Knox Hall Receives Green Preservation and Renovation Work


Dan Held, Columbia University Facilities
212/854-8374 - mailto:[email protected]

For Helpern Architects:
Anthony Angelico, Capelin Communications
212/779-4949 - [email protected]

Helpern Architects designs 1800-ft-deep geothermal wells to heat and cool Knox Hall; landmark-quality building receives extensive preservation and renovation work; Columbia anticipates LEED certification

New York, Sept. 21, 2009 - Knox Hall - a century-old building of landmark quality that caps the north end of Union Theological Seminary's quadrangle - has just reopened as a Columbia University academic facility after a 16-month-long renovation.  The 50,000-sf, seven-story structure was gutted, then reconstructed for classroom and offices, and entirely updated it to the best standards of sustainable design.  The building is located at West 122nd Street and Claremont Avenue/Seminary Row, up a lovely block from historic Riverside Church. 

Key to the project was the addition of four 1,800-ft-deep geothermal wells that descend through Manhattan schist and draw water that is being used for heating and cooling the building's mechanical system, according to Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP, design principal for Helpern Architects, whom Columbia hired in 2005.

Joe Ienuso, Columbia's executive vice president for facilities, indicates that these are the university's first geothermal wells.  "Columbia has a long history of environmental leadership and is committed to reducing its carbon footprint 30 percent by 2017 as part of PlaNYC, the city's comprehensive plan to create a more sustainable New York."  He adds that "Taking advantage of natural alternative-energy resources such as the geothermal wells at Knox will help us meet our goal."

Recently, Columbia earned the highest grade-the only school to receive an A- in all of New York State and among only 15 nationwide-for its environmental stewardship efforts from the Sustainable Endowments Institute on its 2009 Sustainability Report Card.

Columbia considered many ways to provide the greatest energy efficiency but still preserve the original appearance of the building, notably the façade and roofline. Ms. Castillo says, "We recommended using wells to meet the building's energy requirements, which would avoid the need to place a cooling tower atop the building.  Plus, the highest form of sustainability is reusing an existing, viable structure." 

Michael Iorii, associate director in Columbia's Capital Project Management group, explains that Knox Hall's use of four standing column wells and water-to-water heat pump units will meet the 95-ton heating and cooling load.  "This is expected to reduce energy costs by 22% over a conventional system, and the use of low-flow plumbing fixtures will reduce water consumption by 47%," he projects.  Mr. Iorii points out other green building features: the replacement of all windows with low-emissivity glass; use of post-consumer, recycled gypsum wallboard; and high-efficiency lighting that operates on motion sensors and timers.

Knox Hall is one of five Columbia projects to pursue certification under the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.  For the building to receive LEED certification, USGBC must review an official checklist of the ways that the owner, design consultants, and builder have used to reduce Knox Hall's energy and water consumption. 

Knox Hall was originally constructed for the Union Theological Seminary in 1909 as part of its square-block academic and residential quadrangle.  It became available on long-term lease to Columbia in 2004.  Located just northwest of Columbia's Morningside Heights Campus, Knox will house 170 faculty, graduate students, and administrators in Columbia's Department of Sociology, MEALAC [Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures], Institute of African Studies, Middle East Institute, and South Asia Institute. 

This "gut" renovation entailed creating 3 seminar rooms, 7 classrooms, 91 faculty, staff, and Graduate student offices, 2 commons rooms, and a gracious entry and reception area.  Helpern Architects safeguarded certain elegant details from a century ago - notably the Grueby tiles used on the lobby floor and to decorate the building's four fireplaces, which were reinstalled with their original mantels and wood surrounds. 

"It's amazing that, thanks to new technology, a century-old building can perform as efficiently as a newly constructed building," remarks David Helpern, FAIA, LEED AP, principal in charge of the Knox Hall project and Helpern Architects founder.  "We have a long history with Columbia, including the renovation of Low Library.  These older campus buildings are what people remember; Columbia's commitment to historic preservation ensures that they continue to serve the institution and at the same time meet today's energy performance standards."

Besides Helpern Architects, other members of the design and construction team are: Robert Silman Associates for structural engineering; Altieri Sebor Wieber for mechanical and electrical engineering; and Langan Engineering & Environmental Services for geotechnical engineering.  Norfast Consulting Group, Inc. was the geothermal consultant.  Gilbane Building Company, in joint venture with Ideal Construction, was the construction manager. 

The recent renovation of Knox Hall in Morningside Heights for Columbia University use accomplished three goals: to restore the century-old building, convert it to academic use, and create a model energy-efficient building.   Helpern Architects re-designed the 50,000-sf structure to meet the sustainability standards of the United States Green Building Council.  Four 1,800-ft-deep geothermal wells are expected to reduce the building's energy costs by 22%.   All-new, low-emissivity glass in the existing windows and motion and infrared sensors will contribute to the reduced energy use. Low-flow plumbing fixtures will almost halve the water consumption of the building.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Helpern Architects

Columbia University
A leading academic and research university, Columbia University continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia's extensive public service initiatives, cultural collaborations, and community partnerships help define the University's underlying values and mission to educate students to be both leading scholars and informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King's College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

Helpern Architects
Helpern Architects prepares programs, master plans, and designs for colleges and uni­versities, independent schools, and the public agencies that oversee buildings for education.  In addition to Co­lumbia, Helpern's client roster includes Yale University, The New School, Wesleyan University, New York University, The Collegiate School, and The Dalton School.  It has de­signed the award-winning SoHo Grand and The Penn Club of New York, as well as distinctive Manhattan office towers.  Helpern Architects' most popular project has been the Congo Gorilla Forest and Edu­cation Center at the Wildlife Conservation Society/Bronx Zoo, named one of the greatest buildings of New York City in the last 40 years by New York Magazine.

Note to the media

  • Preliminary professional photography of the building and record photographs of the installation of the geothermal wells is available.
  • A formal shoot by noted architectural photographer Brian Rose is planned for early October.
  • There is a full fact sheet with details of the design and construction. Contact: Anthony Angelico, 212/779-4949.