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A Building that Breathes

Part 1 -Symbols of the Modern World
Part 2 -57 Stories of Light
Part 3 -Pride of Nashville
Part 4 -A Labor of Indecision
Part 5 -World Title Champion
Part 6 -A Building that Breathes

When the grand plan for the Bank of America Tower was announced back in 2003, it was met by plenty of naysayers. Some critics complained that the $650 million in tax-free liberty bonds extended to the developer, The Durst Organization, should have gone to rebuilding lower Manhattan, devastated by the 9/11 attacks. Others noted that Bank of America had been shrinking its New York workforce for years and hardly needed such a big tower.

With a roof height of 945 feet, the $1 billion project will exceed the two buildings currently tied for No. 2 in height in the Big Apple, the Chrysler Building and the New York Times Building, both of which rise 925 feet. With its spire, Bank of America Tower will eventually ascend to 1,200 feet when it's finished in 2009.

Durst was able to defuse its critics by planning perhaps the most environmentally friendly building ever put up in New York. Start with the concrete, which is a mixture of 55% cement and 45% slag, the latter a byproduct of blast furnaces that otherwise is dumped into landfills. The slag, employed here in a virtually unprecedented fashion, is expected to make the finished concrete actually stronger than conventional materials.

Proponents of slag note that the production of cement produces a ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere for each ton of finished cement. By lowering greenhouse gases, therefore, slag reduces damage to the environment.

The building will be cooled by ice batteries — with ice produced and stored during off-peak hours, and absorptive chillers blowing cool air throughout all 54 floors and 2.1 million sq. ft. through floor ducts during the day. This is the wave of the future, says Rocco Giannetti, a director for Gensler, the architect working on the project's interior work.

“Under-floor air uses less energy and provides more human comfort,” he says. “You create a natural convection as the air rises naturally to return air vents overhead. In this building there is no mixing of supply and return air. You use less energy to supply less air.”

And that's not all. Special carbon dioxide sensors throughout the building will detect rising levels of CO2 and automatically trigger more fresh air ventilation. There are special filters on air being exhausted to the outside, meaning that Bank of America will return utterly pure air to the streets of Manhattan.

Management also is in pursuit of an elite Platinum LEED certification. All materials in the building, from the concrete to the countertops, are being sourced locally as much as possible.

“The carpeting has a very high recycled content,” Giannetti says. “It lasts just as long and people can't tell the difference. The ceiling tiles, too, have a high recycled mineral fiber content.”

There is a cogeneration plant in the basement intended to sell electricity back to the Consolidated Edison grid eventually, as well as a graywater wastewater collection network to minimize the building's impact on the New York sewer system. The highly insulated glass is clear only at the middle of each floor, with a fritting pattern high and low on each floor minimizing the nuisance of direct sunlight falling on occupants' eyes.

“There is plenty of natural daylight coming into this building, but the glass is shaped so that the light is not uncontrolled,” says Giannetti, who has designed overhead light fixtures on five-foot grids that are adaptable to the movement of office partitions around each floor. “Everything we do here, we check our results against the LEED scorecard.”

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