood aesthetics, this won’t do anything for the environment.

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