by: Alisa Ahmadian
At 6:30 PM, Thursday May 20th, the lobby of the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park was filled with hundreds of people clad in business casual attire. With 8,000 employees regularly shuffling in and out of the 55-story skyscraper, passersby might have assumed that the hub-bub merely signaled the end of another workday in the building which has been officially operating for 2 years.
Instead, the crowd inside was composed of hundreds of people that literally helped to build the tower—a fraction of the team of thousands involved in the intensive six year long building process. Needless to say, the flutes of local sparkling wine passed about were long-awaited and much deserved, with laughter heard and warm embraces shared amongst those that had formed friendships after years of collaboration.
The grandeur of the Bank of America Tower cannot be denied; it is a 2.1 million square foot skyscraper erected in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, and the first commercial high rise to receive the US Green Building Council’s coveted LEED Platinum Certification. However, the tone of the evening was one of graceful deference and thanks. The speaking program included Jody Durst of the Durst Organization, the project’s developer; Rick Cook of Cook+Fox Architects; Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker; Anne Finucane of Bank of America; Rick Fedrizzi, founding Chairman of the US Green Building Council; Vice President Al Gore; and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Jody Durst, who experiences the day-to-day operations of the building from his offices inside, joked about the irony of the event’s title-a “grand opening.”
All joking aside, what drew so many people to the lobby last night– two years after the official opening, was an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. Rick Cook noted that building a green building meant creating something that felt different, something that he would be “proud to be show his children and grandchildren.” It did feel different. Although the reception was held in the vast lobby of the skyscraper, attendees received views of trees in neighboring Bryant Park, as well as live, planted structures in the Urban Garden Room—a portion of the lobby created as part of the project’s effort to increase valuable public space. Aside from the Urban Garden Room, the building symbolizes a way of new of way of thinking about buildings: as a means to give back. This ideology was reflected by Rick Fedrizzi, who called the building’s conception a chance to “doing the right thing on as large a scale as possible.”
The building gives back to its tenants; air filtration removes 95% of particulates, making the air inside cleaner than outside, and creating a healthy workplace that boosts worker productivity and happiness. The tower also gives back to New York City. A newcomer to an impressive skyline of historic skyscrapers, the Bank of America Tower’s contribution is unique—as a result of its construction, New Yorkers enjoy widened sidewalks, improved sightlines and views, and the City’s power grid gets a break due to the installation of a co-generation plant and a thermal storage plant that creates ice during off-peak hours, reducing daytime demand on the grid. Last night, the Bank of America also gave back to the youth of New York City in the form of a $125,000 donation to 100 schools to plant gardens. The announcement was happily received by three schoolchildren from PS 43 in the Bronx who arrived on the stage toting small plants.
The true significance of the event was memorialized in one of the more sobering remarks made last night by speaker Al Gore, a tenant of the building. He mentioned the comprehensive reports issued by the National Research Council on May 19th that stress the need for the United States to develop a strategic plan to address climate change. Specifically, Gore cited the fact that “30% of CO2 emissions in the United States come from inefficient buildings.” Despite the glamour of the event, the true intentions of all attendees and project leaders present were clear: taking real action to address and reverse these global concerns. Although the Bank of America Tower is one LEED Platinum skyscraper, in just one of America’s large cities, it certainly won’t be the last. With any hope, its completion serves as a tipping point, with many others closely following its lead and even surpassing its pioneering standards.
To learn more about LEED Certification, please visit the USGBC website at www.usgbc.org
Alisa Ahmadian recently migrated to New York City, where she will begin work shortly for Cook+Fox Architects. In her past life in California, she was an environmental activist, a UCLA student and a vegan foodie.