Green Visionaire

A New York multifamily developer begins its third generation of energy-efficient high-rises.

Publication date: 2007-02-01

By Alison Rice

Russell Albanese remembers the days when creating an environmentally friendly building was little more than an afterthought for most people. “At conferences, they always scheduled the green building seminar for the last day of the conference, when just about everyone had gone home,” Albanese says. “This year, at the ULI conference, the first speaker was Robert Redford,” who spoke to the audience about the interplay between the natural landscape and development.

Such programming decisions speak to what many of us already know: Green building has grown up. “Across all sectors—manufacturing, construction, consumers—there has been tremendous growth in capability and interest,” Albanese says. “The consumer has become much more interested in air quality issues, climate change, dependence on foreign oil, water issues, energy prices, and conservation.”

There are few people better qualified to speak on such issues than Albanese, who is president of The Albanese Organization in Garden City, N.Y. Six years ago, the firm introduced the Solaire, the first residential high-rise to receive a gold LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Outfitted with photovoltaic panels, its own wastewater treatment system, and an energy-recovery system, the 27-story Battery Park apartment building truly reached new heights.

It wasn't just a one-off project for The Albanese Organization, which then introduced Verdesian and, most recently, Visionaire, which was built to achieve a LEED platinum rating. And each time, going green gets easier.

Investors are more willing to get involved. “Like any other investment you make, if it works financially, why not go after it?” says Arne Arnesen, managing director of Starwood Capital Group Global, which is partnering with Albanese on the $300 million project. “It's gotten to the point where [green building deals] make sense.”

There are more contractors who are knowledgeable and comfortable with the techniques, technologies, and the pricing. “Once you do it once, it takes away a big part of the fear factor,” Albanese says.

In terms of building products, “There is a much wider array of things available,” says Rafael Pelli, the Visionaire's architect and partner of Pelli Clarke Pelli, a New York architecture firm. “You can find carpet, flooring, paint, furniture.”

But that qualifies as just the basics in terms of green features at the Visionaire, a 251-unit condo tower under construction in New York.

“Broadly speaking, there are two things that represent advancements over the Solaire: the exterior wall and the degree of [building] controls,” says Pelli. The 35-story building will rely on a high-performance curtain wall that promises greater energy efficiency through improved insulation and interaction with the elements. “It's a much tighter assembly, so there is less loss of heat, and it deals with water and rain more effectively,” the architect says.

Inside the building, units feature high-tech controls that can adjust heating, cooling, and ventilation levels for times when no one is home, saving energy and money. The Visionaire is also prewired for home automation, which will allow residents to control lighting and more from their computers. Units are even prewired for motorized window shades, a wow-factor feature that can also reduce utility costs. “We're making the building much more intelligent,” Pelli says.

One could argue that he and Russell Albanese are making the rest of us smarter as well.

Allison Rice, Editor

In our January 2007 story on top multifamily employers, we erroneously referred to Sares-Regis Group managing director Jeff Stack's service in the military. He is a former U.S. Marine. We regret the error.