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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Summer 2005 : Cover Story

Cover Story

Casting a Long Shadow
One of Manhattan's great family-owned commercial development firm is greening the city's skyline, making environmentally intelligent building strategies a competitive requirement.

by Phil Storey

One of the best-known landmarks of Times Square was installed in 1989: the National Debt Clock. The billboard-sized display shows passers-by the fast-growing national debt total, as well as "your family share." Seymour Durst, second-generation leader of the family real estate business known as the Durst Organization, installed the Debt Clock to point out that, in his words, "We have mortgaged our future and the future of our country because we refuse to face our fiscal responsibilities."

The Debt Clock was retired in 2000, when the federal government began paying down the national debt and the clock started running backwards (creating puzzlement more than awareness). But in July 2002, with the return of large federal budget deficits, Durst Organization co-presidents Douglas and Jonathan (Jody) Durst (Seymour's son and nephew, respectively) restarted the Debt Clock.

The mindfulness symbolized by the National Debt Clock is very much a part of how the Durst family of developers does business. The family's real estate legacy began in 1915 when Joseph Durst, the grandfather of Douglas and Jody, purchased an office building on 34th Street in Manhattan. In the decades that followed, the Durst Organization grew its holdings, eventually focused on commercial properties, and built a reputation for prudent management, stability and exceptional responsiveness to its tenants.

Greening the Skyline

During the past few years, in addition to managing its current properties, the Durst Organization has been leading the greening of New York City's skyline. The company's environmental leadership has been recognized by awards from the Natural Resources Defense Council (Forces for Nature Award, 2001), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 2 Environmental Quality Award, 2004) and Global Green (Design Award, 2004), among others.

The Durst Organization made its first big environmental splash in the mid 1990s, when they developed the first green-designed skyscraper in the United States: Four Times Square. The 48-story, 1.6-million-square-foot building was designed by Fox & Fowle Architects and built by Tishman Construction Corporation, and opened its doors in 2000. From its very inception, Four Times Square was an icon of environmentally intelligent design, with abundant fresh air and daylight throughout the building, fuel cells and photovoltaic (solar-energy-generating) panels, variable-speed drives for the pumps and fans, occupancy sensors and efficient lighting systems.

Success was far from obvious at the outset. It was the first commercial high-rise built in Midtown Manhattan in a decade. The $500-million project was speculative when the Durst Organization announced it in August 1996, with no "anchor tenant" lined up in advance. (Condé Nast quickly filled that role.) Then construction was marred by two fires and a scaffolding collapse. But the building has been a success, with satisfied tenants and high occupancy rates.

One of the original tenants is Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, an independent research firm specializing in non-traditional sources of investment risk and performance, including environmental and social factors. So moving into Four Times Square—and outfitting it with environmentally superior interior design and furnishings—was important to the company. "We wanted to walk the talk," says Hewson Baltzell, president of Innovest. And they've been pleased with the results. "People like the space. They like working here."

Advanced environmental design strategies are now part of all new Durst Organization projects. On Manhattan's west side, the Dursts are building a 37-story, 580-unit residential tower called the Helena, scheduled for completion later this year. The building was designed by Fox & Fowle, the architects of Four Times Square, to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating from the US Green Building Council. The Helena's sustainable design features include photovoltaic panels, on-site wastewater treatment and reuse, plant-covered roofs to manage storm water and provide insulation, an efficient micro-turbine co-generation energy system, and the use of renewable materials such as bamboo and certified wood.

The few Durst activities outside Manhattan address ecological sustainability in a rural environment. The Durst Organization is developing a 975-home community and country club in Dutchess County, about 100 miles north of New York City, called the Hudson Valley Club. While the project is still in the planning and approval stage, the Durst Organization has hired the Rocky Mountain Institute's Green Development Services to advise the developers on issues of habitat, storm water, wastewater treatment and green building. And just a few miles away is New York state's largest organic farm, 500-acre McEnroe Organic Farm, which Douglas Durst has co-owned since 1987.

A New Icon

The Durst Organization's latest project, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, is by far its most ambitious, and raises the bar once again for high-rise commercial development. The project broke ground last year and is expected to open for occupancy in 2008. It is a 54-story crystalline structure designed by Cook+Fox Architects, on the same block as Four Times Square and overlooking both Times Square and Bryant Park. As the next generation of intelligent high-rise design, One Bryant Park includes a dazzling array of cutting-edge environmental features and strategies—the building will clean the air, treat and reuse storm water, and generate its energy on-site with an efficient CO-generation plant, among other things. (See inset, One Bryant Park.)

In addition to its environmental innovations, One Bryant Park will be a visual icon in the Midtown skyline. The design was inspired by elements of New York City's classic skyscrapers and by the New York Crystal Palace, the first glass-and-iron building in America, erected in Bryant Park in 1853. One Bryant Park's crystalline form spirals from its base to its highest tower, with glass curtain walls forming sculptural facets animated throughout the day and night by the movements of the sun and moon. And at the street level, the building engages with the pedestrian and traffic patterns of Times Square, offering attractive and convenient public spaces.

Constructing a Legacy

So what does all this add up to in New York City's cultural and commercial hotbed? Despite the Dursts' disappointment that Four Times Square was not emulated immediately, Manhattan's high-profile new development projects are now going green. (The Freedom Tower designed for the World Trade Center, new headquarters for both The New York Times and the Hearst Corporation, and Seven World Trade Center all have environmental design elements and LEED aspirations.) Architectural Record gives the Durst Organization much of the credit for this trend. It was the pioneering Four Times Square project, quickly followed by the US Green Building Council's release of LEED and the establishment of environmental guidelines for residential construction in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, that convinced other developers to follow. According to one developer quoted in Architectural Record, "Before that, we said, 'Why bother?' No one understood green design of what its advantages were. But after Four Times Square, everyone thought, 'We can do that too.'"

Leading by example is exactly what the Dursts want to do, according to architect Bob Fox, whose work with the Dursts has included Four Times Square and the Helena as principal of Fox & Fowle, and One Bryant Park as principal of Cook+Fox. For the Dursts, Fox says, "this is about sharing and learning and allowing others to learn from what the Dursts spent a lot of money doing research on. They'd like other people to say, 'Hey, this is pretty good. Let me do it too.'" And now (finally) many of the Dursts' peers are doing it too.

green@work recently visited the Durst Organization and spoke with Douglas and Jody about their firm's leadership and their aspirations for the family business.

green@work: Is there an inherent relationship between your concern for the environment and the fact that you are a family business?

Douglas Durst: We think so. We think that as a family business you're thinking about the future, and future generations. And that's what the environment is all about. It's thinking about saving resources for the future.

Jody Durst: And in addition to that, if you're looking back, we believe that our environmental consciousness came from our grandparents, so that they influenced our respective fathers, and in that way we share the common interest.

What were your first initiatives that really started to put this into practice?

JD: In the early 1990s we looked at the demand-side management aspects of our existing buildings, and we realized that there were a lot of products coming on the market that would help with energy consumption, and some of those retrofits that we did were energy-saving lamps and ballasts in the buildings, and energy-saving electric motors, and then those high-efficiency electric motors where appropriate were connected to variable-frequency motors running pumps and fans in the building. And then after that was accomplished, we looked at the building-management systems and retrofitted those.

So we were just finishing up on those demand-side management retrofitting programs when we had the opportunity to start designing Four Times Square, and we realized that we had just touched upon the energy aspects of our existing buildings, because in terms of designing the buildings for the actual occupants, that was a lost opportunity in an existing building. But we knew we had the opportunity with Four Times Square to consider the actual user in the space and to make that as environmentally friendly as possible.

Did you understand at that point what some of the inherent opportunities were?

DD: From an energy side we understood. But when we built Four Times Square we were really building a different type of building. We looked at all the systems, all the materials that go into buildings, trying to see what would be the best way to build it to make it as efficient as possible to the occupants.

When this building was built, the one we're in now (Durst Organization headquarters), back in 1984, we had just come through the oil shortage and the big push was energy efficiency. So they reduced the amount of outside air to the absolute minimum in the buildings of that generation (for more efficient heating and cooling). We've changed that since then. But the buildings built around this period were made very efficient energy-wise, but not efficient from the occupants' side. So we looked at the buildings not just from an energy point of view, but from the occupants' point of view.

When we started, we said, "How will we make this building different from others? How will we make it an efficient building for occupants and for the environment?" And so we had to examine everything that went into it.

JD: And the other two major team players-the architect and the construction manager-we were all very much aligned on the desire to do something that was sort of a quantum leap better than the conventional wisdom that goes into a building. And so it was really a great relationship and a great team.

DD: You really need that to do this. You need everybody on the team on board. The easiest way to build the building and the easiest way for the engineers to design it is to do what they did last time, because they know what works and they know how to do it. And the hardest thing and the most expensive part of the environmental building is the time and effort you have to put into designing it. Because each building is different. It serves a different client, a different location.

What kind of a payback horizon are you looking for when you put up something like Four Times Square or One Bryant Park, if there are going to be some higher initial costs?

DD: There are two types of extra things that we do. One is where we do something that's a demonstration. Like at Four Times Square and at the Helena we have photovoltaics (PVs). At One Bryant Park we're not going to have PVs. And with PVs, the payback today at Four Times Square is about 25-30 years and about a 20-year life expectancy on the products. The payback wasn't exactly there. But we wanted to demonstrate that it was a feasible technology, so there was absolutely no payback whatsoever. For the CO-generation plant at One Bryant Park, we have about a four- to five-year payback, which is about what we look for in a major investment.

Has Four Times Square lived up to your hopes?

DD: Absolutely. It's lived up to what we hoped it would be and it's been more efficient than we had anticipated. So we're very pleased with the way it's turned out.

JD: We're very pleased with how the building turned out, but we had anticipated that others would be faster to come along and embrace that technology.

DD: We thought that once we'd shown what could be done that others would naturally follow, but the next few buildings had very few environmental features. Now it's finally caught on. So it took a lot longer than we anticipated.

When you built Four Times Square LEED wasn't around. Has LEED changed the way you look at designing the building?

JD: I think it's really complimentary. To the extent that you have to fit a specific aspect of the building into one of their neat cubbyholes, there has to be a little bit of interpretation and back-and-forth with LEED in an effort to make sure that your design intent will qualify (for LEED points) if you do it in a certain manner.

What is the business case for developers to build green high-rise buildings?

DD: I think the business case is there in the sense that if they don't build—I like to call them intelligent buildings—their buildings will be obsolete before they're complete. So I think that's the choice.

JD: When you're going through the time, effort, energy and expense of building a new building, you absolutely want to build the best building you can at the time, because the next one that comes along has the advantage of time over the one that you just completed. So you absolutely have to build the best building you can with what you know at the time.

What would you like to see as your contribution to the commercial development industry?

DD: We'd like to think that we're setting an example that others will be forced to follow if they want to build a non-obsolete building.

JD: With the construction of Four Times Square, it became apparent that the energy-efficiency aspects in a building are only really four or five percent important to tenants in terms of bottom line. Eighty percent of their costs are in their personnel. Eighty percent versus four or five percent on the energy side. So if you can make personnel more productive and efficient, that goes directly to tenants' bottom lines. And while there may not be a complete or sincere understanding of that issue right now, I think that major corporations are becoming sensitive to employees wanting a healthy environment to work in and gaining an awareness that reducing absenteeism and improving productivity goes right to their bottom lines.

What do you hope the legacy of your generation will be to your children and grandchildren, in terms of the Durst Organization?

DD: A fully leased portfolio. And also innovations in the green building area.

JD: When Douglas and I started assuming more responsibility in taking over where the second generation left off, I think their legacy to us was a reputation of fair dealing and treating tenants with the realization that they're our bread and butter and we have to do what we can to accommodate them. That really was invaluable to Douglas and me in having a leg up on credibility, due to the second generation's reputation. We'd like to extend that to the following generation and perhaps improve on that reputation in the environmental world.


One Bryant Park

The latest and most ambitious project of the Durst Organization, a partnership with Bank of America, is the new Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. Located on the largest development site in Midtown Manhattan, on the west side of Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets, the 2.2-million-square-foot building is scheduled to open in 2008. The Durst Organization and Bank of America's project team are led by Cook+Fox Architects and Tishman Construction Corporation.

Once it is completed, the Bank of America Tower will be the world's most environmentally responsible high-rise office building, and the first to strive for the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation.

Water and Air

  • Gray-water system will capture and re-use all rainwater and wastewater, saving millions of gallons of water annually.
  • Waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures will reduce the use of water resources.
  • Air filtration will remove 95 percent of particulates from outdoor air.
  • A pioneering filtered under-floor displacement air ventilation system and floor-by-floor air handling units will allow for individual floor control and more even, efficient and healthy heating and cooling.
  • Carbon dioxide monitors will automatically adjust the amount of fresh air when necessary.


  • High ceilings and translucent insulating glass in floor-to-ceiling windows will permit maximum daylight in interior spaces, optimal views and energy efficiency.
  • Advanced double-wall technology will provide remarkable views in and out of building, while dissipating the sun's heat .
  • A thermal storage system at cellar level will produce ice in the evening when electricity rates are lowest, to reduce peak daytime demand loads on the city.
  • Daylight dimming and LED lights will reduce electricity demand.
  • Green roofs will reduce urban heat island effect.
  • A state-of-the-art, on-site 5.1-megawatt combined-cycle CO-generation plant will provide clean, efficient power for the building's energy requirements.


  • Approximately three times the required public circulation space will accommodate pedestrian and transit circulation.
  • There will be widened sidewalks, public street furniture and an urban garden room located at 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue.
  • An underground pedestrian walkway on the north side of 42nd Street will link the B, D and F subway lines to the Times Square station, and a new mid-block subway entrance on 42nd Street will connect to the below-grade walkway.
  • Cook+Fox Architects will restore and reconstruct the historic Henry Miller Theater on the site, to create a state-of-the-art Broadway playhouse with the intimacy and proportions of the original 1918 Allen, Ingalls & Hoffman Theater.

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