Daylight Provides Energy Savings At The New York Times

The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) has finished an exhaustive study of energy savings that the New York Times Building achieved in its first five years. The building passed.

The Times Company heavily promoted their own efforts to bathe their workers in daylight. The metaphor was explicit: because their newspaper stands for transparency, they were going to wrap its operations in clear glass. Happy, healthy workers and the transparency metaphor came first, while energy savings were a secondary objective. The design did not seek LEED certification.

NYT Building

Facade of NYT Building. Via Wikimedia Commons user Haxorjoe.

Still, LBNL’s bottom line is that, compared with a same-sized building designed to just meet then-current codes, they are using 24% less electricity and 51% less heating energy. They add that the “Company’s investment in advanced energy-efficiency technologies is estimated to yield a 12% rate of return on their initial investment.”

For an office skyscraper, the problem with so much glass is that much of the time it lets in too much light and/or too much heat. The solution, for most architects, had been reflective-coated or heavily tinted glass, a solution that falls short at those times when it would be ideal to let in as much as sun as possible.

Plus, the Times wanted transparency. Their solution featured three main elements: automated roller shades, fixed shading, and dimmable fluorescent lighting.

Dimmable ballasts for lighting were on the market, but cost several times more than ordinary ballasts. Since this building needed 80,000 of them, the Times felt they were well positioned to bend the curve on economies of scale. They went to LightFair, the major US lighting convention, and demanded dimmable ballasts with no cost premium, promising that “whoever can do this will own the market.” They ended up with substantial price drops, but still twice the price of non-dimmables.

The entire building not only dims its lights but cuts power in many other ways whenever a brownout threatens Manhattan.

The architects went to extraordinary lengths to optimize  shading design: with LBNL consulting, they built a 4500-square-foot mockup near the actual building site, where they experimented with different shading designs over a six-month period (to include both solstices).

NYT office

An office floor. Via LBNL.

For roller shades, they settled on shades outside of the window, using fabric that’s white on the inside and allows 6% of light to pass through. Operation is automatic (with manual override) because it was determined that “if shade management were left to the occupants sitting closest to the window wall, the shades would likely be down most of the time since occupants are often too busy to manage the shades.” Workers are reported to be “delighted with the subtle shifts in color, intensity, sparkle, and mood throughout the day.” Check out those shifts in these time-lapse animations.

For the fixed shading, architect Renzo Piano came up with a scrim of horizontal ceramic rods 1 5/8 inches in diameter, and the LBNL in their mock-up building figured out exactly how to space them. They are 18 inches out from the window glass. To allow both seated and standing people to enjoy the view, rods (on the most typical floors) are missing between 2.9 and 6.6 feet above the floor. They’re tightly spaced above that view aperture, and openly spaced below it.

It didn’t take long for climbers to notice that the rods turn the building—currently the nation’s seventh tallest—into a giant ladder. On June 5th, 2008, two climbers with no connection to each other climbed all 748 feet to the roof. The first climber, Frenchman Alain Robert, attached a green neon sign saying that “Global warming kills more people than a 9/11 every week.”

I guess this building just never stops sending green messages.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.nhan.54 Lee Nhan

      I have the solution – open the top and simple operation make these compact