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Introduction and Overview

Figure 1.5

Solaire, a 27-story residential

tower on the Hudson River in New York City, which opened in July 2003, is the first high-rise residential building in the United States specifically designed to be environ- mentally responsible. (Photograph courtesy of the Albanese Development Corporation.)

a process through which the interconnections between systems are actively consid- ered and solutions are sought that address multiple problems. Whole-systems thinking is often promoted as a cost-saving technique that allows additional capital to be invested in new building technology or systems. RMI cites developer Michael Corbett, who applied just such a concept in his 240-unit Village Homes subdivision in Davis, California, completed in 1981. Village Homes was one of the first modern-era developments to successfully create an environmentally sensitive, human-scale residential community. The result of designing narrower streets was reduced stormwater runoff. Simple infiltration swales and on-site detention basins handled stormwater without the need for conventional stormwater infrastructure. The resulting $200,000 in savings was used to construct public parks, walkways, gardens, and other amenities that improved the quality of the community. A more recent example of systems thinking is Solaire, a 27-story luxury residential tower in New York City’s Battery Park (see Figure 1.5). The façade of Solaire contains photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity, and the building itself uses 35 percent less energy than a comparable residential building. It pro- vides its residents with abundant natural light and excellent indoor air quality. The building collects rainwater in a basement tank for watering roof gardens. Waste- water is processed for reuse in the air-conditioning system’s cooling towers or for flushing toilets. The roof gardens not only provide a beautiful urban landscape, but also assist in insulating the building to reduce heating and cooling loads. This interconnection of many of the green building measures in Solaire indicates that the project team carefully selected approaches that would have multiple layers of benefit, the core of systems thinking.17


Several states have taken the initiative in articulating guidelines aimed at facilitating high-performance construction. The Pennsylvania Governor’s Green Government Council (GGGC) uses mixed but very appropriate terminology in its “Guidelines for Creating High-Performance Green Buildings: A Document for Decision Makers” (1999). The lengthy but instructive definition of high-performance green building (Table 1.2) focuses as much on the collaborative involvement of the stakeholders as it does on the physical specifications of the structure itself.18

Similar guidance is provided by the City of New York Department of Design and Construction in its “High Performance Building Guidelines,” in which the end prod- uct, the building, is hardly mentioned and the emphasis is on the strong collaboration of the participants (see Table 1.3).19

The “High Performance Guidelines: Triangle Region Public Facilities,” pub- lished by the Triangle J Council of Governments in North Carolina (1999), focuses on three principles:

Sustainability, which is a long-term view that balances economics, equity, and environmental impacts

An integrated approach, which engages a multidisciplinary team at the outset of a project to work collaboratively throughout

Feedback and data collection, which quantifies both the finished facility and the process that created it and serves to generate improvements in future projects

Like the other state guidelines, North Carolina’s “High Performance Guidelines” emphasize collaboration and process, rather than merely the physical characteristics of the completed building. Historically, building owners have assumed that they were

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