Best Urban Space Remodels: Our Instagram Claim to Fame

In the spirit of awards season, we’re pleased to announce that our green building Instagram account has been awarded an Instagrammy! Improvement Center evaluated the top ten home contractors to follow and we’ve been recognized for having the best urban space remodels.

Our feed features images from our Manhattan and Brooklyn ecological construction projects including gardens, green roofs, renovated shipping containers, passive brownstones, and more. In addition to project updates we include tips on green construction and sustainable design, a behind-the-scenes look at our salvaging techniques, and ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.

Big thanks to Improvement Center and be sure to take a peek at our Instagram account under the handle @ecobrooklyn.

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden

Praise for Siga high-performance tape

As a Green Builder we are always looking at the newest developments in green design. Today the folks from Siga were kind enough to come by and show us their energy efficient air sealing products.

We recently finished a Passive House renovation of a Harlem brownstone and worked closely with the air sealing supplier 475. They sell Pro Clima tape and it worked really well.
Siga seems like a great product too and I welcome the increase in air sealing options to the NY market.
The three key benefits of Siga are its outstanding adhesive qualities (its sticks to any surface), its vapor permeability, and its rain driven protection. Not to mention all their products are VOC free and are made with green technology.
They are certainly worth checking out: http://www.sigacover.com/us/

Earthship Project in New York

We are earthship enthusiasts here at Eco Brooklyn, and are currently speaking with a client who wants to build an earthship in New York State. Here are some ideas being thrown around between Michael Reynolds, Eco Brooklyn, and the client, that we may be able to help turn into reality. The schematic of this global model earthship shows an additional greenhouse that will provide greater temperature stabilization, which would be better suited to New York’s climate, and will provide additional grow space as well. The earthship will of course be capable of functioning independently from the grid. As a Brooklyn Green Contractor, this is a great project that we are excited to be involved with.

 

earthship schematic 1

earthship 1

earthship 2

earthship 3

earthship 4 All images are property of Earthship Biotecture.

– Liza Chiu

Chemical vs. Natural Swimming Pools

Natural swimming pools or living spas are much more common throughout Europe, but are increasingly becoming more popular in the United States. Now that the spring weather is beginning to surface, it’s time for Eco Brooklyn to open up our Natural Pool for the swimming season. We use it as a showcase pool for clients considering installing a Natural Swimming pool in New York. And we also use it to cool off and enjoy during the summer!

So how does this compare to tradition swimming pool maintenance? Like our design philosophy, Eco Brooklyn’s swimming hole should blend low energy costs with little to no waste or hazardous chemicals.

Here is a simple diagram from Inspiration Green that depicts exactly how natural swimming pools function.

Self Sustaining Pool

Natural Filtration

 

The first step in opening our natural spa is to turn on the tiny 100 watt water pump that feeds the soiled plants, bacteria, and critters that filter the pool’s water.

Next we turn on a very small aeration pump which enriches the water with oxygen, to encourage more plant growth and aerobic bacteria function.

Lastly Eco Brooklyn interns get to spend the morning scooping up algae that has accumulated over the winter. Adding some barley straw is also helpful in controlling algae by producing lignin, which is then converted to hydrogen peroxide in the presence of sunlight.

Natural Swimming Pond

So how does opening a chemically intensive pool compare?

Step one is controlling the pH by keeping it at 7.0 or slightly below. If the pH is above 7.5 the chlorine is only about 10% effective. In most cases this involves the addition muriatic acid.

Step two is to check the alkalinity, which should be between 80-140 ppm. Alkalinity is a measure of the water’s resistance to a change in pH. An improper balance of pH and alkalinity can reduce the effect of sanitation, cause cloudiness, and/ or deteriorate the concrete or siding.

Step three involves determining your Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Calcium Hardness. Both of these measurements will affect how corrosive the water is and often requires draining the pool.

Step four is backwashing the filter for cleaning when the gauge moves from 8-10 psi away from clean.

Step five comprises of cleaning the skimmer basket and scrubbing the walls of the pool weekly to prevent plaque build-up.

Lastly, running the filter and vacuum skimmer, often for a couple hours a day, for proper water sanitation is essential.

Considering the immense construction costs, the harsh chemicals additives, high energy pumps, and the endless hours of labor to produce and maintain a traditional swimming pool, it’s no wonder the Natural Pool phenomenon is catching on in America. The aquatic ecosystems are almost completely self-sustaining, and after the initial cost of construction you are basically done with the expenditure.

Eco Brooklyn is very excited to be a Natural Swimming Pool installer for the New York area. We feel the benefits to building a natural swimming pool, or even better to converting a chlorine pool to a natural one, are massive. Because of it’s natural features and fresh water t is such a joy to swim in and look at. It also adds so much to the local ecosystem.

-Anthony Rivale

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

The growth in sustainable and green living has given rise to a movement of eco-tourism in a variety of forms across the country.  Specifically the use of salvaged materials is making a breakthrough in the realm of practical and/ or novel green construction.

Across the country salvaged building trends and communities are blossoming and their projects range from the awe-inspiring to the comical.  I recently came across this link to a list of 8 “roadside” attractions made primarily or entirely of salvaged materials:

 

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/8-roadside-attractions-made-from-salvaged-materials/must-see-places

 

There’s a beer can house, a quilted-oil-protesting-gas station, and the largest tree house ever built (complete with sanctuary and basketball court).  Besides roadside attractions I’ve come to find through friends and my own travels a number of interesting things made by hand with salvaged materials.

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

Once a year in Glover, Vermont there is a gathering of people, “The Human Powered Carnival”, that is the only (to my knowledge) 100% handmade and human powered carnival in existence.

 

Internationally there is a movement of “freeganism”, a life style based around obtaining all necessary materials to live well without using money, this means dumpster diving for food, squatting (sometimes clandestinely), bartering services, and general scavenging.  There is enough usable waste produced by most large companies and institutions to feed, clothe and shelter everyone who needs it.  This movement is intrinsically related to the Human Powered Carnival, there is no advertisement besides word of mouth and there is an air of communal co-operation in all aspects of the event, from cooking to cleaning and operating the rides.

One of Cyclecides attractions

In a similar spirit, in California, there is “cyclecide”.  Cyclecide is an organization based on finding expressive, interactive and alternate uses for bicycles and bike parts.  This idea sprang in 1996 and is rooted in a “freegan” ideology, their first pieces came from dumpstered bikes and some still do.  Their main event is a touring “bike rodeo” featuring varied attractions, from art installations to interactive bike or “pedal” powered rides, and valuable information.  This rodeo is not for the faint of heart, group events and contests such as tall bike jousting, while extremely fun and entertaining do pose some real danger, perhaps that’s what makes it so fun?

This is an excerpt from their website that clearly describes the group’s core beliefs;

“We remain passionately devoted to the idea of the bicycle as a piece of interactive kinetic sculpture that can make music, breathe fire, even save the world!”

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

What I find most exciting about this small grassroots movement is its power to subtly invoke great change in a person’s cognition, with the near comic novelty of some of these art pieces and attractions people will let their mental guards down and approach this concept with a more open and relaxed mind, which is sure to get the wheels turning in ones head (whether pedal powered or not).

The Art of Shipping Containers

Recently a group approached Eco Brooklyn to help build a cool project involving shipping containers. The project is ambitious: three walls of containers arranged around a central triangular courtyard. The
walls are six levels of shipping containers high totaling 84 shipping containers overall. This is a second attempt to get such a project going. Their first attempt – an eight story shipping container on the Upper East Side – fell through.

As a New York green contractor we really like shipping containers as buildings; they appeal to our affinity for creative reuse and modular construction. Thousands and thousands of shipping containers are sitting stagnant in ports all over the world. In the 1970’s “shipping container architecture” began as trend in design and more recently the already existing building material is moving to the forefront of the sustainable architecture movement. Here are a few examples of architecture which ingeniously utilizes these bountiful, colorful, movable boxes.

Sky is the Limit

Typically when we think of a Japanese tea house, we think of low, thatched roof structures, but with Sky is the Limit, Portuguese artist, Didier Faustino decided to perch this space resting high above the rough sea in Yang Yang, South Korea.

He used two shipping contains to provide a sea-facing observation space atop a tower made out of scaffolding. Visitors must first climb five flights of stairs in order to reach the top of the 65-foot scaffolding.

 

Holiday Cabana at Maduru Oya

Sri Lankan architect, Damith Premathilake was commissioned to design and build a holiday cabana at Maduru Oya.

The lake house sits on an army training camp surrounded by jungles facing a lake as mountains appear in the distance. The structure is made out of materials that were all found on site such as timber from weapons boxes and shipping container.

The project took a total of one month to complete and is total of 700-square feet.

 

OceanScope

Korean designers, Keehyan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have used shipping containers to design a public observatory called Oceanscope. In order to overcome the restraints of the building site, where the ground level is too low to view the sunset across the harbor, the architects utilized old shipping containers to overcome the limitation.

The shipping containers are angled at 10’, 30’ and 50’ to achieve different views. As depicted in the diagram, the observer enters the shipping container and rests ones back against the angled wall, to view the reflection of the sunset through the mirror on the opposite side.

Shipping containers are used for temporary shelter in many rural areas of Korea because of their low cost.

However, indiscreet uses of this recycled product often don’t create harmonious relationships with the natural context because of their industrial aesthetic. Keehan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have been able to take this construction building block and mold it into an innovative prototype for the future of shipping container construction.

Normad Skyscraper

Globalization has given people the ability to not just be citizens of one city or region but become citizens of the world. Luca D’Amico and Luca Telso, two Italian architects submitted this “Nomad Skyscraper” design to a Skyscraper competition in 2011.

The concept centers on using shipping containers that act as individual, personalized apartment units, which can be plugged into the permanent scaffolding.  The main structure would provide basic infrastructure as well as recreational areas.

Units could theoretically be transported by ship, truck and train and transported to other cities, which have this same infrastructure.

Dekalb Market

These shipping container projects are also happening right here in Brooklyn. Take Dekalb Market for example, this low impact, relatively low cost, shopping center has become a centerpiece for the architecture of New York City.

Newark, New Jersey is home to one of the largest ports in North America, there is plethora of these module containers (in a variety of colors!) sitting and waiting to be shipping back to their port of origin. UK developers Urban Splash created a configuration made out of 22 shipping containers occupy a portion of Downtown Brooklyn.

Frietag Flagship Store

One of our readers spent us a link to another incredible example of innovative shipping container design. The Frietag flagship store is composed entirely of rusty, recycled shipping containers that have been gutted, reinforced and configured to serve Frietag, a Swiss company that specialized in products made from recycled materials.

Frietag took its initial objective (creating beautiful products from truck tarpaulins) and pushed it a step further by selling its recycled products within a recycled product.

The building is striking upon first glace, the first two floors are composed of four shipping containers (4×2), and the number of shipping container decreases as the height increases.

This structure is the world’s tallest recycled building, but short enough so that it does not infringe upon the coding laws of Zurich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recap of Panel Discussion on Green Design as (Un)usual

On June 7th, Van Alen Books hosted a panel discussion on architect David Bergman’s book Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide. Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Magazine, moderated the panel, which was made up of architect and professor David Bergman, Terreform ONE co-founder and Planetary ONE partner Mitchell Joachim, and NYC Department of Design and Construction Director of Creative Services Victoria Milne.

NYC sustainable design

The intent of Bergman’s book was to give perspective on what sustainable design is and where it is headed versus where we want it to go. He reminds us that before the Industrial Revolution people designed with what nature provided but after we started looking at nature as an obstacle, something to overcome. As Szenasy pointed out, people wanted to subdue nature and we always referred to nature as “her.”

Green design, in many ways, is an attempt to return to the pre-Industrial Revolution way of thinking in order to sustain our natural resources long into the future.  Bergman argues that it has evolved into several stages from “Design as Usual” to “Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Usual”. In a nutshell, designers first started doing unusual things in response to the environmental movement– this got labeled as green design– which eventually became more commonplace in the design world, or “usual.”

Now Bergman asks if we should be heading toward a new stage called “Design as Usual” where the green element of design becomes transparent. “Transparent green” is the idea that green thinking should be integral to all design and not a separate category. It sounds good but Bergman poses this question: if green is implied in design, will consumers stay aware of sustainability issues? This is where the panel started.

It seemed to be unanimously agreed that sustainability must be achieved through redesigning systems, not just products. Milne stated that government has the ability to create sustainable, closed systems and that there is an opportunity there to change market demands and standards, unlike within the private sector, which seldom stays in a closed system and has different motivations.

Joachim asserted that there is a need to reform education so that systems-thinking is better incorporated. He was opposed to the idea of specified majors that restrict students to only thinking about the world in one sense. Bergman agreed and said that that is why he loves architecture so much, “It is one of the last generalist fields.”

There needs to be a shift in society’s mindset toward consumption. Product designers shouldn’t be working with perceived or planned obsolescence in mind. Architects shouldn’t be wasting tons of materials and energy on decorative features. The public should divorce itself from such things as the idea of shopping as recreation. How do we do this?

Szenasy wonders why these issues haven’t gotten better PR. Why, for example, isn’t New York City prouder of its green efforts? City planners across the country look to New York as a leader in green design. Milne applauded the city’s efforts toward “active design,” which is where city infrastructure is built to engage the public and force them to exercise. But how many people are even aware that the city is doing that? How many people would be upset that the city is doing that? Look at the High Line. Cities around the country are starting projects to mimic New York’s great park yet the panel wondered, how many New Yorkers are aware of the sustainable implications of the park, how it’s revitalized a neighborhood, how the use of native plants has reduced water and energy use while also increasing native biodiversity, and so forth?

Someone suggested one reason is because when people think of “green”, they think of the apocalypse. People don’t want to think of the possibility of humanity ending, especially if it is because of their own irresponsible behaviors. Joachim said many people see green standards as a loss of liberty. Living sustainably often means giving something up and no one wants to be forced to do that.

In the end, it seems like the solution lies somewhere between education and redesign. Society needs to better understand how and why to live green and the systems we live in need to be reorganized.

 

By: Malone Matson

Squibb Park, Brooklyn: Prototype for a New Generation of Sustainable Bridge Design:

After receiving a generous amount of funding, Brooklyn has commissioned a pedestrian walkway to connect Squibb Park and the Brooklyn  Bridge Park. The 4.9 million dollar bridge will be designed by Ted Zoli, a MacArther Genius Award-winning structural engineer, he is not only one of the nation’s “it” engineers but also among the nation’s foremost experts on “terror-proofing.”

As a New York green builder we were interested in this project based on their choice of material. Metal? Nope.

Zoli’s vision of this sustainable design is grounded in an old-fashioned material: wood. And not just any wood: Black Locust. Zoli attempts to create a prototype for modern sustainable design techniques. Long-lasting, rot resistance materials are a pivotal element for the future of sustainable and green bridge designs.

The Black locust grows fast and strong, making it a great green builders material

Eco Brooklyn loves black locusts because they are native to the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Black locust is known for its rot-resistance, durability and its sustainable nature. The rough-sawn decking and wooden structural elements will be coated with a natural finish that changes color and often warps slightly when exposed to natural elements.

In many places the tree is actually considered a pest and they regularly cut them down along roadways. Using something that normally is considered garbage is the ultimate green green builders goal. New York green contractors constantly reuse discarded brick and old joists. By using black locust Zoli is continuing that tradition.

Zoli did not only choose the Block locust building material because it is native to the  Northeast but also because is a prominent feature in the Brooklyn Bridge Park landscape. Zoli is attempting to expand upon the language of the Brooklyn Bridge Park by incorporating some of the materials like Black Locust and wire into his own design.

The combination of natural, durable materials and smart design seem to be the foundation and future for this new generation of bridge designs that center around sustainability. The Squibb design is just one stepping stone for the use of rot-resistant natural building materials in vernacular bridges.

The 396-foot-long bridge, with two main spans of 120 feet will connect a small-paved park at the north end of the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park, originally designed by Michael Ban Valkenburgh.

This bridge, which will hover above Furman Street will zig zag through the existing tall oaks and between two buildings while descending 30 ft in elevation from its starting point to its endpoint in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The bridge will be supported by poured concrete pillars and suspended by steel cables; the primary construction material will be 6- and 10-inch diameter pieces of Robinia pseudoacacia or black locust.

Despite the detachment from the typical urban bridge, which is usually metal and gritty, Zoli’s design is a seamless combination of the rural and the industrial.

This bridge is an incredible addition to the Brooklyn community for multiple reasons. It functions to reconnect pedestrians to the Brooklyn Bridge Park which is currently isolated by roads but will also serve as a prototype for urban design using natural material rather than metals and synthetics.

Bridge connecting Squibb Park to Brooklyn Bridge ParkOne major component of sustainable design is finding long lasting materials. If we are able to learn about and utilize some of trees in our own regions then green builders will be able to save energy through shorter transportation distances and become less wasteful in the creation of new manmade materials.

 

Green Building Checklist

Here is a good general check list to keep in mind when building:

Sustainable Site

Results
Stormwater run-off reduced
Alternate transportation nearby
Urban Heat Island Effect mitigated
Nighttime light pollution reduced

Strategies
Native drought-resistant plantings; permeable paving
Light-colored, high-reflectance, low-emissivity roofing
Skylights and windows screened to limit bothersome light escape at night
Urban setting near public transportation

Water Efficiency

Results
Potable water use reduced in building
Landscaping uses no potable water

Strategies
Low-flow fixtures, flow restrictors
Native drought-resistant plants requiring no irrigation

Energy

Results
Fossil fuel use reduced
Energy use reduced – 33% over a baseline NYS Energy Conservation Code 1991
Annual energy savings of $9,400 (2002 rates)
Payback – 11 years simple payback of energy conserving measures
Ozone depletion reduced
System-operations integrated

Strategies
Geothermal heat pumps, open loop water-to-water
Daylighting for all regularly occupied spaces, using windows, skylights, light shelves, fritted glass curtain wall
High-performance lighting, daylight dimming, occupancy controls
Natural ventilation with skylight louvers and operable windows
BMS system with remote monitoring
Terra cotta rainscreen panel system provides breathable exterior wall
High-efficiency multi-zone variable-air-volume system and controls
Commissioning of systems
Stairs inviting and centrally located to encourage use

Material Conservation

Results
Recycled materials used
Local products given preference
Rapidly renewable products used
Forest Stewardship Council wood products required
Materials conserved

Strategies
Major materials targeted for recycled content, including ceiling tiles, rubber flooring made from tires, terrazzo flooring, wheat-board substrates, fly-ash in concrete, steel, gypsum board
Bamboo wood flooring, rubber and linoleum resilient flooring, cork display boards
Lumber and wood veneer from managed forests required
Materials for exterior cladding reduced by design
Rain screen used at the exterior facade

Healthy Interiors

Results
Controlled daylight maximized; views outside maximized
Reduced exposure to toxins, volatile organic compounds, urea formaldehyde
Occupant-controlled lighting, heating, and cooling
Building systems and occupants protected from construction contamination
Sound from HVAC components controlled

Strategies
Expansive low-emissivity glazing, controlled from glare – atrium skylights with louver-controlled sun filters, clear north-facing windows, light shelves/fritted glass on the east, deep-set south windows
Natural ventilation; air intakes remote from street traffic
Low-emitting paints, adhesives, sealants, non-urea-formaldehyde wheat-board
Separate ventilation for interior service areas; walk-off grilles
Air quality management during construction planned
AC units mounted on roof curbs; sound attenuators in ductwork.

Taken from NYC Dept of Design and Construction