On Roosevelt Design

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

Updated 30 weeks 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 giant step forward in environmentally responsible architecture and set a world standard in doing so.

Did you know that, 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.

Tall isn't the hallmark of design anymore as it's become more synonymous with plain, glassy and predictable.

But now, the place where New York makes the world's most distinguished mark is in critically effective, environmentally aware design, and that's 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 Vienna, 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.

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 it's the Clark Kent among passive houses being built.

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

 “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 Clark Kent-like 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 unique Tram and the only full scale memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all on one 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.

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