Report Suggests Demolishing Unsustainable Mid-Century Skyscrapers in New York

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Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial plans to rezone midtown New York, allowing for bigger and bolder , has found an unlikely ally in the form of environmentalists.

Re-zoning midtown would ultimately lead to the of the corporate steel and glass skyscrapers, which preservationists argue are emblematic of the cutting edge modernism that swept 1950′s America. However, landlords contest that – for the most part – they are poorly built copycats of seminal landmarks such as the Seagram and Lever buildings and are not particularly significant or suited for modern needs.

More information after the break..

A new report seems to have their back, suggesting that the most environmentally friendly solution is to demolish and replace these aging giants with properly built, efficient modern replacements. The study, completed by consultants Terrapin Bright Green, was commissioned by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, architects COOKFOX, and the landlords group Real Estate Board of New York. In brief, it concludes that – if permitted –  owners could demolish and replace these mid-century buildings with a 44% larger replacement that would consume 5% less energy and offset its carbon cost of construction within 15 to 28 years.

This runs contrary to what conservationists have long said, as The Preservation Green Lab at the National Building Trust for Historic Preservation published a report last year which concluded that in almost all cases retrofitting and renovation was the better option for energy efficiency. The study, which was based on a 75 year Life Cycle Analysis of six different varieties of building in four American cities, cited energy savings of 4-46% and revealed immediate returns, rather than years down the line.

Bill Browning of Terrapin Bright Green argues that, in the case of these midtown New York skyscrapers, it’s not that simple, stating: “The tragedy of these buildings is that they can’t be adapted.” Not only do the leaky single glazed curtain walls provide little to no insulation, but the structure of the buildings isn’t substantial enough to support retrofitting double or triple glazed facades. The developers believe that these buildings have outlived their lifespan and would have already been replaced if it weren’t for zoning rules, which don’t allow the larger replacements needed to make the venture economical.

via Crains New York

Cite: Rackard, Nicky. "Report Suggests Demolishing Unsustainable Mid-Century Skyscrapers in New York" 29 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • w

    If they begin to demolish these buildings, then they better well be replaced by structures capable of lasting at least 200 years. Anything less would just be falling into the same pattern – improved energy efficiency aside.

  • Josh

    wouldn’t it be better to retrofit them??? by the time they are built these 44% larger buildings will be out of date, and environmentally less sustainable than new technologies.

    • bill

      I think this is about developers building taller (higher returns) rather than sustainability per se.

  • Nick

    To be replaced, I’m sure, by more glass towers, which are the least energy efficient and least green buildings in all of New York, as studies have shown.

  • Soa Kim

    [Demolish + Newly build] means far more CO2 emission and energy use than still using existing towers.

    • Beatrice Hajjar

      For me all those pale copies of Seagram buildings should be teared down! On a urban planning point of view, those 44% increase of space into the city core could help to stourban expantion…but one should ask if the market has the capacity of absorption for increased price! On a unrban design point of view the sudy should take into consideration the impact of wind and sun flow on the ground, the public space…

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