On Roosevelt Design

Bigger, Taller, Head of Its Class, Cornell's Residential Passive House Puts Roosevelt Island On the World Map

Updated 2 years ago Peter McCarthy
Cornell's Passive House Residential Building When Completed
Cornell's Passive House Residential Building When Completed

Roosevelt Island is about to become home to a building that represents a giant step forward in environmentally responsible architecture and establish a world standard in doing so.

,On the day it opened the Brooklyn Bridge was the tallest structure in New York? It took the honor away from Trinity Church.

Subways and elevators pushed taller buildings higher and as demand increased, from the Woolworth Building to the Chrysler to the Empire State and, finally, the World Trade Center, New York architecture set the world's pace.

But tall isn't the hallmark of design anymore as tall has become synonymous with plain, glassy and predictable as advanced structural techniques have made it easier.

Today, New York makes the world's most distinguished mark in critically important, environmentally aware design, and that mark is being finished here on Roosevelt Island.

Cornell Tech's Residential Tower Raises the Bar in Passive House Standards

Yes, you should be on your feet applauding.

In the city that set the modern paradigm for urban towers, Roosevelt Island is about to become home to a game changer in fostering architecture that recognizes the critical needs of environmental awareness.

When it opens next summer, Cornell's residential tower rising alongside the Queensboro Bridge will be, by a lot, the tallest and largest passive house in the world out of approximately 30,000 structures. It takes the title away from Raiffeisenhaus Wien 2, an office tower in Austria.

The masterfully put together wonder is the result of Cornell's commitment to a safer environmental future, brought to reality by New York based designer Handel Architects and developed with the expertise of Hudson Companies in coordination with the Related Companies.

What surprises is how little Roosevelt Islanders know about the glass ceiling shattering venture in environmental design just down the street. The achievement has been overshadowed by the pioneering marriage of academia and business that will stir the future from within The House's first sister buildings, The Bridge and The Bloomberg Center.

How Are They Getting It Done?

The key element in the design of the residential building is one that makes it look plain, unimpressive from the outside, but ours is the Clark Kent among passive houses.

When Cornell's overall construction leader Andrew Winter announced at the most recent community task force meeting that cladding would be complete in August, 2016, for both the residential and Bloomberg buildings, he was essentially saying that the buildings would look finished, although plenty of internal work remains.

In the end, its 26 floors will include 350 residential units to be used by over 500 graduate students, faculty and staff.

While there has been talk about savings for its occupants, the greater impact will be environmental. 

 “We’re really trying to focus on not just changing design,” Jennifer Klein, an assistant director for strategic capital partnerships at Cornell Tech, told the New York Times, “but changing people’s behavior and thinking about this.”

Cornell wants its efforts here to be an example the rest of the world can follow in managing a more environmentally friendly future.

The deceptively un-ornamented look of the passive house is the result of real innovation. What you see is a prefabricated metal panel system that is said to make the building something like a thermos. It will be a comfortable home for residents without centralized heating or cooling systems, dependent on 15 inch thick walls with triple-glazed windows built into them at the factory.

A tight ventilation system filters outdoor air while discharging indoor air.

Blake Middleton, the principal in charge and partner at Handel Architects, also told the Times, "we expect to be able to find ways to take this on the road and convince other developers and institutions that this is a viable and economic and strong model for building a sustainable building.”

Here on Roosevelt Island, we have our innovative AVAC system, our one of a kind Tram and the only full scale memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all on a single, two mile strip in the East River.

We will soon also have a tech campus like no other and, within it, a world class venture in environmentally aware architecture that may be the most long lasting and influential of them all.

Furniture moving in day for Cornell Tech will be July 17th. Between then and the start of classes in September, The House will become a landmark home to 500 new Roosevelt Islanders.

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