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Harlem's 'Passive' Building Is Aggressively Eco-Friendly

By Amy Zimmer | October 6, 2016 3:20pm | Updated on October 7, 2016 5:20pm
 PERCH Harlem is the city's first market-rate passive house rental building.
PERCH Harlem is the city's first market-rate passive house rental building.
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Synapse Development Group/Taurus Investment Holdings

A new 34-unit 7-story rental rising at West 153rd Street not only stands out amid the brownstones of Hamilton Heights because of its modern façade filled with glass squares and rectangles — it’s also the first of its kind in terms of its eco-friendliness.

Known as PERCH Harlem, it's the first market-rate rental in the city to meet the rigorous energy efficiency Passive House standards.

A “passive house” would be essentially airtight, keeping hot air in during the winter and cool air in during summer with a filtration system circulating clean air inside.

Leasing at the building, at 542 W. 153rd St., began Thursday, with studios to two-bedroom units ranging approximately from $2,600 to $4,600 a month and the penthouse units ranging approximately $5,300 a month, according to developers Synapse Development Group and Taurus Investment Holdings.

The building, expected to be completed this fall, also has a private gym, rooftop terrace, resident storage, bicycle storage and a resident lounge.

It’s designed to embrace the ethos of “low-impact living,” the developers said, with a focus on well-thought out living and common spaces to foster community.

But one thing that’s not communal is the ability to control your own apartment’s temperature. Each unit has central heating and cooling and an energy-recovery ventilator, so renters can adjust the temperature and the fresh airflow rate as needed. (The design eliminates the wasted energy in many buildings that leads to some to overheated in the winter because of inefficient steam heat, forcing tenants to open windows.)

“This is truly the next level of responsible luxury living,” said Cristina Casañas-Judd, principal of Me and General Design, which designed the building’s interiors with custom PERCH wallpaper, inspired by the building’s exterior window design created by East Village-based architect Chris Benedict.

The wallpaper was created on Terralon, a PVC-free product made with a polyester/natural fiber technology containing 31 percent recycled materials. The lobby and corridors within the building are accented with Richlite, a versatile and attractive durable product that is made from post-consumer recycled paper.

And the lounge will feature hand-painted custom artwork that was inspired by the neighborhood’s eclectic vibe, the project’s team said.

Each apartment has large fixed windows to maximize the light (and views of the George Washington Bridget and Midtown), while smaller, operable windows will ensure fresh air when desired.

Benedict is at the forefront of creating housing that employs high-tech practices to make them airtight — and she often does it on tight budgets, making it possible for affordable housing to meet these challenging energy efficiency standards, so these high-performing buildings are not only for the high-end market.

Benedict designed the city's first affordable rental buildings that met passive house standards: two Bushwick buildings for The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which runs complexes that are 100 percent affordable.

She’s working with the organization on an extremely complicated project, retrofitting a collection of its existing affordable housing buildings so they meet the standards.