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EDITOR’S NOTE: Architectural firm NBBJ retrofitted a 15,917-sf space at 2 Rector St. into a new headquarters with a goal achieving LEED Gold certification. The following Q&A describes how it was done.

Can an old building be retrofitted into a green building?

Definitely. Any building can be transformed into a sustainable, “green” building. In fact, in many ways it’s better to convert an old building than to build a new one. New construction requires greater use of materials and energy, and also creates waste. By re-purposing an older building, you re-use existing infrastructure, systems and materials that are already in place. That does less harm to the environment.

The LEED certification process factors this in. Points are gained simply by having your space in an existing building. You also gain credits for sites within an existing urban fabric and those near mass transit, which is a perfect fit here in New York City.

Additionally, “green” retrofitting allows you to add to the value of a building by making it a healthier place to live and work.

How did NBBJ set about making the conversion at 2 Rector St.?

We mounted a year-long search for space that would offer the greatest potential as a sustainable work environment. Once we selected the Downtown location, our design team spent five months reworking the space to accommodate an expanding workforce and to ensure that the office would adhere to “green” design principles.

How did you reduce energy use?

Our firm took advantage of our new home’s natural light and ventilation to reduce dependency on energy-consuming air conditioning. NBBJ personnel control the thermostats. We also employ sensor systems to monitor energy usage. Meters allow us to gauge consumption of water, electricity and HVAC.

Natural light can significantly reduce energy use. We rarely have to turn our lights on in open work areas until 6 p.m., unless it’s a very cloudy day. We use task lights in the evenings or on cloudy days, instead of turning all the lights on. The use of natural light reduced our lighting power needs by more than 25%.

Our natural light and operable windows–which allowed for natural ventilation–not only helped save energy. It also made the location a perfect spot for a world-class architectural firm.

What steps did you take to reduce water consumption?

To achieve LEED standards, buildings generally need to strive for at least a 20% reduction in water use. This decreases the burden on municipal water supplies and waste systems.

Toilet flushing, for example, uses the most water in residential and commercial buildings. So we replaced outdated toilet fixtures with low-flush toilets that save from two to six gallons of water per flush.

NBBJ also replaced the base building faucets with more efficient fixtures, including low-flow faucets and fixtures. As a result, drinkable water use declined by 28.9 percent. Overall, the new plumbing fixtures delivered a combined reduction of 36 percent below code standards.

What other LEED-related steps did you take that specifically apply to retrofitting an older building?

Here are a couple of examples:

The site’s original ceiling tiles were installed at a height of eight and a half feet. They partially covered the windows. We removed them to maximize ceiling height. By exposing and painting out the slab, piping and ducts, we raised our ceiling height to nine and a half feet. This also fully exposed the windows, resulting in increased daylight and expanded views of the city.

We also reduced impacts associated with waste, extraction and processing of virgin materials by either reusing or refurbishing 30.55% of our furnishings. Conference chairs, shop tables, task chairs and mobile pedestals were all reused.

Now that you’ve occupied the office for several months, what changes have you seen?

As part of the LEED process, we’re conducting a post-occupancy review to assess the benefits. One amazing statistic we’ve seen is a reduction in staff absenteeism. Since moving to our new space in November, monthly absenteeism has dropped by 47%.

That’s pretty dramatic. We think it is partly attributable to the increased daylight in the workplace, the outdoor views, greater ease in biking to work, and the clean air that makes people feel happier, healthier and less stressed. Our open space environment has elevated the work experience outside of the intensity of the focused work area.

We’re also seeing that the way you live at work can influence your home and your lifestyle. I’ve noticed people talking about sustainable choices and eating healthier at work. It’s encouraging to know that design can have such an impact. I look forward to continuing to discover an even greater range of benefits of both working and living in healthy space.

Christine Vandover is a senior associate/interior designer with NBBJ. To contact the author, click here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Real Estate Media or its publications.

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