Combating the Cultural Energy Hog

Reports from the Field by • 05/15

Event: “Green Design: We’re All in This Together” (Sally Henderson Memorial Lecture)
Location: Arthur King Satz Hall, New York School of Interior Design, 04.18.07
Speaker: Hugh Hardy, FAIA — H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture
Organizer: New York School of Interior Design

Theater for a New Audience

The Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn incorporates solar power and wind heating based on its siting.

Studioamd courtesy H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture

Building with ecological values in mind begins with local knowledge, a detailed sense of specific places, and their climates, flora, and other features. In Hugh Hardy, FAIA, and colleagues’ experience with arts infrastructure, resorts, courthouses, and even parking lots, the local applications of these principles prove their resilience. Hardy included data about buildings accounting for 48% of national energy use (cf. 27% for transportation and 25% for industry); the urgency of reducing this burden is hard to dispute. He proceeded to describe an array of projects where sensitivity to site and program afforded a range of sustainable strategies.

Sometimes a useful discovery begins with knowing when to say no: when to foreclose an expected option and replace it with something humble, unorthodox, or both. The Glimmerglass Opera’s Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, NY, with its rustic references and dramatic sliding panels, is a case in point. Mechanical ventilation would have been too expensive, as Hardy says, to serve a rarely-needed function: “moving large volumes of air v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y to avoid acoustical problems… to control temperatures for just a few days out of the 365.” With no winter opera season, conventional heating and cooling weren’t worth the expense; instead, financial necessity gave Glimmerglass audiences a literal breath of fresh air. The theater inspired later projects employing passive green strategies, such as the renovated Bear Mountain Inn’s highly cost-effective geothermal system.

The new LEED Gold-rated headquarters of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas recycles pulverized material from existing buildings and employs a tilt-up construction technique. Concrete walls are poured on-site and then lifted 90 degrees into place (standard for local warehouses), making the site itself a factory of sorts and minimizing costly transportation of finished panels. Plantings on the concrete walls and roof provide shade and thermal control as well as visual variety. In the parking lot permeable paving contributes to water management and returns rainwater to the soil. “Any institution devoted to the natural world,” asserted Hardy, “should be a leader in sustainable design.”

Cultural facilities pose particular challenges. Hardy recognizes that any theater is “an inherent energy hog” because it requires acoustic isolation, artificial light, and other obstacles to sustainability. The new headquarters for the Theater for a New Audience in the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cultural District will use the new site’s western orientation of a four-story curtain wall for solar power and winter heating. A new master plan for the Santa Fe Opera adapts a former dude ranch’s open-air pavilions as rehearsal spaces, with rammed-earth walls and subterranean passages maximizing airflow through the complex.

“It would be naïve to think we’re now all suddenly going to pledge allegiance to an eco-friendly existence,” concedes Hardy. Each site-specific choice, however, can help break down a national belief that he finds dangerously counterproductive: the assumption that every building must present an internal environment of identical, constant temperature and humidity. He envisions, instead, a future where people realistically allow for “nature’s variety and fecundity.”

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