By Hope Hamashige | Thursday, June 3, 2010 5:30 AM ET
Declared the nation’s greenest commercial building, One Bryant Park is good for the planet — and the people who work there.
When Bank of America and the Durst Organization got together in 2003 to build a massive new office building in midtown Manhattan, they set out to build the greenest commercial high-rise in the United States. They achieved that goal recently when One Bryant Park, New York’s second-tallest building, earned a platinum LEED certification from the US Green Building Council, declaring it the most environmentally-friendly office tower in the country.
Along the way, they achieved a less-touted, but perhaps as important, new standard for future high rises. The owners and designers of the Bank of America tower claim to have created a space where the workers are both happier and healthier because of the space they work in.
“One of the things that is interesting about this project is that it does prioritize the health of the people who work there,” says Alisa Ahmadian, spokeswoman for Cook + Fox Architects, who designed the project.
The owners and architects involved in the project set out to prove that there is a solid business reason to create healthier work spaces. They claim a happier and healthier employee is more productive than one who spends the day in a place that is not truly comfortable.
The first issue they set out to address is the quality of the air that people breathe in their work space. They use high performance air filters that remove 95 percent of the particulates in the air, making it far cleaner inside than out.
All interior adhesives, sealants, paints and furniture were selected to minimize volatile organic compounds, which significantly reduces interior air contamination. Even the cleaning products used in the tower are green to protect the health of the cleaning staff as well as the other workers in the building.
The very low levels of carbon dioxide keep workers from feeling tired and drowsy, which is one way productivity is enhanced.
The floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the structure serve two purposes. On the one hand, it reduces the need for artificial lighting, cutting energy use. But it also creates a connection to the outside for all the workers inside the building.
“Better lighting and outside views are shown to increase people’s happiness as well as their productivity,” notes Ahmadian, adding that this view is backed by research conducted by biologists at Harvard University.
The Durst Organization, which co-owns One Bryant Park with Bank of America, says the healthy environment has been a huge selling point in terms of attracting new tenants, one of whom is former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore.
”Happiness and productivity is a huge selling point for people who rent in the building,” says Jordan Barowitz, spokesman for the Durst Organization. He adds that studies show a healthier and happier work space can increase productivity by between 3 and 5 percent. Increased productivity, just like lower heating bills, translates into money for the company. “People are starting to realize that it makes economic sense.”
In setting out to create a happier environment, the architects made efforts to address common problems in office buildings. Yes, the artificial light is one. Another is the fact that in just about every office building some people complain about being cold and others about being hot.
“It is the number one complaint in most office buildings,” says T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesman.
Using a system of air vents that run through the floors, each worker creates their own settings that they can change as often as they like. “I can say from personal experience, it is pretty fantastic,” says Crawford.
Crawford adds the bank firmly believes its employees at One Bryant Park exhibit signs of high morale and are more productive.
The partnership spent $2 billion to create the state of the art building. It has its own highly-efficient natural gas-run power plant that provides 65 percent of the building’s electricity while capturing heat that would be wasted and uses it in the building. It captures rain and reuses its own water, saving some 13 million gallons of water a year. Crawford notes that its green features are already creating cost savings, which will undoubtedly spread even more happiness through the ranks of both companies’ executive offices.