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New York's First Carbon Neutral Building to Rise On East River

By Amy Zimmer | February 21, 2011 6:43am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — Imagine a building completely off the grid.

It would have a canopy of solar panels and walls covered in vegetation that would be lush in the summer to keep things cool and sparse in the winter to allow the sun to get in and warm the building. It would re-use rainwater and have windows positioned in such a way that lights wouldn't be needed until the sun goes down. 

The building would also be a community resource, teaching people how to incorporate green strategies on a local level to be "a good eco-citizen," according to the developers behind Solar 2, a $12.5 million, 8,000-square-foot structure set to rise along the East River at 23rd Street.

"Essentially, the biggest problem in New York City with climate change and global warming is that 77 percent of our buildings account for the CO2 emissions," said Pauline Augustine, marketing associate for Solar One, the eco-education nonprofit behind Solar 2.

"That is the challenge. This building is going to be a living, breathing example of how to put together something innovative," she said.

Solar 2 would be the city's first carbon-neutral, net-zero energy building, generating as much energy as it uses and producing extra to give back to the city's grid.

"You will be able to stand under the photovoltaic cells and understand how they work," Augustine said. "The whole building is going to be an exercise in learning."

The new building, which would also include a hydroponic greenhouse growing its own strawberries, lettuces and other edibles for its rooftop "Eco-Café," would replace a tiny structure the group erected seven years ago.

That 500-square-foot building has the distinction of being the city's first solar-powered office building, Augustine said. The tiny building will be deconstructed and either re-used elsewhere or its materials will be recycled.

But it's not easy being green without enough green: The organization can't put shovels in the ground of the land it leases from the city along the FDR Drive until it raises the project's entire $12.5 million price tag. So far, it's raised $6.5 million, Augustine said.

"The economic climate is putting a damper in things," acknowledged Augustine.

Still, Solar 2 has already won accolades, garnering the prestigious Holcim Gold North America Award, from a Swedish-based foundation for "bringing the eco-building vision into reality."

Solar One, which offers workshops, green job training and film, music and dance programs (powered, of course, with solar energy) needs the bigger space. The nonprofit sprouted over the last three years from an operation with a $600,000 budget and a staff of six to a budget of $2 million and 30 full and part time workers, executive director Chris Collins told Community Board 6 residents at a meeting a couple of months ago.

Unlike other green buildings that now dot the city, like the Bank of America building in Midtown, Solar 2 would give visitors an inside peek on how everything works with cutaways and transparent walls.

"I call it a jewel of the eco-friendly buildings scene in New York," Augustine said.