Volume 17, Number 39 | February 17-23, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
Architect Anthony Morali, above, has designed a courtyard which will be cut out of the center of the Summit building on Greenwich St. Construction to build 90 lofts there is expected to begin in four months. At 88 Laight St., below, terraces designed by Morali are under construction and are expected to be the first residential terraces using solar technology.
Architect tackles two different projects in Tribeca

By Ronda Kaysen

The future residents of 88 Laight St. will not be the only ones basking in the sun on their private balconies – their balconies’ glass railings will be busy absorbing the sun’s energy, too. Made with photovoltaic technology, the tinted glass railings, the first of their kind, will absorb light from the sun to produce energy for the building itself.

“It’s like a tree and the branches stick out so the leaves can catch the sun,” said Anthony Morali of MG Architects, the building’s architect. “Well, this is my leaf.”

Although P.V. technology is nothing new, this is the first project to use P.V. glass on balcony railings. More expensive than regular glass – the balconies will tack on $200,000 to the nine-story building’s development costs – solar technology has not been particularly attractive to developers of small buildings that are crowded into light-hungry streets. But if the new balconies prove effective, that may change.

“You’re limited by what you can do with a balcony by the Department of Buildings,” said Anthony Pereira, president and C.E.O. of Alt Power, the company that developed the technology for Morali’s railings. “All of a sudden Morali has the biggest balconies on buildings. Why? Because his balcony has to be a certain size or get to a certain position on the building in order to get to the sun. So the Buildings Department says, ‘Oh, it’s not just a balcony, it’s a device that’s holding the solar panels, so it has to be a little bigger. You make a few more bucks on each apartment, so then all of a sudden you have to look at the cost effectiveness differently.”

Alt Power installed the solar cell panels on the Solaire in Battery Park City and will also be working on four new green developments in B.P.C. and the Helena, a green residential building on West 57th St. (Unlike the Battery Park City developments and the Helena, 88 Laight St. is not a LEED certified green building.)

Six months ago, the Dept. of Buildings gave Morali the green light to try out his new railings on 88 Laight St., a novelty in a manufacturing district with few balconies. Convinced that 88 Laight will be an ideal building, Molari has his eyes on one of the units for his company’s offices.

415 Greenwich St.

The Laight St. building is not Molari’s only Tribeca project. He and his partner at MG, Michael Gadaleta have devised a plan to transform 415 Greenwich St., a squat manufacturing building around the corner from 88 Laight, into a 90-unit luxury loft building by carving two inner courtyards into the center of the building that will serve as light wells for interior windows.

“If I was designing back in the 1920s and creating something like the old Astor building on Broadway, a neo-classical building with inner courtyards, I would have designed this building with inner courtyards; it was part of the design,” Molari said, standing in his temporary office on the ground floor of the 415 Greenwich St. building. “It has an historical reference back to the neo-classical buildings of old New York, built in the 1920s. The courtyard will be a garden in the lobby, and as it goes up, people will have windows, little French balconies.”

Last June, the team secured approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to add a two-story penthouse addition to the squat, eight story building. Now as the developers, 415 Greenwich St., L.L.C., begin the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, H. Thomas O’Hara Architect P.L.L.C. will assume the lead on the MG designs.

The building, a 1920s landmark, was once Summit Chinese food warehouse before it was sold at the height of the Internet boom in 1999 to Globix, an Internet data company. After Globix sunk several million dollars into a massive renovation, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sold it last year for $60 million.

The sweeping views of the Hudson River and Tribeca are breathtaking from the eighth floor, interrupted only by white support beams. From the rooftop, where a two-story penthouse will lie atop a rooftop garden bed, the river view is dwarfed by the view to the south: the Woolworth Building and, eventually, the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site.

Molari sees Tribeca, with its windows recessed behind column beams and its views of the river, as a mirror of Venice, Italy.

“The canals in Venice with the balconies remind me of Canal St.,” he said, standing atop 415 Greenwich’s rooftop. From where we stood, looking out at the river, we had an unobstructed view of 88 Laight St., now only a steel-beamed shell of a building. “The glass running behind the structures, this is the historic precedent.”

With Pereira of Alt Power involved in 88 Laight St., Morali may have more than an energy efficient building on his hands; he may have a pretty one, too. Pereira provided the Solaire, the first (and only) LEED Certified Gold building in New York State with its signature blue-cell façade, a feature that is not only practical but also draws the curiosity of onlookers, said Tim Carey, president and C.E.O. of the Battery Park City Authority, a pioneer in green development.

“[Pereira] has done very good work and I think his products are very good,” he said. “They’re incredibly functional and the statements that they make to the world are something that gives the building its signature look.”

Pereira expects the solar panel costs to eventually come down. The Laight St. building uses thin cell technology, a spray-on film that is not as energy efficient than the solar cell technology used at the Solaire but ultimately less costly. “It’s cheaper to make by leaps and bounds,” he said. “However it’s still not as common as the [solar cells,] so you’re not seeing those price reductions now. But you will see it in the future.”

Both projects should be completed within the next 18 months. The 88 Laight St. building’s solar railings will be installed in the next 60 days and the building, which will be an artists’ residence and workspace, will be complete in six months, about two months after work on 415 Greenwich St. is expected to begin.

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