By City Guide News Desk

Pioneering New Frontiers


Look closely at almost any building and you should be able to read the mind of its architect. Confidence, overconfidence, arrogance, sense, irrationality, showmanship, apathy — the characteristics inevitably come out in the design. The World Trade Center represented the grand dream that Nelson and David Rockefeller held for the southern tip of Manhattan, and since its loss, arguments have raged over how to replace it with proper deference. New Yorkers can be sure that whatever goes up in its place will make a statement as distinctive as that of its predecessor. But overlooked in all the discussion about the World Trade Center site has been the fact that, until now, no new residential construction has risen downtown. Dedicated by Gov. George E. Pataki in a ceremony last month, but opened officially to residents this past July 4, the Solaire is not only the area's first residential construction to be completed since 9/11, but also the nation's first environmentally engineered residential tower. For a city that seemed to lie under a cloud of death only 25 months ago, the architectural message here is as positive as any that could be imagined. Located at 20 River Terrace in Battery Park City, the 27-story Solaire, which contains 293 apartments, has been environmentally engineered to consume 35 percent less energy, reduce peak demand for electricity by 65 percent, improve air quality, and allow for more natural light than usually falls in residential buildings. With its energy-saving technologies and use of sustainable building materials such as certified woods, the Solaire joins the Brooklyn Children's Museum (whose renovation is scheduled for completion in 2006, making it the first "green" children's museum in the world) as one of the city's pioneering buildings in the field. Gov. Pataki, who passed the first "green" building tax credit in the country in 2000, referred to the Solaire's tried-and-tested features as technologies that "can be duplicated…and the advantages realized by any like-minded developer." Russell C. Albanese, president of the Albanese Organization, the building's developer, calls the Solaire a "prototype building" that was created to "demonstrate the substantial positive impact an environmentally engineered residential tower would have on the lives of individuals and families, and on the neighborhood and the city as a whole." The challenge, he points out, was to engineer a building that used the earth's resources responsibly, while focusing on a healthy living environment for its tenants — right down (or up, we should say) to its airy Rooftop Garden, landscaped in part with rapidly renewable plantings such as bamboo. The Solaire was created with working families in mind; half its apartments are three-bedrooms. On the lobby floor, an ocean-blue children's room (adjacent to the gym) gives kids a place to interact with their young neighbors. As for parks, the Battery Park City Esplanade graces the building's front, with Teardrop Park currently under construction to its immediate east. From a healthful/technological point of view, the Solaire makes use of a central water filtration system to supply filtered water to all faucets, showers and tub spouts. (Refrigerators are equipped with their own filter cartridges, resulting in double-filtered drinking water). "Outdoor air intakes" draw the city's air into a central filtration and air handling system that cools and dehumidifies in the summer months, and heats and dehumidifies in winter; a vertical fan coil unit built into the walls, meanwhile, draws in air, re-filtering it and discharging it back into the room on a continual basis. The Solaire's developers have installed photovoltaic panels on the building's west façade to collect enough solar power to generate 5 percent of the structure's electric load. (Floor-to-ceiling windows increase the city's building code for natural light by 35 percent). Most considerate in terms of human energy, the entrance to each apartment has a master switch that allows every light in the house to be turned out simultaneously. It's a heck of a lot easier than saying, "Shut off the light in your room." — Ben Spencer