Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Principals: Gregory Kiss, Clare Miflin, and Jeff Miles
Size: 8 employees
One quirky, little-known fact about the company: For the last 30 years, we have occupied a series of attic offices at the top of old skyscrapers, always with an accessible roof below (on which we currently have beehives), and with windows in all four directions. Over 100 years old, these spaces have “green” qualities few new buildings have today.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your COTE Top Ten winner, Bushwick Inlet Park?
Gregory Kiss: Don’t skimp on consultants—hire consultants that share your sustainable vision and are able to participate in integrative design. True integrative design is the way to achieve first cost savings in system sizing, as well as lower energy usage.
What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
Be ambitious! In our experience, when done correctly, high-performance design should have little or no cost penalty in the short run and enormous value in the long run.
What is your firm’s philosophy on sustainable design?
Aim for “productive” architecture—one that does more good than harm, and then scale back as necessary rather than starting with the aim to “do less bad”.
What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
We aim for productive architecture with every project, although we realize that is not always feasible. If we don’t start with that aim we may not be able to achieve many of the savings we do. What is non negotiable for us is a sincere desire on the client’s part to do the best possible project within budget and regulatory constraints.
What are the tip energy-saving features you put into your projects?
Passive solar design strategies and high performance thermal envelopes—well insulated, well air sealed and with minimal thermal bridging—are the place to start. Efficient systems like ground source heat pumps, radiant floors and solar panels should come after that. It’s also very important to understand how the spaces are being occupied to specify appropriate building control systems.
How do you think these types of solutions and products might become standard?
Because construction belongs to capital, rather than community, it is difficult to value long-term ecological benefits. For example, at Bushwick Inlet Park, using actual bid prices, the simple paybacks on the rooftop photovoltaic and the rainwater harvest are approximately 17 years each—and yet the project was within the budget with no extra funding for the sustainable features. For a market-rate developer, this ROI is just not compelling, and will remain so unless there is some sort of systematic reform. Compelling new incentives (or disincentives) are needed to change how clients and architects conceive, design and build new structures.