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solaire new york leed

Meet The Solaire: America’s First LEED Certified Residential High-Rise

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Nov 12, 2018

High-density, multifamily buildings in urban areas are often much more environmentally friendly than homes in suburban regions. According to the EIA, people living in cities have the lowest annual energy use per household (85.3 million Btu). In contrast, people in the suburbs consume up to 109 million BTUs per household each year. Not only are apartments generally smaller than single-family homes and thus require much less energy to operate, but they are usually located closer to essential services. From a total energy standpoint, a person living in a suburban community might use up to three times more energy per year than a person living in a high-rise building that uses public transportation.

solaire exterior highrise new york
Photo Credit: The Solaire

However, in downtown New York City, one residential high-rise apartment took sustainability to a whole new level. The Solaire residential high-rise is located at 20 River Terrace, between Warren Street and Chambers Street in downtown New York City. Construction was finished in 2003, and the building opened its doors in 2004 in Battery Park City, a planned community on the west side of Manhattan. The 27 stories include 282 rental apartments, along with a full complement of dedicated services and amenities. It was the first residential high-rise to receive LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and currently has achieved LEED Platinum certification. 

The high-rise is 35 percent more energy-efficient than New York City code, reduces electricity demand during peak hours by up to 67 percent, and uses 50 percent less potable water than a conventional, residential high-rise building. These efficiency measures, along with a full solar PV system, a computerized building management system, and other environmentally responsible operating and maintenance practices, translates into substantially lower electricity bills for renters. The Solaire was designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates for the Albanese Organization and was chosen as a "Top Ten Green Award" by the American Institute of Architects when it opened its doors to residents in 2004.

solaire lobby new york
Photo Credit: The Solaire

Building Specs

As a LEED platinum certified building, The Solaire includes several important sustainability features. Solar PV panels generate 5 percent of the total energy consumed by the building and its residents. Their HVAC system is fuelled by natural gas and doesn’t contain refrigerants known to deplete the ozone layer.

In terms of indoor air quality, ventilation and multi-level humidification systems deliver a constant filtered air supply. All of the rental apartments are equipped with programmable thermostats and a full range of Energy Star appliances. Amenity areas and common spaces throughout the building have occupancy sensors to reduce energy use.

The 50 percent reduction in potable water usage in the building is possible due to a black water treatment system that supplies all toilets with recycled water. The rest of the recycled water is sent to the building’s cooling tower.

solaire view
Photo Credit: The Solaire

While the operational efficiency of The Solaire is certainly impressive, it took steps to reduce the embodied energy in the construction process itself. Over 60 percent of the building materials were sourced and manufactured within a 500-mile radius, thus radically reducing the transportation costs to move materials to the building site. 19 percent of the building is made from recycled construction materials, while 93 percent of the construction debris generated during the building process was recycled. 

The Solaire includes a green or “vegetated” roof covering three-quarters of the open roof area. Drought-tolerant shrubs such as bamboo utilize much of the rainwater. A water retention layer underneath the vegetation slows the water flow allowing plants to use even more water that would otherwise be sent to the sewer system. Even more impressively, a 10,000-gallon stormwater tank separates sediments and uses the excess water to irrigate the rooftop garden during dry periods, in addition to offering irrigation to the adjacent park. 

The Solaire is committed to continuing to incorporate state-of-the-art technologies as they emerge in the building industry. For example, ample space has been set aside for the future installation of fuel-cell technology as this technology matures and becomes more economically viable.

solaire children's playroom
Photo Credit: The Solaire

Interview with Lydia Rapillo

Lydia Rapillo is the vice president of the Albanese Organization, an important real estate developer in New York that was behind the design of the Solaire and the more recent Verdesian building, which achieved an impressive LEED Platinum rating. RISE recently sat down with Lydia to talk about sets The Solaire apart from other residential high-rise apartment buildings. 

RISE: What are some of the main sustainability features of The Solaire?

Lydia Rapillo: The Solaire uses 35% less energy than similar buildings designed to New York State Energy Code requirements. This LEED Platinum property has a high-performance exterior wall system that includes a vapor and air barrier to minimize random air infiltration. In addition, the façades feature integrated photovoltaic panels that generate 5% of the building’s base electric load. Both buildings are engineered with natural gas-fired absorption chillers used to heat and cool water sent through four-pipe vertical fan coil units. 

This system contributes to lower peak electric demand and is far more environmentally friendly than standard oil-fired systems. Water conservation and purification play critical roles in the building's design. The Solaire has a black water treatment plant that treats wastewater to provide make up water for the cooling tower and re-supply water closets. This system is located in the basement of the Solaire and serves both properties (the Verdesian building as well). Both Solaire and Verdesian implement vigilant water conservation strategies, and the net result is a building that consumes 50% less potable water. Both properties are designed with more natural light, all-natural materials that have been locally sourced, and an ongoing commitment to operate in the most efficient and environmentally conscious manner.

solaire gym new york
Photo Credit: The Solaire

In practical terms, what are some of the benefits of these features for residents?

Overall, The Solaire is designed and engineered to provide residents with a healthier and more natural living experience while optimizing resident comfort and energy efficiency through sophisticated technologies and natural materials. The benefits of living in LEED Platinum properties such as the Solaire and Verdesian allow a resident to benefit from a high-efficiency fresh-air supply that filters 85% of particulate matter, providing each home with fresh, filtered air that’s heated and humidified in the winter and dehumidified during warm weather. 

In addition, digital, programmable thermostats in every residence allow year-round comfort and enable residents to save on utility bills. Each home has more natural light through the use of floor-to-ceiling glass, centrally filtered water and highly filtered drinking water dispensed from each refrigerator, well-insulated and quiet walls, and significantly reduced utility costs. Utility cost savings range from 34-67% as compared to a typical building.

Do you think that there is a growing interest among homeowners and renters for sustainable homes?

Yes, absolutely. Prospective renters are increasingly more mindful of the health and wellness benefits of living in green buildings like The Solaire. These end-user benefits of living in a green building significantly impact residents’ quality of life in a very positive way. Sustainable environments have statistically proven to increase health benefits and performance, and we are finding that more and more New Yorkers are embracing a more natural lifestyle.


Apartments available in the Solaire typically achieve a 10% rental premium compared to properties that are not environmentally sustainable. However, much of this increased rental price is paid for through the energy savings and the improved quality of life that comes with living in one of New York’s most sustainable buildings.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-21T12:38:20+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.