To rescue the building, a unique collaboration between local citizens, three levels of government, the nonprofit Affordable Housing Development Company, and a local for-profit developer transformed it into a new public library and 22 units of affordable rental housing.
Throughout demolition and construction, builders separated and recycled building wastes. Historically significant elements, such as doors and windows, were refurbished and reused in the building.
The skin of the building is now super-insulated, with masonry walls, triple-glazed, low-emissivity windows, and recycled cellulose fiber insulation. Skylights bring daylight to the library interior, and a metal brise soleil on south-facing windows provides summer shade.
Besides expanding the library and bringing much-needed affordable housing to the center of town, rescuing this old building helped rally a fading community.
Combining historic preservation, main street revitalization, transit-oriented development, and green building practices, this adaptive reuse project has inspired neighboring towns to attempt similar projects.
Affordability in Massachusetts
Until recently, few in the housing industry would have used "green" and "affordable" in the same sentence, according to Bruce Hampton, AIA. "If the sky's the limit in terms of budget, you can pretty much do anything to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly," he says.
"On the affordable end, you have to be very tough on your priorities." Erie-Ellington Homes, which Hampton designed in cooperation with the GreenVillage Company/Hickory Consortium, shows what is possible.
Erie-Ellington Homes integrates 50 energy-efficient, affordable housing units into a revitalizing neighborhood in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The panel-construction buildings feature high-quality wood windows, high-grade insulation, and Energy Star appliances.
They use 49 percent less energy than standard houses, and 41 percent less water. And they cost 25 percent less to build than standard construction in the area.
The key to the Erie-Ellington's environmental performance and cost savings is an innovative "whole systems" approach to design. Developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy Building America Program, the systems-based approach makes design decisions by considering how all the components of a building will interact.
At Erie-Ellington, energy efficient windows and a carefully-insulated structure allow one boiler to provide heat and hot water to a building that would normally require three. The benefits of this kind of thinking show up in both the short term and the long term, with the result that "sustainable" and "affordable" are now compatible.
Office Comfort in Pennsylvania
When a financial institution decided to consolidate its regional activities in a new facility in Pittsburgh, it wanted an energy-efficient building that would provide a flexible, productive, and comfortable working environment for 1800 employees.
In response, LDA-L.D. Astorino Companies designed PNC Firstside Center, an urban infill building that, in the words of the NESEA contest judges, "takes sustainability seriously at a scale that changes how others will think about large urban buildings."
One of the most significant aspects of the project's sustainable design is its relationship to the city. Instead of locating in the suburbs as many buildings of similar size and program do, this project reclaims an urban "brownfield" site, and reconnects a portion of its historic district with the city's major business corridor.
Setting the project in the suburbs would have required an additional 20 acres (8 hectares) for staff parking and storm water management alone. Instead of staff parking, the building is served by a new Light Rail Transit station.
The PNC Firstside Center is the largest building to obtain the LEED Silver Certification from the US Green Building Council. Recyclable materials are used throughout: each material, from the structural steel to the carpet, was reviewed for recycled content and recyclability.
Ninety percent of the floor area receives daylight and has a view to the exterior, resulting in increased occupant comfort and lower energy bills. Exterior sunshades reduce glare and heat gain. Solar devices control motor-operated interior shades.
At the completion of construction, the HVAC system was commissioned to coordinate all its systems for efficient operation. And the space is configured to allow work processes to flow horizontally, reducing reliance on elevators.
Student Innovations in Massachusetts
In addition to completed buildings, the competition was open to proposals developed by students living in the region. One such proposal, by Laurie Griffith, a Master of Architecture candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenges the we view buildings within the built environment.
Treating buildings as autonomous units generates redundancies, Griffith says. Instead, her project treats an entire urban neighborhood as an interdependent system, and proposes a local-scale infrastructure for producing renewable energy and hot water.
Sited in the Old Port Exchange District of Portland, Maine, the project incorporates wind energy from micro- and mini-turbines, tidal energy from tidal barrages, and solar energy from solar thermal hot water panels and photovoltaic canopies.
In addition, Griffith's proposed infrastructure provides inhabitable, sheltered public space, including a rainwater catchment arcade and public paths and gardens. The project is intended not only to function, but to speak of its function, as an element in the social and ecological interconnectedness that comprise the built environment.
At a ceremony held at Tufts University to honor the award winners, Warren Leon, NESEA executive director, summed up the message of the competition: "These impressive projects prove that green buildings, with all of their many health and environmental benefits, are a feasible and positive choice for future construction projects in the Northeast," he said.
"We are proud to sponsor these awards," added Greg Watson, MRET program director, "and MRET applauds the tremendous efforts of each contestant — efforts that prove renewable energy technologies are not the distant future, they are the here and now."
Katharine Logan is an assistant editor of ArchitectureWeek.