Passive House appears to be breaking free and clear of it’s reputation as a standard applied mostly to small, boutique buildings.  This Fall, the highly anticipated Cornell Tech residential tower will be complete, with residents occupying one of the tallest Passive House projects in the world.  A joint effort of Related and Hudson Companies, the project has been the subject of intense interest from virtually everyone in green building and sustainability circles because of it’s scale and the premier firms involved in the project (though, sadly, this author has still not been invited to tour this new landmark.)


In more recent news, New York City has followed through on it’s pledge to require Passive House certification of a large development parcel in Harlem.  The affordable housing proposal from L&M Development and Jonathan Rose Companies will be more than 750,000 square feet and, looking at the renderings, features a 35+ story tower.  Called “Sendero Verde”, or green pathway, this massive project will include a school, a health care facility, a supermarket and many of other amenities- easily making it the largest and most complicated project to pursue Passive House in the United States, and possibly the world.


The first projects in the New York City area to apply the German standard were, understandably, single family houses and small residential buildings with reasonably generous budgets.  In many cases these projects were achieved because of the singular obsession of the project owner or developer- someone with a fervor for saving the world and the willingness to wade through the swamp of technical and regulatory challenges that confront anyone trying something new in the NYC real estate market.  These projects were critically important to the advancement of Passive House in NYC and US, and many of them were featured in our briefing, Passive NYC.

But the next question was obvious: Could Passive House become standard operating procedure rather than the sole province of vanguard buildings?  By themselves, the Cornell Tech and Sendero Verde projects could answer this question for all time.  They are quintessentially New York, both in their scale but also in their financial underpinnings.  The firms involved are unlikely to take major risks with the financing required to complete them.  In and of themselves they demonstrate that you can build a large, complex Passive House building for a normal budget, with normal financing, and with the normal amount of risk that any project of this scale and complexity embodies.  Some time next year I expect every developer of multifamily housing in the United States to realize they are now competing with buildings that use 75% less energy than their own buildings, while providing a healthier, far more comfortable environment.  The game has changed.

– Yetsuh Frank


  • Passive House / High Performance

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