Green Building Tour Recap: A Gem In Williamsburg

Green building trivia question: How many NYC buildings produce almost half of their own energy needs onsite, and also provide winter sledding opportunities on their green roof?

As far as I know, there’s only one that meets that description, a community center anchoring playing fields and waterfront access at Bushwick Inlet Park in Williamsburg. At a tour that participants wished would never end, Gregory Kiss and Claire Miflin (Kiss + Cathcart Architects) discussed the challenges of the project, including waterproofing mishaps and turf-destroying exercise buffs in cleats.

Those were both unanticipated side effects of one of the structure’s most striking aspects, the wrapover green roof. It grows out of the park up and over the building in a seamless rise, incorporating ramps with a gentle enough incline that handrails aren’t needed, allowing for unobstructed views and movement. During the tour, kids raced up and down the grassy hill, dodging stray soccer balls while weaving around couples holding hands and enjoying the East River view. This allows 100% of the park area to be usable by the public while also catching rainwater and supporting solar panels that produce almost half of the all-electric building’s energy needs.

Amazingly, Kiss said at the outset of the project, the building “was not meant to be super green other than to meet the city’s generic LEED Silver requirement.” However, when approached with innovative green ideas, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation was a “tremendously receptive” client, he said. That collaboration is evident in the integrative design of amenities, energy-saving features, and water collection, which Kiss said did not add significantly to the cost of the project. “Government buildings are solid and built to last, so the upgrades are just a modest cost.”

I was tickled by the fusion of high- and low-tech elements in the design process. Kiss used building information modeling (BIM) to keep track of a thicket of differing elevations and building details. But he also spent six months searching the parkland for driftwood or branches for root-like chandeliers growing down from the ceiling, evoking the soil above. In the end, not finding branches to his liking, he chose reused aluminum tubing for the chandeliers. These now light what was once a brownfield train terminal and parking lot but has quickly become one of Brooklyn’s most attractive and usable waterfront sites.



About the author

Cecil Scheib
Cecil Scheib is Chief Program Officer for Urban Green Council.