Enhancing Sustainable Architecture with Stone

January 23, 2009
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From its inception in 2005, the Visionaire - a luxury residential high-rise in Manhattan featuring an extensive use of stone - was targeted for LEED Platinum Certification from the Green Building Council. The building represents the third green residential project designed under the collaborative leadership of Albanese Development Corp. and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Photo by Heidi Kippenhan/Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects


The sleek design of the Visionaire - a luxury residential high-rise in Battery Park, New York City - is not only a testament to the aesthetically pleasing results of the use of stone in architecture, but it is also an example of environmentally friendly building. The design was conceived in 2005, and from the beginning, the Visionaire was targeted for LEED Platinum Certification from the Green Building Council. The building represents the third green residential project designed under the collaborative leadership of Albanese Development Corp. and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

When choosing stone for the building’s exterior, the architects looked beyond the Green Building Council standards. “We chose stone for prominent and public areas, like the building base, capitalizing on important and intrinsic sustainable qualities of enduring natural beauty and strength,” said Craig Copeland, Senior Associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and the project’s design team leader. “These qualities transcended the quantitative measures of LEED.”

Jet Mist granite, which was quarried in Rapidan, VA, by Granites of America, was utilized for the exterior base of the building - complementing the glass and terra-cotta facade. Photo by Jennifer Adams

Copeland went on to explain that the use of brick for the exterior facade was mandated by Battery Park City. “We proposed cladding materials, like terra-cotta, that were sympathetic to brick, and conducive to a lighter, unitized curtainwall,” he said. In the end, they were permitted to use terra-cotta for the design.

“As we developed the curtainwall design, we shaped the terra-cotta panels into expressive horizontal bands that would play off of the building’s curving form,” said the architect. “For similar reasons, we continued architectural banding at the base, but in stronger and larger panels of granite.

The granite was given a waterjet/flamed finish, which makes the stone resilient to oils and staining in general. Photos by Jennifer Adams

“We researched a variety of stones,” Copeland went on to say. “In response to the Lower Manhattan neighborhood, we decided upon Jet Mist, a beautiful and regionally sourced charcoal-colored granite with rich white veining.”

According the architect, the 1 5/8-inch-thick granite pieces are of varying sizes with the average measuring 3 feet, 8 inches tall x 6 feet long. They were all given a waterjet/flamed finish. “It gives the surface a softer and warmer tone and also makes the stone resilient to oils and staining in general,” he said.

The 1 5/8-inch-thick granite pieces are of varying sizes with the average measuring 3 feet, 8 inches tall x 6 feet long. Photos by Jennifer Adams

In total, about 10,000 square feet of Jet Mist granite - quarried in Rapidan, VA, by Granites of America - was utilized for the exterior base of the building. The stone pieces were fabricated by Lacroix et Fils Granit Ltée of Saint-Sébastian, Quebec, Canada.

The fact that the quarry is within 500 miles of the project site qualified the granite as a green building material. And Copeland believes that the material’s intrinsic sustainable qualities of strength and “timeless grandeur” made it a logical choice for the project. “Stone is the only natural material that I know of that can welcome and sustain such important physical contacts between a city and a building, a building and its people,” he said.

“We wanted the same base stone to have a variety of readings,” said Craig Copeland, AIA, Senior Associate with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Photos by Jennifer Adams

A Stone Interior

Inside the Visionaire, an extensive use of Italian travertine - supplied by Henraux S.p.A. of Querceta, Italy - is featured in the lobby. “We wanted the walls to have grand material substance,” said Copeland. “We chose travertine, with its expressive striations that really give one a sense of the earth.”

The architect explained that Classico travertine was used in tandem with Noce travertine to create a warm modern feel in the space. “We wanted to create an interesting composition of stone walls,” he said. “Because there were so many geometries culminating in the lobby, we organized the stone walls into floating planes that defined a clear but open orthogonal backdrop. The rustic surface of the travertine helped offset the massive forms.”

A total of 10,000 square feet of Jet Mist granite was utilized for the exterior base of the Visionaire. The stone pieces were fabricated by Lacroix et Fils Granit Ltée of Saint-Sébastian, Quebec, Canada. Photo by Jennifer Adams

Two feature walls were developed in the lobby - one behind the concierge desk and another that displays a 12-foot-long saltwater and living coral aquarium. These serve to separate the main lobby from the children’s play area. These walls are formed by 1- x 4-foot panels of Classico travertine, which were dry set.

“We chose not to use grout because we wanted a clean look, and we wanted the stone to seem like it is floating,” explained Copeland, adding that all of the corners were shop fabricated. “We wanted the grout to be shallow, only as deep as needed to support the stone above it. What emerged was an efficient, contemporary way to use stone.”

Inside the Visionaire, an extensive use of Italian travertine - supplied by Henraux S.p.A. of Querceta, Italy - is featured in the lobby. Photo by Craig Copeland/Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Further contributing to the overall contemporary look of the lobby is a feature wall behind the concierge desk where a sculpture entitled “La Sirena,” which means mermaid, is chiseled in stone. Italian artist Renzo Maggi was commissioned to complete the architectural expression. He carved the sculpture in Pietrasanta, Italy, from a 2-ton block of Classico travertine that was extracted in Tivoli, Italy.

The lobby walls are formed by 1- x 4-foot panels of Classico travertine, which were dry set.  Photos by Jennifer Adams

“La Sirena shares both material and theme from many of Rome’s most famous and enjoyed public sculptures - Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and Trevi Fountain - which are carved from the same cream-colored travertine and celebrate the enduring power and grace of water,” explained Copeland. “In the Visionaire, La Sirena is sited to complement the living coral aquarium, which like the sculpture, rests within one of the lobby’s main stone walls.”

Further contributing to the overall contemporary look of the lobby is a feature wall behind the concierge desk where a sculpture entitled “La Sirena,” which means mermaid, is chiseled in stone. Photos by Jennifer Adams

While the travertine panels that surround the mermaid are vein cut, the sculpture itself is fleuri cut. “Renzo very cleverly carved La Sirena responsively to the travertine, chiseling in areas along the strata, revealing the natural and delicate coral-like calcium formations to optimum effect,” said the architect.

Complementing the travertine wall panels, the top of the concierge desk is fabricated from Crema Marfil marble with a polished finish. Noce travertine was used for the recesses of the feature walls, including the base trim. “We used the material in these areas to enhance the depth of the walls’ relief,” said the architect.

Two feature walls were developed in the lobby - one behind the concierge desk and another that displays a 12-foot-long saltwater and living coral aquarium, separating the main lobby from the children’s play area. Photos by Jennifer Adams

All those involved in the design and construction of the Visionaire dedicated much of their time and effort to ensure that the execution went as planned. Copeland even made four trips to the factory in Canada as well as four trips to the Italian facility to monitor the progress of the stone fabrication.

“It is very important to pace yourself [with a building of this size],” said the architect. “You can’t just focus on the big things. You need to remember the small things too. You also need to be sensitive to the larger, emerging opportunities. In the lobby, because we have so much glass, the stone comes out to the street. It glows and really allows us to convey the beauty of the material, and the sustaining beauty of nature itself.”                                  

Architect Craig Copeland, AIA, Senior Associate of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New York, NY, led American Institute of Architects (AIA) members who were earning LU credits toward their accreditation on a guided tour of the new Visionaire residential high-rise in Battery Park, New York City.

Sidebar: Visionaire

Battery Park City

New York, NY


Developer: Albanese Development Corp., New York, NY

Architect of Record: SLCE Architects, New York, NY

Design Architect: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, New York, NY

Environmental Design Firm: Atelier Ten, New York, NY

General Contractor: Turner Construction, New York, NY

Stone Quarriers: Granites of America-Rapidan, VA, quarry location (Jet Mist granite); Henraux S.p.A., Querceta, Italy (travertine)

Stone Fabricator: Lacroix et Fils Granit Ltée, Saint-Sébastian, Quebec, Canada (Jet Mist granite); Henraux S.p.A., Querceta, Italy (travertine)


Speaking on the specific stones used, the architect explained that Jet Mist granite, which was used for the exterior base, is considered green because it is a natural material that was quarried within 500 miles of the project site.

AIA Architects Receive Guided Tour of the Visionaire

Veronafiere - the trade fair company that owns and manages Marmomacc, a leading international stone exhibition that is held annually in Verona, Italy - collaborated with MAPEI, a leading manufacturer of maintenance and installation products, to host a two-day seminar program that allowed architects to earn LU credits towards their accreditation for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The event was held on November 6 and 7, 2008 in Manhattan. The architects participating in the program were alumni of previous educational trips, which are sponsored annually by Veronafiere and coincide with Marmomacc each year.

Among the presentations during the two-day event was one entitled “Enriching Sustainable Architecture with Stone - A Recent Case Study: The Visionaire, New York City,” which was led by Craig Copeland, AIA, Senior Associate of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New York, NY. This session consisted of an on-site visit to the Visionaire, a luxury residential high-rise in Manhattan that was designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in collaboration with Albanese Development Corp. The building is targeted for LEED-Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and it was also the recent recipient of the 2008 EPA New York City Green Building Competition Grand Prize.

During the guided tour, Copeland explained that the building’s exterior stone base and interior stone lobby are considered to be environmental friendly and contributed to the overall green design of the building.

“From the beginning, we talked about enhancing a sustainable project with stone,” said Copeland. “The two fundamental reasons why we chose stone were because it has been around a long time and for its beauty.”

Speaking on the specific stones used, the architect explained that Jet Mist granite, which was used for the exterior base, is considered green because it is a natural material that was quarried within 500 miles of the project site.

The tour presented architects with the opportunity to gain insight into the steps taken during the design process to produce a LEED-certified building as well as observing the final result.

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