The Height of Efficiency

Cornell is building one of the greenest high-rises in the world.

The Atlantic, January/February 2016

In the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge, on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, three buildings now under construction will together form the core of a new technology campus for Cornell University. The tallest of them, a student and faculty residence, will look much like any number of apartment towers going up around the city. In fact, it was designed to be one of the most energy-efficient high-rises on the planet.

The 26-story building is the work of Handel Architects, a New York–based firm that in 2011 partnered with developers and engineers to compete to design a residence on the new campus. Together they put forward an ambitious proposal: a building that would meet the most rigorous energy-efficiency standard in the world, called “passive house.” Not only that, it would be both the tallest and the largest passive-house building in North America, if not the world.

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