Date: October 6, 2009
Courtesy of Columbia University Environmental Stewardship

The restored, renovated Faculty House exudes the graciousness and beauty befitting its 1920s McKim, Mead & White design and the hospitality befitting its role as community gathering place.

What most guests won't immediately know, however, is the backstory that's been in large part about making a landmark building "green." Click to view a slideshow of Faculty House, then and now.  [Image credit: F.J. Sciame Construction / Mathilda McGee-Tubb]

In fact, it's a history-making backstory: According to numerous knowledgeable sources, Faculty House is most certainly the first McKim, Mead & White building registered  from the project's start with the United States Green Building Council, seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. "Nothing else rings a bell," says Sam G. White, great grandson of  architect Stanford White and a principal in the New York architectural firm Platt Byard Dovell White.

The LEED system is described by the United States Green Building Council as "the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings." Applicants employ design and construction, maintenance and operations standards consistent with LEED standards.

Doug McKean, Director, Capital  Projects Management, Facilities, says the decision to go beyond a traditional renovation and make Faculty House a LEED-certified building was made early in 2008 as part of Columbia's effort "of always trying to improve sustainability."

The original idea came from Lisa Hogarty, now Chief Operating Officer, Columbia University Medical Center. She was then Executive Vice President, Student & Administrative Services on the Morningside campus. Hogarty gives equal credit to architect Larry Bogdanow, who she says was "a great partner with me in deciding if we could achieve LEED certification."

It involved hiring LEED-accredited professionals, including Sciame Construction Co., Bogdanow Partners Architects, and Sustainable Design Collaborative. Their attention has focused on exterior restoration, as well as interior renovation of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, plumbing, and electrical systems; reuse of existing materials; use of local materials - many with recycled or low-emitting content; recycling of construction debris; use of non-toxic cleaning materials; implementation of a green education program; and donation of the old kitchen equipment to a non-profit educational program in Honduras.

The exterior restoration, including facades, windows and original terra cotta roofing tiles, has matched the building's historic profiles, McKean says. The original roofing tile manufacturer was able to supply replacement replicas that have preserved the historic look. However the flat roofing, which is not visible from the street, was changed to be light colored (vs conventional black roofinFaculty House through the yearsg)  because it helped reflect sunlight and absorb less heat, thus contributing to the  sustainability effort by reducing the heat island effect of the building.

McKean describes the new wood window frames and mullions as "near replicas of the original ones." The original windows had first been replaced years ago, with non-historically faithful aluminum frames and fake mullions.

Light from the renovated windows complements the new versatility in space usage on each floor. Moveable partitions have replaced stationary walls that blocked light; now, visitors are able to see windows, outside views and daylight from 75 percent of the building. This is particularly remarkable in an old building because most have much less glass and more brick, says Larry Bogdanow, Principal, Bogdanow Partners Architects. On sunny days, daylight sensors in the building automatically dim electric lighting.

Faculty House's interior redesign and restoration have been consistent with its 86-year history and purpose - to provide a comfortable environment for socializing, dining and academic exchanges, though in its early years, only for male faculty. The building is open to the Columbia community and also available to outsiders for dining, meetings and other special events.

Renovations to the heating and ventilation systems and the addition of air conditioning have been a core part of the greening process. The air conditioning is partly an outdoor air cooling system. On warm days, it uses chilled water provided through the main campus system that also provides steam heat for the building in winter. When the outdoor air is dry, however, and temperatures range from about 55 to 65 degrees, automatic controls shut off the chilled water flow and louvers open to bring in outside air.

Automatic controls also monitor building occupancy, which in turn determines the amount of inside or outside air intake needed to reduce carbon dioxide levels. Sensors that monitor occupancy in designated zones throughout the building also regulate the fans in the air conditioning system. Fan blowers are completely open when a zone is occupied, otherwise they close automatically. Stanislav Slutsky, PE, chief HVAC engineer for the project, says significant amounts of energy are saved by these features.

Mechanical upgrades also include low-flow toilets, faucet filters and timers to reduce water use. The electrical system, including fire and smoke detection, has been replaced. Compact fluorescent bulbs are now the building standard, except for the faculty dining room where an historically appropriate chandelier, whose glass reflects the original Edison light bulb, is in use.

To enter the building is to be impressed by its original open wrought iron staircase curving up to the fourth floor. Original terrazzo and wood floors as well as two non-working marble fireplaces are also part of the reuse effort wrought iron fanwork over entrances to each floor have also been preserved.

All paint, wallpaper, cleaning materials and construction sealants are low-VOC, meaning their content contains little to no toxic volatile organic compounds. Carpeting and sheetrock contain a high percentage of recycled content. Thirty percent of the renovation materials have come from a relatively close 500-mile radius of Morningside Heights, says Catherine Smith, architectural designer at Bogdanow Partners. Smith also says in July as much as 89 percent of the construction waste was being taken to a recycling facility, noteworthy given that the contractor's specs required just 50 percent.

William Bobenhausen, principal, Sustainable Design Collaborative, describes himself as "the environmental architect who's been guiding Faculty House's LEED process throughout." One of the final LEED strategies, he says, is the building's educational effort whose first step is the digital signage and a display screen at the entrance. Here visitors can learn the Faculty House story - especially the chapter about its going green.

Plans are also under way for an increasingly green Faculty House menu. At this point, chefs are already working with organizers to create local, sustainable menus for special events.

Bobenhausen, who says he's proud to have been a part of the first McKim, Mead & White LEED registration process, expects the LEED commissioning  -- or verification of the LEED restoration and renovation details by an independent auditor --  to take place in October, with certification to be received some months later.