Thoughts on the New Nature Conservancy Building

The May issue of the Urban Times Newsletter has a story on the new Nature Conservancy building in the Cole-Noble Neighborhood. The paper has a new rendering of the project as well as some new information. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that they are using a large amount of bricks that were salvaged from the NESCO building in their construction. I found it very unfortunate that they bought a building that they didn’t plan on reusing, which is the opposite of green. Salvaging the bricks from the previous building is a pretty smart idea. Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t forgive the original sin. There is a plethora of surface parking lots that they could have built on.

The building has also come under fire for not being urban enough, and in that I agree. The parking lot has a larger footprint than the building, and the building is set back from the sidewalk. It is also a single-use property.

Of course, I must also mention that the building does strive for efficiency and LEED-certification. The juxtaposition between a good green building and a good urban one is interesting to me, and I’m way out of my element to explain it. Perhaps LEED will need to adjust their requirements in the future to place a higher emphasis on land use and reuse of buildings. Otherwise, they might not be encouraging the best practices.

Comments 6

  • I think “green” and “urban” are usually lumped together in large part because urbanity is associated with efficient and environmentally friendly modes of transportation. People arrive at an “urban” building largely via walking, biking, mass transit, etc. No building in Indianapolis fits that bill (owing to no fault of their own, but to the nature of the city), but the fact that this one is single-use, and oriented toward its large parking lot discards any illusion of such green-ness.

  • That all makes sense to me. I think where I’m baffled is that LEED stands apart from urban development. It should be second nature for the program to promote urban living and building reuse.

    This is an excellent topic for Graeme to chime in on. Graeme?

  • Unfortunately, the LEED system can still be “gamed” to get points without optimizing environmental benefits. The new LEED system (this project is probably v2.2 rather than v3.0) gives bonus points for “regional priority” credits (which in zip code 46202 does not include building reuse), but unfortunately there is no mandate to reuse buildings.

    LEED does encourage urban forms in areas that are already dense by lowering certain requirements or alternative provisions. However, there is very little incentive to build a dense project in other areas. Some points even seem to encourage suburban development, such as SS5.2: Maximize Open Space.

    But don’t give up on LEED just yet, it is a good system and they do try to minimize perverse incentives. It will take a little longer to work out all the kinks, though.

    The Nature Conservancy HQ FAQ says they commissioned a structural engineer to review the existing building but it was “structurally unsound and could not be renovated without incurring substantial additional construction costs”. I guess conservation depends on your priorities.

    A related and very interesting article came out this past month in Structure Magazine, detailing how much embodied energy is saved when a building is renovated. Their calculations show that a new energy-efficient building will take 50 years to recover the energy investment (and related carbon emissions).

  • 50 years is a big number. Thanks for the comment and article.

  • Good ideas. Sounds like you are advocating better land use, building reuse, and access to public transportation as a commonent of a building’s energy efficiency and environmental impact. Possibly these fit into something similar to LEED but for an entire city, or at least districts within cities. Does anything like this exists already?

    We know cities and buildings consume a large percentage of the world’s energy, and typically have less plant life and green space. At the same time done right cities are great places to live. Cities will see poor residential and commercial growth unless they adopt energy efficient and environmentally aware policies over the next few decades – both for reasons of creating an enjoyable experience but also due to the economics. But up front costs of 50 years to recover investment needs to go down.

  • After living in Los Angeles and now London, I expect to be moving back to Indianapolis in the next year or so, and really enjoy keeping an eye on Indy via your blog.

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