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Cornell Tech: The World’s Tallest Passive House Project

Market: Residential - Education
Type: High-Rise
Location: Roosevelt Island, NY
Developer/Owner: Cornell Tech, Hudson Companies, Related Companies
Architect: Handel Architects
Project Services: Green Building Certification, Commissioning, Accessibility Consulting, Energy Modeling
Incentive Programs: NYSERDA MPP
Building Size: 270,000 sf; 26 stories; 352 units
Certifications: Passive House, LEED® for Homes™Multifamily High-Rise, ENERGY STAR

Cornell Tech had an ambitious vision for its state-of-the-art 12-acre sustainable campus on Roosevelt Island, the crown jewel of which would be the tallest passive house project in the world—a 26-story, 352-unit residential high rise that will house about 530 graduate students, faculty, and staff when completed. The apartment tower’s groundbreaking ceremony was attended by NYC’s Mayor de Blasio and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and garnered a great deal of media attention, including an article in The New York Times.

Developed by The Hudson Companies and The Related Companies, SWA was selected to join the project team to provide an array of green building, energy efficiency, and accessibility services. “One of the reasons we selected SWA for passive house consulting on this project was SWA’s outstanding track record in the field with site supervision and monitoring,” said Arianna Sacks Rosenberg, Senior Project Manager at Hudson Companies. “One of the biggest challenges with this project is the implementation of the air sealing details at such a large scale. After past experiences with SWA and knowing they had staff that were well trained in Passive House and had already accomplished it at a smaller scale, we knew they were the right team to help us execute this building.”

To ensure the quality control necessary to create an extremely air-tight building envelope on such a large scale, the project team, which included Handel Architects and BuroHappold Engineering, designed custom curtain wall façade panels that were constructed off-site and were delivered with the windows intact. This panelized system was devised both for speed of construction and also to reduce the number of joints that would be required to be very carefully sealed by the builder on a floor-by-floor basis. According to passive house advocates, such buildings are quieter than traditional spaces, thanks to the heavily insulated and airtight facade, and also have better indoor air quality due to the filtered fresh air delivered to all habitable spaces.

Additionally, the building meets several federal and city accessibility standards. Applicable accessibility requirements include Chapter 11 of the 2008 New York City Building Code, the seven design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), and because the building is student housing, the Americans with Disabilities Act. SWA applied the technical requirements referenced by all of the applicable codes and laws to the project, which include the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard for Usable Buildings and Facilities referenced by the NYC Code, the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines as the HUD approved safe harbor for compliance with the FHAA, and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design as the safe harbor for compliance with the ADA. Our team worked with Handel to help ensure that the compliance requirements of each applicable accessibility code and law was achieved.

Read more about SWA’s Residential New Construction Services