Conference Recap: HQ2050

Last week, Urban Green’s members and friends gathered for a half-day conference aimed squarely at one of the city’s most significant building challenges: How can we design, build, retrofit, and run commercial offices for a low-carbon future? Dubbed HQ2050, our 2016 conference brought together a group of leading buildings professionals to explore new strategies, barriers, and opportunities for the office of the future.

The role of the workspace in New York is critical, Pamela Campbell (COOKFOX Architects) noted at the start of the half-day conference. Commercial buildings make up roughly 15 percent of citywide floor area and account for over a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. And with a 12 percent decrease in citywide emissions since 2005, we still have a long way to go to meet the city’s ambitious 80 percent by 2050 target – what Campbell called a collective goal requiring a collective effort.

 The 2016 Urban Green Conference

Sustainability is evolving to encompass myriad human health and business issues central to the office of tomorrow, a core theme in Emanuela Magnusson’s (Bloomberg L.P.) keynote address. As Magnusson put it, investment in office design has a profound impact on a company’s biggest asset: its people. So, sustainability is increasingly valued and even integral to the bottom line, in part because transparency efforts like the Michael Bloomberg-chaired Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) data now on Bloomberg terminals.

The afternoon of lectures and panels explored the forces shaping the 2050 office from three different perspectives. Here’s a look at the highlights:

Designing the next-gen retrofit

With existing buildings presenting the biggest hurdle in NYC, Rafael Pelli (Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects) and Emma Stanley (Vidaris) presented a test-case design to push the boundary on tenant retrofits – in this case, for none other than Urban Green. Pelli emphasized that the power of incremental change is cumulative effect, and this project showcased just how far we can already push tenant retrofit strategies for 80 x 50.

  • Pelli and Stanley highlighted critical design features, including insulation over code, acrylic window inserts, air monitoring, LED installations, highly tuned controls, and a focused effort to bring down plug load.
  • The result: the team cut energy use in half, with innovative tenant engagement strategies to tackle envelope improvements and plug load.

Aligning owners, tenants and managers

Achieving HQ2050 will require a concerted effort from landlords and tenants, with the latter often representing as much as 60 percent of energy use in a typical commercial office building. The day’s first panel addressed the challenge of aligning these players, with frontline experience from Dan Egan (Vornado), Jonathan Flaherty (Tishman Speyer), Emily Kildow (Taconic Management), and Dana Schneider (JLL).

  • The lease process is critical, the panelists agreed, as the timeline is tight and, once settled, leases are rarely changed even on renewal.
  • While demand response can be a tenant’s friend, submetering can help or hinder based on how it’s implemented.
  • Dive into the group’s discussion of submetering, incentives, and other strategies for aligning owners, tenants, and managers in our in-depth recap of the panel here.

 The 2016 Urban Green Conference

Bringing the client into the fold

How do we achieve client buy-in for the sustainable office? Zachary Edelson (The Architect’s Newspaper) moderated the final panel discussion of the day tackling this question with Michael Kocher (Behnisch Architekten), Michael Szabo (Diamond Schmitt), and Jan Willemse (ZGF).

The three architects emphasized the design team’s role in educating clients and re-calibrating expectations:

  • showing performance relative to peers,
  • framing the value of sustainability in terms that are culturally resonant for the client, or
  • taking an illustrative approach that shows clients how sustainability concerns are addressed.

John Gilbert (Rudin) capped off the conference by heralding the advent of more-intelligent building management systems to leverage a wealth of data toward energy and cost savings. Gilbert alluded to 55 Broad Street – Urban Green’s new home – as the “grandfather of smart buildings,” an ideal base as we continue to engage the Urban Green community in making HQ2050 a reality in the years ahead.

Special thanks to all our speakers and moderators, to M.C. Julie Nelson (BKSK Architects), and to Bloomberg L.P. for graciously hosting the half-day event at its LEED Gold New York headquarters.

About the author

Christopher Halfnight
Chris works to advance Urban Green’s policy priorities with government and professional associations. He has experience in energy and water policy with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and Conservation Law Foundation.